Mercedes-Benz S-Class, W 220 series (1998 to 2005)

At the Paris Motor Show in September 1998, the public was introduced to six S-Class saloons in the W 220 series, which succeeded the W 140 series after seven and a half years. It was almost delicate by direct comparison, for somehow the designers succeeded in accommodating the same feeling of space and presence within a much more slender body. But unchanged was the same aspiration to set the trend for automotive design as a whole. On its debut the new S-Class displayed over 30 technical innovations, including the DISTRONIC autonomous intelligent cruise control, navigation system with integrated congestion warning and automatic cylinder shut-off in the V8 engine of the S 500. And later came the pioneering safety system PRE-SAFE®.
When the W 220 was presented in 1998, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, then Board Member at Daimler-Benz AG with responsibility for Sales, made the comment: “In total, the new S-Class derives its desirability from the classic virtues of a Mercedes-Benz – by associating reason and emotion. Thanks to its familiar strengths of comfort and safety it guarantees a sense of calm, and with its elegant design and well-balanced driving characteristics it embodies sheer enjoyment.”
When the W 220 series was launched, there were initially two body and three engine variants. The customers were given a choice between the saloon with a short wheelbase (2965 millimetres) and the model with a wheelbase 120 millimetres longer (3085 millimetres). For each body there were three engines available. The S 320 had a 3.2 litre V6 engine (165 kW/224 hp); the S 430 a V8 engine which delivered 205 kW (279 hp); and the V8 in the top-of-the-range S 500 provided 225 kW (306 hp). All three units offered optimum combustion thanks to their three-valve technology and dual ignition. Dual ignition also made it possible to increase the volume of exhaust gas fed back into the engine, with a consequent beneficial impact on emissions.
Automatic cylinder shut-off
The newly developed automatic cylinder shut-off turned the eight-cylinder S 500 temporarily into a four-cylinder – a feature which had a dramatic impact on fuel consumption without compromising on smoothness, torque or quietness. To put that into figures, when four of the eight cylinders were shut off under partial load conditions, NEDC fuel consumption (New European Driving Cycle) for the S 500 was cut by an average of seven percent. Indeed, thanks to the automatic cylinder shut-off even greater economies were to be achieved depending on driving circumstances: At a constant 120 km/h gasoline consumption fell by about 13 percent, and at a constant 90 km/h by as much as 15 percent. The automatic cylinder shut-off was activated whenever the V8 engine was obliged to deliver only a fraction of its output and torque – for example, in city traffic, on trunk roads or for steady motorway driving at moderate speed.
At the Geneva Motor Show in 1999, a new family member, the CL coupe, celebrated its world premiere. It featured for the first time as standard the innovative suspension system Active Body Control ABC, which represented a hitherto unachieved optimum balance of sportiness and comfort. A system based on signals from sensors and using special hydraulic cylinders on the axles, ABC compensated almost entirely for any rolling and pitching motion of the body when moving off, cornering or braking. Two engines were available: The CL 600 had the twelve-cylinder unit with 270 kW (367 hp), and the CL 500 the 225 kW (306 hp) V8 engine.
The IAA Frankfurt Motor Show in 1999 presented the twelve-cylinder saloon S 600 and the six and eight-cylinder diesel versions, the S 320 CDI and S 400 CDI. The other engines were revised.
The S 600 was only available as a long-wheelbase version. The newly developed V12 engine was the same as the unit used in the CL. It was fitted as standard with such technical innovations as automatic cylinder shut-off, phased-control dual ignition, three-valve technology and AC ignition, and delivered 270 kW (367 hp) with maximum torque of 530 Newton meters at 4100/min. That took the S 600 from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds and gave it an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
The S 320 CDI was powered by an advanced six-cylinder unit with direct diesel injection, VNT turbocharger (Variable Nozzle Turbine) and four-valve technology. It generated 145 kW (197 hp) and at 1800/min developed maximum torque of 470 Newton meters. In the new European driving cycle the six-cylinder saloon used just eight litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres, giving it a range of almost 1,100 kilometres with a full tank (88 litres).
A bi-turbo diesel
The V8 engine with bi-turbo system in the S 400 CDI marked a further milestone in the long history of Mercedes-Benz compression-ignition engines. From a displacement of 3,996 cubic centimetres the CDI eight-cylinder unit developed 175 kW (238 hp) of output at 4000/min. Maximum torque – an impressive 560 Newton meters – was available much earlier, at between 1800 and 2600/min. As for fuel consumption, the advanced diesel injection engine here proved far superior to comparable gasoline engines, with a value of just nine litres per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined consumption).
