The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, formerly known as Sonderklasse (German for "special class", abbreviated as "S-Klasse"), is a series of full-sized luxury flagship vehicles produced by the German automaker Mercedes-Benz, a division of German company Daimler AG. The S-Class designation for top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz models was officially introduced in 1972 with the W116, and has remained in use ever since.
In automotive terms, Sonderklasse refers to "a specially outfitted car." Although used colloquially for decades, following its official application in 1972, six generations of officially named S-Klasse sedans have been produced. Previous two-door coupe models of the S-Class were known as SEC and later S-Coupe. In 1996 the S-Class coupe was spun off in a separate line as the CL-Class, however as of June 2014, it has been re-designated as the S-Class Coupé for the 2015 model year, doing away with the CL-Class. In 2016, the S-Class Cabriolet, internally named A217, was introduced with three variants: the S 550 Cabriolet, the Mercedes-AMG S 63 Cabriolet with 4Matic, and the Mercedes-AMG S 65 Cabriolet. The Mercedes-Maybach S 650 Cabriolet, based on the S 65 Cabriolet, was announced in 2016.
The W180 line debuted in 1954, and is the first lineup of "Ponton" models retroactively associated with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The W180 featured six-cylinder sedan, coupé, and convertible models, and was produced until 1957. The later W128 lineup, introduced in the mid-to-late 1950s, was the last to be associated with the "Ponton" name. It featured the 220a, 219 (W105), 220S, and 220SE models (sedan, coupé, and cabriolet) powered by a 2.2L straight-6, and came to ten. The "Ponton" designation referred to pontoon fenders, a stylistic feature on the W180/W128 models.
In 1972, Mercedes-Benz introduced the W116 line, the first to be officially called the S-Class. Produced from 1972 through 1980, the W116 series featured a four-wheel independent suspension and disc brakes. The 280, 350, and 450 (4.5L version) models featured SE and SEL versions. Production of the W116 totaled 473,035 units. This was a groundbreaking sedan for Mercedes-Benz, and for the first time in the company history, the car had an obvious, blatant and outward emphasis on safety placed above a pure styling viewpoint. The overall design incorporated numerous safety features developed from the "safety research vehicles" in the mid-to-late 1960s to the very early 1970s.
As with each new S-Class, the W220 brought in innovations such as Airmatic air suspension and Active Ventilated Seats (which used miniature fans in the seats to move air through perforations). A navigation system with center console-mounted screen display was introduced, along with the COMAND input control system. Other options included keyless entry and ignition, a radar-controlled Distronic cruise control system and a cylinder shut-off system called Active Cylinder Control. The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system was introduced to the North America market S-Class for 2003, complementing the traditional rear-wheel drive configurations.
For one month in 2001, AMG produced the S63 AMG, which was sold in very limited numbers. The S63 was powered by a 6.3 L 444 hp (331 kW) V12. An undisclosed number of them were sold exclusively through AMG in European and Asian markets. A handful of the S600 AMG "collectors edition" were produced in the later years of the W220, much the same specs as the S63 AMG, but with an improved interior and voice command. The S600 AMG were one of the earlier models to be introduced with the Euro 4 emissions system. The S65 AMG was introduced in 2003 and went on sale in 2004 as a 2005 model. Powered by a 6.0 L 612 hp (456 kW) V12 twin turbo motor, the S65 was the most powerful S-Class, as well as the world's most powerful production sedan. The S65 had a 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) time of 4.2 seconds (conservative MB estimate) and an owner-tested time of 3.8 seconds and could reach 100 mph (160 km/h) under 9 seconds. Furthermore, an ECU software upgrade can result in the engine producing 740 horsepower and over 850 pound-feet of torque.