The Mercedes-Benz S-Class 220 series was officially introduced at the Paris Motor Show at the end of September 1998. Sales started at European dealerships and distributors on 24 October.
With its new, elegant and dynamic look and numerous innovations, the new saloon was a worthy successor to the 140 series. Just as its predecessor, the new S-Class was a trendsetter in automotive technology: Over 30 technological innovations with a total of 340 patents were incorporated in the saloon. Many of the innovations that Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer in the world to introduce were standard in the S-Class.
The body may have been 75 mm shorter, but the S-Class was just as spacious and luxurious as the 140 series. The passenger compartment was extended by 17 mm, and that of the saloons with a longer wheelbase by 37 mm. With a width of 1503 mm, the new top-of-the-range model offered more shoulder room than similar luxury saloons. The smaller dimensions were part of the basic concept for the dynamic-elegant exterior of the S-Class: The body's design accentuated the agile, friendly character of the saloon, whose elongated silhouette deliberately conjured up memories of a coupé.
The innovative assistance systems added a new dimension of comfort to the S-Class. The most important of the innovations to be introduced to the world was the optional Adaptive Cruise Control DISTRONIC, which made sure that the S-Class stayed at the selected distance from the car in front. DISTRONIC was equipped with a special antenna behind the radiator grille and proved its worth especially in heavy motorway traffic. New were also the comfort-ventilated seats and the dynamic multi-contour seats, which provided exceptional back support. The standard air conditioning in the S-Class automatically regulated the temperature based on the number of passengers and the amount of sunlight at each seat. The S-Class was the first automobile made by Mercedes-Benz to be fully equipped with green laminated glass, which not only increased passenger safety in the event of a collision, but also reduced the amount of UV rays entering the passenger compartment to about one percent. The V8 saloons, and optionally the S 320, were also equipped with laminated glass coated with an infrared reflective film that reflected up to 80 percent of infrared light.
The doors and ignition in the S-Class could be optionally operated by a chip card directly from the driver's jacket or trouser pocket. To enter the vehicle, all you had to do was touch the door handle. This activated the Keyless-Go system, which identified you by quickly exchanging data with the vehicle through induction and radio signals. The doors opened. The engine was also started without a key: Pressing a button on the automatic transmission was all that was needed.
The steering wheel in the S-Class could be adjusted electrically. The steering wheel's easy entry/exit feature made it easier to enter and exit the vehicle: Removing the electronic ignition key tilted the steering wheel up by 44 mm, creating more legroom so the vehicle could be exited comfortably. The driver and passenger seats could be adjusted electrically and their positions stored with the help of a memory function. The best seating position could be quickly found without going through all of the many options by pressing the ‘Ergo' button, which automatically moved the backrest, lumbar support, head restraints, steering wheel, and the interior and exterior mirrors into the ergonomically best position.
The brand new standard AIRmatic (Adaptive Intelligent Ride Control) system, which integrated the air suspension and adaptive dampening system (ADS), also contributed to the S-Class' incredibly smooth ride. AIRmatic automatically adapted the damping forces to the condition of the road, load and driving style. The Electronic Stability Programme ESP® and the Brake Assist System (BAS) were also part of the new Mercedes model's standard equipment.
The curved shape of the headlights was not only an important design element, the new headlights themselves set a technical tone: Important light functions were combined under a lens made of light scratch-resistant polycarbonate. Xenon headlights were optionally available with gas-discharge lamps. The dynamic self-levelling headlight system prevented dazzling oncoming traffic by compensating for a momentary change in the vehicle's position.
In addition to the lamps used in the headlights and tail lights, the integrated indicator in the door mirrors was outfitted with 18 light-emitting diodes to increase the vehicle's own visibility in road traffic. The diodes were aligned in such a way that the light they emitted was visible from the front and the side. The main advantage of the light-emitting diodes was their long life of more than ten years. Mercedes-Benz also used light-emitting diodes in the brake lights. When the brakes were activated, they would illuminate some 150 milliseconds faster than filament lamps and helped reduce rear-end collisions.
In terms of passive safety, the S-Class met all of the then applicable requirements as well as requirements that hadn't yet been imposed. The saloon passed the compulsory crash tests, such as the European frontal impact test into a deformable barrier and the ECE side impact test, with a considerably higher impact speed than required. The engineers were also challenged by the compatibility issue, namely the engineering effort required to protect collision partners by reducing the risk of injury to occupants of smaller vehicles. The new S-Class met the then applicable requirements set by accident researchers: The front-end geometry of the saloon was designed to reduce the impact energy on both vehicles - without compromising the safety of its own occupants - by extending the deformation zones as soon as it reached a certain range. This elaborate front-end geometry, which was achieved by developing two independent frame-rail levels, replaced the k-frame that was currently used and created a brand new front bulkhead. The ‘ellipsoidal front bulkhead' consisted of a multipart, forward-facing ellipsoidal high-grade steel element that could bear very high impact forces by using solid plates to connect it to the front frame.
