The 2021 Wards 10 Best UX winners have been revealed in random, non-alphabetical order one per day since Oct. 21. This is the 10th winner profile. Winning design teams will receive their trophies Nov. 17 during Automotive TechWeek in Novi, MI, where winning vehicles will be on display.
Call it a UX tour de force.
From the tip of its properly sorted shift lever to its gorgeous light piping wrapping all the way around the cabin, the ’21 Mercedes-Benz S580 sedan exemplifies UX perfection on nearly every measure we evaluate.
At $143,000 as tested, the S580 is pricey, but every one of our judges deemed it worth the money.
“That’s more than some people’s houses, but this has virtually everything you could ever option in an automobile in 2021,” notes judge Christie Schweinsberg. “The surprise and delight technology alone is worth the cost.”
Top-level technology is the S580’s strong suit, with a 50% boost in computing power in the second-generation MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) leading the way.
Saying “Hey Mercedes” results in prompt responses from the voice assistant, supported by rich visuals displayed on a large, high-definition, haptic-response OLED screen on the center stack and in the digital instrument cluster.
In the previous S-Class, the center screen was horizontal and positioned high atop the instrument panel, but the new vertical touchscreen is lower and slanted for better ergonomics.
Of particular note is the 3D effect that gives cluster icons and lettering a floating appearance, while the HUD’s augmented reality provides clear navigational cues blended with the road and surroundings ahead.
We especially appreciate the traffic sign recognition; when used in concert with adaptive cruise control, the system reads speed-limit signs and will increase or decrease speed accordingly.
Driver-assistance functions, always a strong suit for Mercedes, are upgraded in the S580 (pictured above), providing active lane-change assistance along with its usual excellent full-range adaptive cruise control.
The automatic lane-change feature is surprisingly confident, only shifting lanes when its cameras and sensors indicate the space is clear and no other vehicles are approaching at speed.
The cabin is a joy to behold, as the pinstriped glossy wood wraps from the dashboard into the doors, accented by ambient lighting capable of displaying 64 different colors at 20 brightness levels.
As stunning as that range of hues might seem, the real magic happens when the 250 LEDs driving the wraparound light piping respond with cool blue or warm red lighting corresponding to temperature setting changes or accenting driver-assistance alerts. We find the effect subtle enough to reinforce an action without creating distraction.
Technology is nice, but no Mercedes S-Class ever comes up short on comfort and convenience features. We sometimes didn’t want to exit the S580 while a favorite song played on the 30-speaker Burmester audio system, or the 10-function massaging seat was in mid-back rub.
About that shift lever: For too long, Mercedes has employed myriad similar-looking steering-column stalks, activating everything from the transmission to cruise control and windshield wipers, making it possible to tap the wrong stalk.
The latest S-Class cleans up the space and provides one large, simple shifter that takes all the guesswork out of this primary function.
Mercedes is on quite a UX roll, having placed a winner on our list for three years in a row, including the A220 in 2019 and the CLA in 2020. From our vantage point, the new S-Class takes the brand to a stratospheric level.