All W 220-series engine variants were equipped as standard with five-speed automatic transmission that also featured two driving modes, slip-controlled torque converter lock-up and an advanced lightweight design. This meant that even the transmission made a major contribution to fuel economy. Daimler-Benz had taken operation of the five-speed automatic system to a new stage of development with its so-called ‘touch shift’ function: While it was still possible to select the positions “P”, “ R”, “N” and “D” as usual, in position “D” the driver could engage driving stages 4 through 1 by gently pushing the shift lever to the right or left. The manual gear selection was monitored by the transmission electronics, which only carried out shift commands that lay in the permitted engine speed range. A display in the instrument cluster kept the driver informed of the current shift position.
The W 220 series made advances in all areas of automotive design. As such, the W 220 series weighed over 300 kilograms less than its predecessors with the same equipment options – one of the most important conditions for reducing fuel consumption and increasing agility. Thanks to lightweight design, exemplary aerodynamic efficiency (drag coefficient Cd = 0.27) and advanced V6 and V8 engines, the W 220-series vehicles saved somewhere between 12 and 17 percent on fuel, depending on the specific engine, over predecessor models.
In spite of having a lighter body the designers also managed to further optimize protection for vehicle occupants. Window airbags came as standard and stretched from A-pillar to C-pillar, sidebags were fitted to all doors and great attention was paid in the area of body design to reduce the risk of injury in the event of a side impact. Other standard safety innovations included belt force limiters for front seats and outer seats in the rear, front passenger airbag with two-stage gas generator and an automatic front passenger/child seat recognition system.
High level of ride comfort
With its electronically controlled air suspension to front and rear axles, the S-Class opened up a new dimension in ride comfort. Natural body vibrations, an important factor for suspension comfort, were as much as 14 percent lower than the value for the previous top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz. AIRMATIC came as standard, and combined the air suspension and Adaptive Damping System ADS into a system that automatically made adjustments to the shock absorbers to take account of the condition of the road surface, load or driving style. As a result the saloon was able to offer a high degree of agility and cornering dynamics – important factors for driving pleasure at the highest level, and supported also by the newly developed four-link front suspension. The Electronic Stability Program ESP® was also a standard equipment feature in the S-Class. And with the autonomous intelligent cruise control system DISTRONIC, available from early 1999, ventilated luxury seats and the innovative multi-contour backrest with automatic massage function, driving in the S-Class became an even more relaxing and stress-free experience.
An innovative Cockpit Management and Data System – in short: COMAND – combined the functions of car radio, CD and cassette player, sound system, telephone, navigation system, TV receiver (available from early 1999) and the clock times, thus offering the epitome of user-friendly operation. Moreover, buttons on the steering wheel of the new S-Class enabled the driver to program individual settings and call up various items of journey data. These appeared on the clearly laid out central display in the instrument cluster. From model year 2002, COMAND was fitted as standard to all models in the S-Class, and in the top-of-the-range S 600 it was coupled as standard with the navigation system.
Model refinement of the W 220 series in autumn 2002 incorporated the 4MATIC electronically controlled four-wheel drive for the six-cylinder and eight-cylinder gasoline models. Also available as an option was the Active Body Control suspension system ABC (standard in the S 600), already used in the CL coupe, which adapted body suspension to current driving conditions in a split second. In this way the system was able to reduce body movements appreciably, dramatically improving lateral roll of the twelve-cylinder saloon on cornering and offering a much greater level of safety in rapid evasive manoeuvres compared with cars equipped with conventional running gear technology. New to the range was the Mercedes-Benz S 600, which put all others in the shade and deceived the competition: the bi-turbo V12 engine developed 500 hp (368 kW) and torque of 800 Newton metres.
PRE-SAFE® prevention
Top of the list of pioneering new high-tech innovations since 2001 has been the PRE-SAFE® preventative occupant protection system, with which Mercedes-Benz launched a new era of automotive safety. PRE-SAFE® is capable of recognizing an impending accident in advance and preparing the vehicle accordingly. Such preventative passenger protection measures include, for example, split-second tensioning of seat belts, forcing driver and front passenger to adopt the optimum seat position ahead of an imminent collision, so that airbags can function with maximum effectiveness upon impact. At the same time PRE-SAFE® returns the front passenger seat and electrically adjustable individual rear seats into the optimum position and automatically closes the sunroof should the vehicle go into a skid.
