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2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class vs. Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series: Superlative sedans compared

Let's see how Mercedes' fancy new S-Class stacks up against its key German rivals.

- 05:45
2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The S-Class has long been the crown jewel of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and the new one loses none of that luster.


First there was the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and then there was everything else -- or at least that's how the narrative has gone with luxury cars since the 1970s. Stuttgart's biggest bruisers have always led the way technologically, but Mercedes' German competitors have long put up a fight. So, following the debut of the 2021 S-Class on Wednesday, let's see how it fares against its established luxury rivals, the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series.

Now playing: Watch this: 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Our first look at new luxury

Powertrain and performance

The new S-Class will be offered in two models: the S500 and the S580. The former will be powered by a 3.0-liter inline-six, replacing the turbo V6 currently offered as the base engine in the 2020 S450. The S580 gets Mercedes' exquisite 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Both feature EQ-Boost mild-hybrid technology and are only offered with 4Matic all-wheel drive.

For comparison, the BMW is also available with a 3.0-liter inline-six, though its optional V8 is larger than the Merc's, displacing 4.4 liters. The BMW is also the only car in this comparison that is available with rear-wheel drive. The Audi A8 can be had with a 3.0-liter V6, and there is also a V8 option which, like the Mercedes, is a 4.0-liter turbocharged unit.

Power for all three ranges between 335 horsepower for the base A8 L and 523 hp for the BMW 750i xDrive. The Mercedes slots in the middle with the S500 making 429 hp and the S580 putting out a healthy 496 hp. Both the BMW and the Audi offer eight-speed transmissions, while both of the new S-Class models use a nine-speed automatic.

It's also worth noting that Audi and BMW offer plug-in hybrid variants of their cars. Mercedes only offers the mild-hybrid electrified setup right now, but a plug-in hybrid option -- similar to the current S560 PHEV -- is almost certainly on the way. For the time being, the PHEVs won't be included in this chart.


2020 Mercedes S500 2020 Mercedes S580 2020 BMW 740i 2020 BMW 750i xDrive 2020 Audi A8 L 55 2020 Audi A8 L 60
Engine 3.0-liter turbo I6 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 3.0-liter turbo I6 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 3.0-liter turbo V6 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Power 429 hp 496 hp 355 hp 523 hp 335 hp 453 hp
Torque 384 lb-ft 516 lb-ft 331 lb-ft 553 lb-ft 369 lb-ft 487 lb-ft
Transmission 9-speed auto 9-speed auto 8-speed auto 8-speed auto 8-speed auto 8-speed auto
Driveline All-wheel drive All-wheel drive Rear-wheel drive All-wheel drive All-wheel drive All-wheel drive
0-60 mph NA NA 5.3 seconds 3.9 seconds 5.6 seconds 4.5 seconds
Top speed 130 mph 130 mph 130 mph 130 mph 130 mph 130 mph
Fuel economy (city/hwy) NA NA 22/29 mpg 17/25 mpg 17/26 mpg 15/23 mpg

Infotainment and safety tech

Arguably the most important factor in a modern luxury automobile is its technology, and all three of our competitors are packed to the gills. The big change for this generation of S-Class is the move to a new version of Mercedes' MBUX system, which improves on the first-gen software that made its debut in the A-Class a few years ago. The new version has 50% faster processing power and runs on a 12.8-inch tablet-style OLED screen.

The updated electrical architecture of the S-Class means that not only is MBUX possible, but a whole slew of other exciting features become available, too. For example, the head-up display is available with augmented reality to project navigation data onto the road ahead. There are also comfort features like fully climate-controlled seats and a three-dimensional digital gauge cluster, and even a fingerprint scanner to adapt the interior environment to each driver's preference automatically. It's a whole new landscape.

From a safety standpoint, the new S-Class has no shortage of the good stuff, either. The big news is the introduction of a new rear airbag system that offers increased passenger safety thanks to a bag that deploys more gently, reducing the risk of some injuries. There is also a revamped driver attention monitor called Attention Assist that uses an infrared camera to detect driver drowsiness.

There are also around a dozen standard driver assistance systems on the new S-Class ranging from Mercedes' version of adaptive cruise control to lane-keeping and lane-change assist, active brake assist, active blind spot assist and more. The S-Class has always been big on safety and that trend continues today.

Audi and BMW aren't exactly asleep at the back of the class. Both the A8 and 7 Series offer competent suites of advanced driver-assistance systems that include all the greatest hits like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and more. The BMW offers a comprehensive precollision system and adaptive brake lights, for example, while the Audi also has a precollision system.

Audi and BMW offer robust infotainment systems, too. The latest versions of both MMI Touch and iDrive are straightforward to use, feature-rich and responsive on their large screens. None of the systems in these cars is going to disappoint, but the Mercedes takes the cake in terms of the number of features offered -- and the number of screens (up to five!).


When it comes to exterior dimensions, these cars are all huge. The new S-Class has grown slightly in every direction compared to its predecessor. It also is a little bigger than the 7 Series all around, and slightly shorter than the Audi, but still a tiny bit taller and wider. The most critical exterior dimension for cars like these, though, is wheelbase, and here the Benz takes the cake, with more space between the wheels than either of its competitors.

Inside, things are just as equally matched. Mercedes-Benz offers the most cargo space but BMW has the best rear-seat accommodations. Audi, meanwhile, offers a relatively puny trunk by comparison.

Exterior Dimensions

2021 Mercedes S-Class 2020 BMW 7 Series 2020 Audi A8 L
Wheelbase 126.6 in 126.4 in 123.2 in
Length 208.2 in 207.4 in 208.7 in
Width 76.9 in 74.9 in 76.6 in
Height 59.2 in 58.2 in 58.6 in
Weight NA 4,244 pounds 4,773 pounds

Interior Dimensions

2021 Mercedes S-Class 2020 BMW 7 Series 2020 Audi A8 L
Front headroom 42.0 in 39.9 in 38.3 in
Rear headroom 39.0 in 39.9 in 38.5 in
Front legroom 41.0 in 41.4 in 41.5 in
Rear legroom 44.0 in 44.4 in 44.3 in
Cargo capacity 22.0 cu-ft 18.2 cu-ft 12.5 cu-ft


Mercedes hasn't released pricing for the S-Class yet, but considering all the new tech onboard, it'll likely start just above $100,000. The Audi and BMW aren't quite that much, with the A8 asking $86,195 and the 740i commanding $87,795. The A8 with a V8 tops out at $96,995 before options, and BMW's 750i xDrive comes in at $103,995. All of the aforementioned prices include destination. 

So, the three large, German luxury sedans are still closely matched, and as we've come to expect, which one buyers choose will come largely down to brand loyalty and how they want to be seen by others. The 7 Series has a slightly sportier edge while the A8 nicely flies under the radar. The S-Class, meanwhile, is for those who want to be noticed, and based on what we know so far, the new one will have lots of features to flaunt.