- the mercedes 2021 s-class has many advances in safety equipment; notably, it will lift itself three inches to protect passengers if a side-impact crash is imminent.
- an optional rear-passenger airbag was designed for extra protection of adults and children sitting in the back seat.
- automated emergency braking now has an optional lane-changing feature that will move the car over to avoid a crash if the adjacent lane is empty.
it would be nice if new safety features permeated automakers' entire lineups. the reality is, new features are expensive to implement, so luxury vehicles typically get first dibs. the 2021 mercedes-benz s-class is launching with improved and new features meant to keep those both in and near the sedan safe. airbags for rear passengers and a suspension that lifts the vehicle ahead of side impacts are currently protection luxuries for the upper class, but if they work out as well as mercedes expects, these and the rest of the safety technology found in the 2021 s-class could end up in cars the rest of us can afford.
lift up for safety
using the vehicle’s e-active body control feature, the 2021 s-class's pre-safe impulse side will lift the body of the vehicle three inches when it detects an imminent side collision. this diverts the impact away from the doors and toward the door frames so that the vehicle's body takes the brunt of the impact.
the audi a8 does essentially the same thing, but instead of lifting up the entire vehicle, the audi system raises only the side of the sedan that is about to be hit. mercedes prefers to lift the entire vehicle. it told car and driver, "when lifting only one side, the car starts to rotate at the longitudinal axis. that leads to a lateral oscillation of the passengers. even though this movement is just a minimal movement, crash experts try to minimize that movement as much as possible.”
airbags have been around for a while, of course, but most of them are intended only to protect those in the front seat. mercedes decided to add additional inflatable safety elements to the s-class for those that splurge on the executive rear-seat package. when a collision is detected, mercedes describes the deployment like this: "cylindrical, tubular structures are inflated with compressed gas and deploy a wing-shaped structure. a large, tent-like airbag deploys between the two wings, and this is inflated by the surrounding air via specially patented valves in the skin."
in other words, it's not like the typical front airbag. mercedes says it had to take into account the way people, including children, sit in the back of a vehicle. the more rigid elements are on the sides of the bag and act as a frame, while the middle section that's filled with ambient air is meant to absorb the occupant and looks to be a bit more pliable.
hands-on steering wheel sensors
most driver-assist features require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. yet even when a driver does exactly that, the vehicle may mistakenly believe their hands have been taken off the wheel because the system is based on feedback. to remove the alert, the driver would have to nudge the wheel slightly to remind the car they were still there. mercedes has fixed that issue with its capacitive-touch hands-off recognition system. two sensor pads in the steering wheel's rim recognize human hands. regardless of how mercedes makes sure the driver is paying attention, please keep your hands on the wheel.
the distronic driver-assist feature that maintains following distance now has a predictive speed limit setting. it knows when the speed limit is about to change so the vehicle can slow down accordingly, and its automated emergency braking system for stationary objects now works at speeds up to 80 mph. previously it worked at up to 35 mph.
the active stopping feature also has an optional lane-changing function. the s-class will move into an adjacent lane to avoid a crash if no other vehicles are detected there, and it works at speeds up to 50 mph.
finally, we’ve all done it at least once: accidentally run a stop sign or traffic light. the results can be disastrous. the latest s-class has a warning system that will activate if you seem to be failing to slow for an approaching stop sign or red traffic light.
staying in your lane
the s-class's active-steering assistance now works at speeds up to 130 mph. that makes more sense if you're in germany on the autobahn. for the rest of the world, mercedes says it has better lane centering to improve highway driving. thanks to the four cameras on the vehicle, the s-class has a 360-degree view of the world and uses that for enhanced lane recognition.
mercedes is also employing the camera in the digital dash cluster to determine if a driver's eyelids are drooping. the automaker already uses how the person behind the wheel is actually driving to detect fatigue. the camera adds an additional dimension of safety.
the automaker's vehicle-exiting warning system, used to keep driver and passengers from opening the door on a passing cyclist, now uses the camera found at the top of the infotainment system to issue a warning if someone in the car reaches for a door latch while a bike or person is approaching from behind.
all these updates and new features are in addition to the vehicle's already robust safety system. but don’t be surprised to see these added to other vehicles not only in the mercedes-benz lineup, but similar features in other automakers’ vehicles in the future.