Innovative window bags, side bags in all doors, belt pre-tensioners and belt load limiters in the front and back as well as a passenger airbag that adjusted itself according to the type of impact, were all part of the vehicle's standard equipment. An automatic child seat recognition system deactivated the passenger airbag if a Mercedes-Benz reboard child car seat was installed. This child car seat was equipped with a special transponder system that received and answered signals sent by antennas in the seat cushion. This exchange of data informed the airbag controls that a reboard child car seat was installed and deactivated the air bag on the passenger side. The belt pre-tensioners, and the side and window bags remained active giving the little passenger additional protection in the car seat in the event of a collision.
The 220 series also brought telematics to the road. Electronic assistants used satellite positioning to guide motorists to their destination, or automatically called emergency services in the event of an emergency. Mercedes-Benz replaced the auto pilot system APS with the enhanced dynamic version DynAPS, which also took the current road congestion into account when calculating the route. The new cockpit management and data system COMAND made it easier to operate the navigation system, car radio, telephone, CD changer and TV receiver. COMAND was installed in the centre console of the S-Class and displayed information for the driver on a wide colour screen. Switching on the auto pilot system displayed a map of the area that could be rescaled. Individual COMAND functions could be operated from the new multifunction steering wheel, which was connected to a central display in the instrument cluster so the driver always had an eye on the most important information. The multifunctional system also enabled the programming of personal settings and displays.
The electronic data network on board the S-Class consisted of two controller area network (CAN) systems for the interior and the drive train. In addition, the audio and telematic components were networked for the first time ever with fibre optics, replacing the conventional copper wiring and significantly increasing transfer rates. The hi-fi signals produced by the stereo and the car phone, and the colour images produced by the TV receiver, were transferred as light pulses.
The range of engines for the S-Class initially consisted of a six-cylinder engine with an output of 165 kW (220 hp) and two V8 engines with an output of 205 kW (279 hp) and 225 kW (306 hp) respectively. A model with a long wheelbase (plus 120 mm) was also available. The engines not only distinguished themselves by their superior performance, excellent acceleration and exemplary running smoothness, but especially by their good fuel economy and low exhaust emissions. The combination of a modern lightweight design, outstanding aerodynamics and state-of-the-art engine technology reduced the fuel consumption of the S-Class according to the NEDC by 13 to 17 percent compared with its predecessor. The S 430, for example, proved the point: The new V8-powered saloon was 2.6 litres more economical per 100 km than its predecessor (12.3 instead of 14.9 litre NEDC total consumption).
An automatic cylinder cut-off, which was optionally available for the S 500, further reduced fuel consumption by an average of 7 percent. The new automatic cylinder cut-off temporarily transformed the eight-cylinder engine in the S 500 into a four-cylinder engine without any loss in running smoothness, torque and noise comfort, but with a considerable impact on fuel consumption. Cutting off four of the eight cylinders on demand when the engine was running in the partial load range reduced the amount of fuel the S 500 consumed by up to 7 percent on average according to the NEDC. Depending on the driving style, cutting off the cylinders could achieve even higher fuel economies: At a constant speed of 120 km/h, fuel consumption was reduced by about 13 percent and at a constant speed of 90 km/h even by up to 15 percent. The automatic cylinder cut-off kicked in when the engine used only part of its power and torque, for example, in city traffic, on country roads or when travelling on the motorway at a constant moderate speed. In such scenarios, the efficiency of an eight-cylinder engine generally dwindled because the cylinders were not completely filled and there were high losses in the charge cycle. As soon as the engine started running in the partial load range, the electronic engine controls deactivated combustion chambers 2 and 3 in the right cylinder bank as well as cylinders 5 and 8 in the left bank by stopping the appropriate intake and exhaust valves and interrupting the fuel supply to the appropriate cylinder. The passengers didn't notice a thing because the engine's computer prevented a potential torque distortion by changing the position of the throttle valves and the ignition point. The process was repeated in reverse order when the driver pressed the accelerator and the V8 powertrain had to use its full engine power: The four inactive cylinders quickly and smoothly came to life, and the engine accelerated as if nothing had ever happened.
Three-valve technology and dual ignition provided for optimal combustion in both the V8 powertrains and the V6 engine. The twin spark plugs were located near the cylinder walls, enabling the injected mixture to be quickly and almost fully ignited. Dual ignition enabled the amount of exhaust that was redirected back into the charge air to be increased, which had a positive effect on the emission of harmful substances. Based on the engine's load and number of revolutions, the twin spark plugs on each cylinder were not fired at the same time, but shortly after each other. The sequence in which the spark plugs were fired also changed based on the combustion cycle. This computer-driven change - the engineers referred to it as a ‘phased alternating dual ignition' - increased the pressure in the cylinders, which reduced the combustion noise and balanced the thermal load on the piston.
