The renewed S-Class 220 was introduced in the autumn of 2002. With new outstanding technological performances and a fresher exterior, the renewed S 220 maintained its position as role model and trendsetter in automotive engineering.
Subtle design changes characterized the 2003 S-Class series optically and brought the saloon's agile and elegant character even more to the fore. The front bumper's lower air intake was restyled, making the body look wider and therefore more powerful. The radiator grille was also restyled: The designers extended the grille upward and gave it a slightly more upright position. It was the headlights, though, that had undergone the most radical change: They were rounder, and their modern transparent housing and shiny reflective surfaces made the saloon even fierier. The housing of the door mirrors and the tail lights were also given a fresher, more elegant look.
The Mercedes-Benz designers had redesigned over 40 elements in the passenger compartment or had given them a facelift by using new materials. They increased the passengers' comfort and provided a more luxurious ambiance. The subtle chrome embellishments around the exotic wood trims, the improved seat upholstery and the new, elegant switches were only three examples of the careful attention to detail that was paid to this upgrade. Designo couture was the name given to an exclusive package of optional accessories that included the finest-quality Napa and nubuck leathers, anthracite-coloured poplar or mahogany wood trims as well as a roof lining of fine Alcantara.
The seats in the S-Class were entirely refurbished. Their softer padding and new upholstery technology provide enhanced sitting comfort for the driver and front passenger. The new drive-dynamic multi-contour seats that were optionally available for the S-Class were considered the standard in modern automotive seats. The seats were equipped with several air chambers that automatically inflated or deflated depending on the situation, providing the driver and passenger with optimal side support in bends. The seats were electro-pneumatically controlled by a microprocessor in the seat. Within split seconds, the computer processed information such as the steering angle, lateral acceleration and travel speed, so it could dynamically adjust the pressure and the volume in the air chambers to each situation. In a left bend, for example, the system would inflate the air chamber in the right side rest to give the passengers better side support.
The COMAND control and display system was now part of the standard equipment in all 220 models. Compared with its predecessor, it had a larger 6.5-inch 16:9 colour display that made it easier to read. In the top-of-the-range S 600, COMAND was connected to the navigation system.
One of the most important high-tech innovations was the preventative occupant safety system PRE-SAFE®with which Mercedes-Benz introduced a new era in automobile safety. PRE-SAFE® detected potentially dangerous situations in advance and preventatively prepare the occupants.
Preventative occupant safety in the S-Class included split-second pre-tensioning of the seatbelts aimed at bringing the driver and passenger into the best possible sitting position so the airbags could do their job as effectively as possible in the event of a collision. At the same time, PRE-SAFE® moved the passenger seat and the electronically adjustable back seats into the best position and automatically closed the sunroof as soon as the vehicle started skidding.
This safety system was based on knowledge gained by Mercedes-Benz's accident analysis team, which discovered that in approximately two-thirds of all traffic accidents a relatively long period of time elapsed between the time a potential collision was detected and the time the collision actually took place. PRE-SAFE® used this time to activate the preventative measures and further reduce the occupants' risk of injury. The 2003 S-Class series marked the beginning of this groundbreaking concept.
PRE-SAFE® used sensors in the Electronic Stability Programme ESP® and the Break Assist System BAS that were programmed to recognize precarious situations. The system's functions were reversible: If the accident was prevented at the last minute, the system automatically released the tension on the seatbelts and the occupants could move their seats and the sunroof back into their initial positions. PRE-SAFE® was immediately ready for action again if necessary.
The system was the result of six years of intensive development by Mercedes-Benz engineers. Hundreds of motorists helped test and fine tune the new PRE‑SAFE® system on test tracks and in the company's driving simulator in Berlin. These acceptance tests delivered a clear outcome: Preventative occupant safety did not restrict the freedom of the driver or the driveability of the vehicle, but it did increase the occupants' subjective feeling of safety.
