The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class represents the pinnacle of the company’s engineering and craftsmanship, and has been fully redesigned. It’s also long been a benchmark for the full-size luxury sedan class, and now that it’s all new, we thought we ought to see how it measures up with two of its longest-running and closest competitors: the Audi A8 L and BMW 7 Series.
We’ve compiled all the pertinent numbers in the chart below, and we’ll discuss them a bit more in the paragraphs that follow. For this comparison, we’re only looking at the basic trim levels, and not including the S8, M760i or Alpina B7, since the AMG S-Class variants that would compete with those models haven’t been revealed. And if you want more details on the new S-Class, be sure to check out the main reveal story. With that out of the way, let’s start comparing.
Engines and drivetrains
At launch, the S-Class will only have two engine options, putting it one behind the competition. But its two options are strong. For an entry-level engine, the Mercedes has the most power and torque, with nearly 100 more ponies than either the Audi or BMW. The optional V8 on the Mercedes is also strong, though it comes up second to the potent BMW. The Mercedes also boasts one more gear than its competitors. All three cars are available with all-wheel drive, but only the BMW is available with rear-wheel drive. That’s a feature exclusive to the base 740i. The BMW is also the most efficient of the group for both gas engine options. Mercedes hasn’t released fuel economy figures for the S-Class yet, though.
While technically the Mercedes features a 48-volt mild-hybrid assist, Mercedes doesn’t offer a version that can heavily rely on electric power for driving. Both Audi and BMW do, and their hybrid offerings are plug-in models. The Audi is the most powerful, with nearly as much horsepower as its V8 counterpart, and the same amount of torque as the V8 Mercedes. It’s a bit less efficient than the BMW, though. Electric range is different by only a mile in the BMW’s favor.
Exterior and interior dimensions
These sedans are not just the best the companies have to offer, but the biggest. And the biggest of the biggest is close between the A8 and the S-Class. The A8 is longer than the S-Class by half an inch, but the S-Class is wider and taller by similar margins. The 7 Series is the smallest, but it does feature the second-longest wheelbase, just 0.2 inch behind the S-Class.
As for interior space, the S-Class makes good use of its size to feature the most front-passenger room and cargo capacity. It has the most headroom and shoulder room for the front occupants, and legroom is only about half an inch behind the others. The trunk is far and away the largest at 22 cubic feet, followed by the 7 Series with 18.2 and the A8 with a rather small 12.5. For rear-seat space, the 7 Series is the winner. It has the most headroom and legroom, and shoulder room is just 0.3 inch off of the largest Mercedes.
Interior design is also worth considering, as subjective as it may be. The Mercedes is the most flashy of the group with a gigantic center touchscreen and a less large instrument display. It’s backed by a bold cascading dash, lavish materials and lighting. The Audi features plenty of screens, too, but it has a more minimalist, modern design. The BMW has plenty of gizmos, but they’re all packed into an interior that’s evolved from past cars. There are plenty of buttons and knobs, slightly angular shapes and a center stack angled toward the driver. It’s easily the most conservative of the group.
Pricing and other details
Pricing hasn’t been announced for the S-Class yet, but we feel comfortable in estimating it will be close to or greater than $95,000, the starting price for the outgoing model. That also will put it at about $10,000 more expensive than either the Audi or the BMW.
While we’ve only covered the mainline versions of these luxury sedans, the other more performance or exclusive trims are worth mentioning. BMW has two fast versions, the M760i and the Alpina B7. The former makes 601 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbo V12, and the latter makes 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbo V8. Both get unique exterior styling and some unique interior badging and trim. The main focus though is the improved performance.The M760i starts at about $158,000. and the Alpina starts at about $144,000.
The one other Audi model is the S8. It’s very subtle-looking inside and out, but features a twin-turbo V8 making 571 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. That puts it behind both fast BMWs. But at a price of about $130,000, it’s significantly cheaper than the BMWs.
Mercedes will also have special versions of the S-Class. Certainly a high-output version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter AMG V8 will be on offer, which could produce as much as 630 horsepower. Whether the old V12 will return is the question. Besides at least one fast AMG version, there will undoubtedly be another Mercedes-Maybach variant focusing on interior materials and features to provide the most luxurious experience possible. All of these versions will likely cost more than any A8 or 7 Series.