Emission measurements performed in accordance with EU and US standards highlighted the benefits of the V engines' three-valve technology. Removing one exhaust valve on each cylinder reduced the surface of the exhaust ducts by about 30 percent compared with a four-valve engine, meaning that the thermal loss in the exhaust gas flow was considerably lower. The result: The S-Class not only met the German D3 exhaust emission standards, which had tax benefits for automobile owners, but also came in under California's strict low vehicle emission standards. Mercedes-Benz's top-of-the-range model was therefore classified as ultra-low emission vehicle. Thanks to its forward-looking technology, the V6 and V8 engines had the potential to meet the Euro 4 emission standards planned for 2005.
All of the engine versions in the S-Class were equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission whose key features included two driving programmes, a torque converter lockup clutch with slip control and a modern lightweight design. The transmission also paid an important contribution to fuel economy. Mercedes-Benz enhanced the 5-gear automatic transmission with a touch shift function: While ‘P', ‘R', ‘N' and ‘ D' could be selected as usual, driving positions 4 to 1 could be selected in ‘D' by gently pushing the selector lever to the left or right. The transmission electronics monitored the manual gear selection and only shifted if the engine was running at the allowable rotational speed. The driver could see the gear the engine was running in by checking the instrument cluster.
All of the S-Class 220 models were outfitted with 225/60 R 16 light alloy wheels. An 18-inch version was optionally available. Mercedes-Benz had a long tradition of customization, so it was only natural to customize the S-Class: A specially developed designo package was unveiled together with the new luxury saloon. From May 1999, the designo package enabled the 220 models to be customized with different types of leather, wood and paint.
In March 1999, the S-Class saloons S 500 and S 600 were unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show as special protection version and flagship of the Guard range. Mercedes-Benz's luxury saloons were available in two special protection versions - based on the need - that corresponded to the European ballistic resistance classes B4 (high protection level) and B6/B7 (highest protection level). 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.
In 1999, a new top-of-the-range S-Class was introduced at the IAA in Frankfurt: The S 600. The S 600 was equipped with the new 270 kW (367 hp) V12 engine, which accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds. The engine delivered a maximum torque of 530 Nm at 4100 rpm and guaranteed maximum acceleration, elasticity and ride comfort in every driving situation. The engineers had also made substantial progress in the area of fuel consumption: The S 600 consumed 13.4 litres per 100 km according to the NEDC total consumption - some 20 percent less than the previous model. Moreover, the new V12 powertrain met the Euro 4 emission standards, which weren't due to enter into effect until 2005.
And as if this wasn't enough, at the end of 1999, Mercedes-Benz added two new diesel engines to the S-Class: The new S 400 CDI V8 was the all-time best of the diesel-powered automobiles made in Stuttgart. It had an output of 175 kW (238 hp) and an impressive maximum torque of 560 Nm at 1800 rpm. On a stretch of 100 km, the S 400 CDI consumed 9.0 litres of fuel. The eight-cylinder diesel direct injection engine worked according to the common rail principle. Power was delivered by a twin-turbo system with electronic guide-vane actuation, a liquid intercooler and the four-valve diesel-engine technology typical of Mercedes-Benz.
The S 320 CDI, which was introduced at the end of 1999, was also available with direct injection, VNT turbo charger (variable nozzle turbine), intercooling and other technical novelties. It had an output of 145 kW (197 hp) and an impressive maximum torque of 470 Nm at 1800 rpm. This modern 3.2-litre powertrain had the highest torque in its engine displacement class. With a fuel consumption of just 8.0 litres per 100 km (NEDC total consumption), the S 320 CDI could travel about 1100 km on one 88-litre tank.
At the end of 2000, the S 55 AMG took the position of luxury sports saloon among the wide range of S-Class models. The AMG's V8-engine had an output of 265 kW (360 hp). Together with a torque of 530 Nm, the vehicle produced a driving performance that was hitherto reserved to full-blooded sports cars: It took the AMG exactly 6 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h. Its top speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h, but the S 55 AMG was also available without the speed limiter. The exterior of the car could be modified to match its fiery spirit. The dynamic AMG Styling Package contained modified front and rear aprons as well as special side skirts and the distinctive AMG rear silencer. The interior corresponded to that of the luxurious and fully equipped S-Class. Exquisite leather and carefully selected exotic wood trims were par for the course. Only the speedometer was specific to the AMG and went as high as 320 km/h.
In the autumn of 2002, Mercedes-Benz introduced the refreshed S-Class 220 series. With new outstanding technological performances, the renewed S 220 maintained its position as role model and trendsetter in automotive engineering.