Occupant safety was further improved in the S-Class with up-front sensors. These sensors detected the force of an impact at an early stage, enabling the front passenger airbag to be activated in two stages. The sensors also activated the belt pre-tensioners earlier so the occupants were as safe as possible in the event of an impact. Also new was the incorporation of a special membrane in the front passenger seat that classified the passenger's weight. The right airbag was not only triggered based on the force of the impact, but also on the passenger's weight.
In terms of driving safety and traction, the S-Class set a new tone from the autumn of 2002 with the electronically controlled 4MATIC. The full-time four-wheel drive system was optionally available with a six or eight-cylinder engine. On snow, ice or slippery cobblestones, in wet or other adverse road conditions, 4MATIC provided even greater traction, and combined with ESP®, helped drivers master treacherous situations without jeopardizing the typical Mercedes ride comfort. Instead of conventional differential locks, 4MATIC used the electronically controlled traction system 4ETS. It self-activated at the first sign of wheel spin and applied the brake to the affected wheel or wheels, which increased the driving torque and gave them sufficient traction.
With two six-cylinder engines, three V8 engines and a twelve-cylinder powertrain, the S-Class 220 series boasted the widest range of engines available in this market segment. The engines' output ranged from 150 kW (204 hp) to 368 kW (500 hp) in the top-of-the-range S 600.
The most powerful of the available engines was the brand new twelve-cylinder with twin-turbo charger, water intercooling and other high-tech innovations. Made of lightweight materials and with a displacement of 5.5 litres, the V12 engine had an output of 368 kW (500 hp), making it one of the most powerful engines in its class. The new twelve-cylinder engine achieved a maximum torque of 800 Nm at 1800 rpm and accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds.
The successful six-cylinder engines in the S-Class were further developed and enhanced in terms of engine performance and torque: The displacement was increased to 3.7 litres, which increased engine performance by 12.5 percent to an output of 180 kW (245 hp) and torque by some 11 percent to 350 Nm at 3000 rpm. The fuel consumption of the new S 350 remained at 11.1 litres per 100 km (NEDC total consumption), which was unmatched for this engine displacement class.
The modified 6-cylinder diesel engine belonged to the second generation of common-rail powertrains developed by Mercedes-Benz. They had more engine power and elasticity and consumed even less fuel. The output of the 3.2 litre powertrain increased to 150 kW (204 hp), and maximum torque reached a new peak of 500 Nm at 1800 rpm. The S 320 CDI consumed 7.7 litres of fuel per 100 km (NEDC total consumption) - just under 4 percent less than it had so far.
From September 2003, the eight-cylinder S-Class models S 430 and S 500 were equipped with the new automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC, which boasted fantastic features: It not only reduced fuel consumption considerably, but changed gears faster and more smoothly than current automatic transmissions. The new automatic transmission, which was designed for a higher continuous torque of 700 Nm, replaced the previous 5-speed automatic transmission. The new 7G-TRONIC was the fifth generation of automatic transmissions developed by Mercedes-Benz and continued a long-standing tradition:Since 1959, the Stuttgart-based automobile brand had built over 11 million automatic transmissions. Thanks to major advances in several technical disciplines, the new 7-speed automatic transmission was setting clear tones for fuel consumption, comfort and driving pleasure. Depending on the model, the 7G-TRONIC helped reduce the NEDC total consumption by up to 0.6 l per 100 km (NEDC) - that was about five percent. In daily driving conditions, fuel consumption could be clearly reduced by more than 1 litre per 100 km. Shifting times were reduced by 0.1 to 0.2 seconds, meaning that the high-torque V8 engine responded even quicker to the accelerator's movements. The individual shifting operations were smoother and quieter. With the same engine, the acceleration time from 0 to 100 km/h was shortened by 0.3 seconds compared with the proven 5-gear automatic transmission. When overtaking, the 7-gear transmission shortened the time it took to accelerate from 60 km/h to 120 km/h by 2.1 seconds.