Discreet design modifications were also made to the visual appearance of the S-Class from model year 2003, lending even greater emphasis to the agile and elegant nature of the saloon. One example of this was the front bumper, which now featured a new design of lower air intake that gave the body a broader and even more powerful appearance. The radiator grille was also modified, with designers giving it greater height and positioning it at a steeper angle than before. The most important element of the stylistic facelift, however, were the curved lines of the headlamps, which gave the saloon added brilliance as a result of their state-of-the-art clear glass lenses and high-gloss reflectors.
The innovative dynamic multi-contour seat was considered the ultimate in state-of-the-art seat design. Equipped with several air chambers that automatically inflate or deflate depending on the situation, it gave both driver and front passenger perfect side stability on cornering. Electro-pneumatic control was the responsibility of a computer integrated into the seat, which was capable of computing data such as steering angle, lateral acceleration and road speed in a fraction of a second, in order to vary the inflation pressure and volume of the air chambers as appropriate to each situation. In a left-hand bend, for example, the system pumped more air into the air chambers on the right-hand side of the backrest, thus improving lateral support for occupants.
Fall 2001 saw the market launch of the W 220-series Pullman variant, with a wheelbase one metre longer than that of the conventional long version. The additional space benefited the rear passengers and allowed a vis-à-vis seating arrangement. The Pullman was available with either the 5.0-liter eight-cylinder engine (225 kW/306 hp) or the V12 unit (270 kW/367 hp). The basis of the vehicle was a reinforced body shell and modified running gear.
Production of the W 220 series was scheduled to end in late 2005 to make way for the W 221 series, which once again continued to set new standards – as befits the S-Class from Mercedes-Benz. By December 2005 the Sindelfingen plant had turned out a total of 484,683 saloons from the W 220 series. The most successful model from this generation was the S 500 long version, with unit numbers of 108 823 examples.
The W 220 series in the press
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany, October 13, 1998, on the S-Class:
“The saloons create a thoroughly imposing presence, despite being lighter and slightly smaller in dimensions, and they display an agility and manoeuvrability we have never before seen in this class of car. At the same time, there is a precision of wheel location and responsiveness of steering that one would otherwise normally only associate with serious compromises to ride comfort. The air suspension that comes as standard in all variants seems to turn the Mercedes saloon into a flying carpet that can recognize turbulence before it even has time to hit. Every S-Class should have that once popular sign in the rear window: Beware – boss driving!”
Auto, Motor und Sport, Germany, issue 25/1998, on the Mercedes-Benz S 320:
“Airmatic and ADS are also part of the package that gives the large saloon such manageable and nimble handling characteristics without unstable body movements. It is supported by precise speed-sensitive parameter steering, which allows the two-tonne saloon to be steered like a compact car.”
Road & Track, USA, January 1999, on the Mercedes-Benz S 500: “In the meantime [until the S 600 arrives], the S 500 is quite a worthy flagship: quick, quiet, stable and yet commendably nimble. Whereas the previous S‑C lass miraculously shrank the faster it was driven, in a sense this new one is already preshrunk; its excellent chassis dynamics evident at any speed, its comfort undiminished from that of the car it replaces.”
Auto Zeitung, Germany, issue 4/2003, in a comparative test between the Mercedes-Benz S 600 and BMW 760 Li: “It’s hard to believe that such an engine might meet its match. But the turbocharged Mercedes V12 puts the BMW unit in the shade. The sheer power of its 800 Newton metres and 500 hp facilitates even better driving performance at low engine speeds without compromising its smooth running characteristics. Two turbochargers produce such enormous thrust that the 5-speed automatic transmission seldom needs to change the gear ratio even at very high speeds. This V12 is nothing short of sensational.”

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    More room, more technology: Mercedes-Benz S 600 Pullman (W 220 series) with innovative multimedia system.
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    Withstands virtually anything: special protection vehicles from Mercedes-Benz (here the W 220 model series S-Guard) undergo firearms and explosion tests. Photo from 1999.
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    By far the most powerful diesel engine in a Mercedes-Benz: The S 400 CDI (220 series) made its debut in 2000.
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    Powerful diesel technology in the luxury class: Mercedes-Benz S 320 CDI (220 series).
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    Mercedes-Benz CL 500
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    Mercedes-Benz S 320 CDI, W 220 series
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    Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan, W 220 series
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    Mercedes-Benz S 320 CDI, W 220 series
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    Mercedes-Benz S-Class, W 220 series V6-Engine
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    Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan, W 220 series
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    Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan, W 220 series
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    Mercedes-Benz S 600 long wheelbase