The name “S-Class” derives from the German word “Sonderklasse” of which “S-Class” is an abbreviation. Sonderklasse means “special class” (or rather: “In a class of its own”), and in automotive terms thus refers to “a specially outfitted car.” Although used colloquially for decades, following its official application in 1972, five generations of officially-named S-Class sedans have been produced. Past two-door coupe models of the S-Class were known as SEC and later S-Coupe. In 1998 they were spun off in a separate line as the CL-Class, however it will be re-designated as the S-Coupe for the 2011 model year.
Models sold in North America are the S450 (2008-,SWB and Canada only), S400 Hybrid (2010- ), S550, S600, S63 AMG and S65 AMG; other models to be sold outside North America include the S280, S350, S300, S420 CDI and S320 CDI. The first W221 model released in North America and Japan was the S550 (called S500 outside North America and Japan), with the S600 arriving in the following spring. In the U.S., base prices for the W221 S-Class range from $87,475 for the S550, $144,975 for the S600, $127,775 for the S63 AMG and $194,775 for the S65 AMG.
In terms of performance, the S550 completes the 0–60 mph run in just 5.4 seconds. The car weighs about 2250 kg, but S65 AMG still makes 0–60 mph in just 4.2 second, although a 4.2 second 0-60 has never been claimed or tested, although various automobile magazines state that the S65 will never achieve a practical 0-60 time of under 5 seconds because of its execrable and abominable traction. The S 63 AMG and the S600 makes the same sprint in about 4.6 seconds. AMG claim that the S63 will pull from 50 mph to 70 mph in around 3.9 seconds while the S65 make it to 70 mph from 50 mph in 3.6 seconds.
Mercedes-Benz has traditionally introduced its safety innovations in the S-Class. For instance, the S-Class was the first car in Europe to incorporate airbags. S-Class safety features included innovations in active safety (accident avoidance), passive safety (collision protection), and holistic safety (integration of both active and passive safety features). Active safety features include: ABS braking in 1978 (acts to reduce braking distances and improve stopping control; co-developed with Bosch); traction control and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) in 1995 (improves driver control during difficult road conditions); and Brake Assist (provides full braking power during emergency stops). In 2005, a new infrared night vision feature was introduced (improves visibility during nighttime conditions). Despite the popular misconception, the S-Class was not the first car fitted with ABS braking technology, although some credit can be given for popularizing this now largely standard feature (ABS was initially an option on most models of the W126 S-Class).
Passive safety features include: crumple zones in 1957 (vehicle body structure absorbs the force of impact); three-point seatbelts in 1965 (provides additional torso/body protection); collapsible steering column (prevents the steering column from protruding into the cabin during accidents), strengthened occupant cell enhanced occupant protection during severe impacts (rollovers); pre-accident seatbelt tensioning (tightens seatbelts prior to impact), and sandwich platforms (allows the engine to slide under the occupants in a head-on collision).
PRE-SAFE, Mercedes-Benz’s holistic safety feature, was introduced on the S-Class in 2002. PRE-SAFE integrates multiple active and passive safety features for a “safety net” approach to vehicle safety by attempting to prevent accidents; if accidents do occur, PRE-SAFE aims to reduce occupant injury. In the latest version of this pre-collision system, PRE-SAFE will prime the brake assist system, lock the doors to prevent accidental opening during the accident, adjust the seats, close the windows and sunroof, and tighten seatbelts during certain types of collisions. In the event an accident results in a roll over, the PRE-SAFE feature unlock the doors and lower the windows approximately one half-inch to allow you to exit or safety workers to gain access easily.
Road accident statistics on a model-by-model basis from the UK Department of Transport show that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one of the safest cars on the UK roads (measured in terms of chance of death in an accident).