Anti-lock brakes, stability control, driver airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners are standard on most cars today, but that might not be the case if the Mercedes S-Class didn't exist. The three-pointed flagship has always been at the vanguard of automotive technology, something set to continue with an expanded semi-autonomous suite in the upcoming S-Class.
Although it was one of the first to fit adaptive cruise control in (you guessed it) the 1998 W220 S-Class, Mercedes is facing stiff competition in the world of semi-autonomous driver assists. To try and put some distance between itself and the competition, Mercedes has given its adaptive cruise control another tune up. The latest generation of Distronic will be able to maintain its distance to the car in front between 0 and 210 km/h (130 mph), thanks to more advanced radar and camera units than those fitted to the current car.
It won't be the first Mercedes to steer itself on the highway – that honor goes to the E-Class – but the auto-steering system in the S-Class will have its little brother covered for smarts. The cruise control and auto-steer systems now communicate with GPS and, rather than barreling headlong into a series of sweeping bends, will slow the car to an appropriate speed before steering through, and accelerating back to the preset speed.
It will also slow for junctions, roundabouts toll booths and, when a route is programmed into the nav, the correct motorway exit. GPS is also used to spot hills, allowing the car to back off the throttle on the downhill for better fuel efficiency – as well as keeping your license safer. Speaking of license savers, the system will adapt to changing speed limits when cruise is activated, and warn drivers if it thinks they've missed a sign when cruise isn't switched on.
Tesla was the first to include active lane-change assistant in its cars, but Mercedes has one-upped Elon Musk with its latest iteration. Flick the indicator between 80 and 180 km/h (50 and 112 mph) and the car will scan the road around it, adjust its speed based on traffic in the neighboring lane and then make the change – all without the driver touching the wheel. Given the Autopilot system in Teslas only works up to 80 mph (129 km/h), the S-Class should have the Model S comprehensively covered for hands-free autobahn lane changes.
"We are approaching the goal of automated driving more purposefully and faster than many people suspect," says Dr Michael Hafner, Head of Automated Driving and Active Safety at Mercedes. "From the autumn, the new S‑Class will be able to support its driver considerably better than all systems which have been available to date."
Beyond the smarter, more capable cruise systems, the S-Class will share most of its active safety technology with the E-Class. That means it will automatically pull to the side of the highway, call emergency services and unlock the car if the driver becomes unresponsive (presumably through sleep or injury) while using adaptive cruise control. It'll also give drivers a helping hand if they're swerving around an obstacle, correcting the driver's steering input to make sure the car safely avoids whatever is in its path.
Active lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warnings are designed to make it harder to have an accident while changing lanes, and the remote-parking assist will park the car in tight spots remotely, a'la BMW 7 Series. Unlike the BMW, the S-Class self-parking runs through a smartphone app. The system will even fold its mirrors in particularly narrow spots.