In December 2003, AMG introduced the S 65 AMG - the most powerful automobile in the 35-year history of the performance brand. The dynamic luxury saloon was powered by a newly designed 6-litre, twin-turbo charged V12 engine that had an output that had never been seen before in its engine displacement class: The twelve-cylinder engine had an output of 450 kW (612 hp) and achieved a maximum torque of 1000 Nm between 2000 and 4000 rpm.The impressive engine data propelled driving performance into a new dimension: The AMG accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, and achieved a maximum speed of 250 km/h (electronically limited). This remarkable performance was achieved by the new twin-turbo charger with even larger turbo chargers, the redesigned and improved intercooler, the increased displacement to 5980 cc, as well as numerous other engine-internal measures. The transmission was handled by the AMG SPEEDSHIFT 5-speed automatic transmission with steering-column gear change. The high maximum torque of 1200 Nm had to be electronically limited to 1000 Nm, several transmission components, such as the new clutch plates with high-quality metal coating had to be reinforced, and the shift and the logic of the torque converter lockup clutch had to be modified. The modified driveshaft and larger wheel bearing also helped boost the output and torque. For the driver and passenger, the S 65 AMG was outfitted with electronically adjustable drive-dynamic multi-contour seats, memory and seat heating, as well as the pattern and perforation typical of AMG seats. The unique style of the twelve-cylinder model was rounded off by the instrument cluster with a speedometer that went to 360 km/h, an ergonomic sports steering wheel with shift paddles, and chrome-plated stainless-steel door sills with AMG logo.
A slightly fresher 368 kW (500 hp) S 55 AMG was also introduced:Compared with the previous model, the refreshed AMG was outfitted with superior standard equipment worth as much as €11,000. In addition to the model with a long wheelbase, the S 55 AMG was also available as a dynamic luxury saloon with a short wheelbase.
Mercedes-Benz also offered the reworked S-Class with integrated protection. The Stuttgart-based automobile brand outfitted the S 500 V8 saloon (long wheelbase) and the new twelve-cylinder top-of-the-range S 600 with standard equipment that corresponded to the European ballistic resistance classes B4 (high protection) and B6/B7 (very high protection). The two independent agencies that tested the bodies based on the version concluded that they could successfully withstand assaults with handguns, rifles, hand grenades and explosives. The extremely high resistance was guaranteed, among other things, by reinforcements made of the newest materials such as combinations of glass and synthetic materials combined with high-tensile special steel (high protection level B4), and special steel combined with synthetic materials (highest protection level B6/B7). From the outside, the S-Guard was difficult to distinguish from standard S-Class saloons. Thanks to the newly developed twin-turbo powertrain, Mercedes-Benz's top-of-the-range S 600 Guard model had an output of 368 kW (500 hp), making it one of the most powerful saloons in its class. The twelve-cylinder engine achieved a maximum torque of 800 Nm at 1800 rpm and accelerated the highest protection version of the S-Guard from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.5 seconds. The S 500 was equipped with the proven 225 kW (306 hp) strong V8 powertrain.
The S-Class also boasts a taxi version that is outfitted with sophisticated technical details that are tailored to the sector's needs. Some of Mercedes-Benz's custom solutions marked a tipping point in the taxi sector: Special equipment was integrated as much as possible in existing functional units. For example, the special Taxi Package included a taxi meter that was integrated in the rear view mirror. Using this space not only improved the safety and comfort of the passenger compartment, it also increased the vehicle's resale value because the consoles didn't have any marks pointing to the vehicle's prior life as a taxi.
In the autumn of 2005, approximately three years after the introduction of the updated models, the S-Class 220 series was replaced by the brand new 221 series. Until December 2005, the factory in Sindelfingen had produced a total of 484,683 saloons in the 220 series. The most successful model in this generation of the S-Class was the S 500 with a long wheelbase, of which 108,823 were produced.