27 October 2021
27 October 2021
By the time Bertha Benz completed her now-famous 12-hour drive from Mannheim, Germany, to her parents’ house in Pforzheim in August 1888, she would have no doubt been wishing for a better seat upon which to rest her derriere.
The legendary automotive pioneer, wife and business partner of automobile inventor Karl Benz, had just taken the world’s first long-distance road trip in a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
Sitting rigidly upright atop the Benz Patent Motor Car Model III and bumping over rutted roads designed for horse-drawn carriages for some 106 km, the crude bench seat on which Bertha perched made few concessions to comfort.
From that three-wheeled ‘Motorwagen’ with its rear-mounted single cylinder engine, the automobile has evolved to the sophisticated, safe and semi-autonomous vehicles we know today. Along the way, Bertha’s bench seat has been transformed into something vastly more comfortable and hi-tech.
A history of innovation
Like so much about the evolution of the automobile, the history of car seating innovation can be traced through new technologies and features Mercedes-Benz has introduced to its vehicles.
As far back as 1958, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to offer seatbelts for vehicles with individual front seats – more than 20 years before Germany made the fitment of seatbelts mandatory.
In 1981, it became the first to present the airbag and seatbelt tensioner as restraint systems in a series-production car – the W 126-series S-Class Saloon. And in 1989, the Mercedes-Benz SL debuted the innovative integral seat structure, which featured some 20 patented detailed solutions, including the ability to absorb energy in a side impact, and incorporating a three-point seatbelt with tensioner and belt-height adjustment into the head restraint.
Now, the arrival of the seventh-generation S-Class brings with it another great leap forward in automotive seating technology, as the world’s best-selling luxury saloon continues its tradition of pioneering major advances in safety, ergonomics, comfort and convenience.
Comfort factors: massage functions and 4D sound
Each front seat in the S-Class incorporates up to 19 electric motors to facilitate a vast range of adjustment and ensure the safety and comfort of occupants, however long their journey.
Handsome Lugano or Nappa leather coverings conceal an incredible array of drive motors and actuators that provides ENERGIZING seat kinetics in the S-Class for the first time. This function proactively facilitates small changes in the angles of the seat surface and backrest during a journey to contract and relax the muscles, improving circulation and reducing tissue fatigue.
Four vibration motors are specifically designed to facilitate the massage function, while a further five fan motors work to keep driver and passenger at a comfortable temperature inside the richly appointed cabin, regardless of the outside conditions.
Combine this heating function with the inflatable air chambers in the active multi-contour seats and the effect resembles a relaxing hot stone massage. The 10 massage programs range from a relaxing back or shoulder massage to an activating massage, and even an active workout massage, with the option of two-stage intensity for periods of between eight and 18 minutes at a time.
The S-Class seats also play an important role in the vehicle’s dynamic aural experience. The high-end Burmester 4D surround audio system has been further enhanced through the installation of two ‘exciters’ – also known as resonance transmitters – in the seat backrests. These devices convert bass tones into vibrations, effectively making the sound more ‘feelable’ and adding another dimension to the listening experience – hence the term ‘4D sound’.
The perceived intensity of the sound can be individually adjusted for each seat, should some passengers want to feel the beat more than others. Additionally, ear-level speakers integrated into the head restraints improve communication, enabling the driver to clearly hear instructions from the navigation system without disturbing the other occupants.
Safety first: all manner of airbags
While consummate luxury is an enduring and essential pillar of the S-Class experience, so too is five-star safety. This generation continues a proud tradition of introducing major safety innovations to the road, many of them eventually trickling down to other Mercedes-Benz models.
The S-Class seats play an increasingly important role in the vehicle’s world-class safety arsenal, housing up to four airbags, including a combined thorax-pelvis side bag, plus a driver's seat centre airbag and air chamber for the new PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side protection system.
The S-Class also includes front-facing airbags for rear seat occupants for the first time. Available as an optional extra for the S-Class long wheelbase, the new rear airbag technology can considerably reduce the loads acting on the head and neck area of seatbelt-wearing occupants in the outer rear seats during severe frontal collisions.
Yet another notable seat safety innovation is the integration of the seating system with the PRE-SAFE® Plus safety system. Upon sensing an impending collision, PRE-SAFE® Plus will move the electric seats into the safest position and contract the seatbelts to ‘hug’ the occupants, minimising the potential for injuries.
The trickle-down effect
One of the first beneficiaries of these S-Class innovations will be the all-new C-Class. Its PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side protection uses air chambers in the side bolsters of the front seat backrest to move the driver or front passenger away from danger as soon as the system detects that a side collision is imminent.
The new C-Class also benefits from improvements to the optional massage function of the front seats, which has been expanded to cover the entire back area of the seats, with eight chambers in the backrest ensuring an improved deep-tissue effect. A vibrating massage is now also available on the driver's side, thanks to the four motors installed in the seat cushion, while seat heating will be available for the first time in Saloon models.
Meanwhile, back in Pforzheim in 1888, no-one - not even the muddied and weary Bertha Benz - could possibly have imagined the impact the Motorwagen would have on the world, nor how radically different and technologically advanced the successor to that basic bench seat would become.
Book a test drive to experience the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class for yourself.
By Jonathan Weller