New Mercedes-Benz S-Class gets a total makeover with 4-wheel steering
Mercedes-Benz is taking its flagship luxury limousine up a notch, and throwing the kitchen sink at it in the process. From rear wheel steering, to body language interpretation, to voice control in 27 languages, it's an exercise in total opulence.
And boy does the company want you to know about it: 288 photos, 33 separate English press releases... One scallywag at Top Gear tallied up all the marketing fluff on this thing and found it a thousand words longer than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We have diligently read portions of it, and while it doesn't rise to Roald Dahl's literary standard, it may be much more effective at putting your children to sleep. Relax, Mercedes, you've made a car. That's what you do. Other companies do it every day without feeling the need to channel Tolstoy. Yeesh.
The new S-Class will offer quite a range of engine options eventually, but it'll start out with a 3-liter, six-cylinder gasoline motor making 367 horsepower and 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque, which will be prodded along with the addition of 22 horsepower worth of electric boost from the 48-volt starter-generator when needed. Some diesel variants will be available at launch, and by the time you've waded halfway through these press releases there'll be a V8 and a plug-in hybrid with 100-km (62 miles) of range as well.
One big addition to the new model is 10 degrees' worth of rear wheel steering capability, which tightens the turning circle of this unashamedly large machine by an impressive 2 meters (6.6 ft), making it a ton easier to park and punt around in tight spaces. It also helps on the highway, where, like the last few Rollers, it's able to turn the rear wheels in the same direction as the front ones for gentle, wafty lane changes with minimal deviation in yaw. This mercifully eliminates that common moment so many of us chauffeured folks experience where the violent torque of a lane change causes us to spill our champagne.
The suspension on these luxury barges is considerably cleverer than the gear on a high-end performance car. As well as developing a whole new rear suspension system to cater for the rear wheel steering, Mercedes has overhauled the active electronics in the air cushions, hydraulic struts and damping systems as well. As with previous systems, it scans the road ahead with stereo cameras to prepare each wheel for what's coming up.
It also monitors your gas and brake inputs, adjusting damping to reduce acceleration squat and brake dive. It leans into corners like a motorcycle – well, perhaps a Harley; it only goes 3 degrees over, but that helps reduce seasickness in the passenger seats. The faster you go, the more it drops its ride height to help reduce drag, contributing to a very low drag coefficient of 0.22, and it plays some other tricks as well, for example by elevating the side of the car if it detects a side impact incoming, to better protect the meatware within.
Back seat airbags are now an option, reflecting the fact that often the top dog in these kinds of cars isn't always the one at the wheel. Indeed, with the right options specified, there's quite a little office back there, with pull-out tables, extending leg rests and all manner of electronic adjustment, including the ability to recline up to 43.5 degrees back and 10 different massage programs.
And the video screens are now all networked, such that if you see a particularly hilarious cat video, you can now force everyone else to watch it by sharing it to their screens. This is all part of the all-encompassing, second-generation MBUX user experience system, which runs all the screens, including the expansive digital dash and center console, the eye-tracking 3-D augmented reality HUD, the 27-language "Hey Mercedes" voice control system and all the infotainment, audio and fancypants multicolored ambient lighting gear.
MBUX can also now control your smart home if you're one of those smart home types, letting you check the security cameras and fiddle with the lights and thermostats on your way home. It also uses cameras to watch you at all times, so it can turn lights on when you're reaching for things, or recognize who's sitting in which seat and change all the settings to your preferences. Hell, it'll even size you up and take a guess at how you might like your seat the first time it sees you. Gesture control extends as far as letting you wave the sunroof open like a genie.
In terms of driver assist, it's got all the LiDARs, radars, ultrasonic sensors and cameras you need to enable autonomous driving. Mercedes says that sometime in 2021 it'll get a software update enabling an optional "Drive Pilot" Level 3 automated mode, which will auto-crawl the car through traffic jams and allow hands-off cruise on "suitable motorway sections in Germany" at low speeds. Things will open up in other countries when Mercedes is satisfied it's legal.
Beyond that, it can park itself without your assistance, parallel or perpendicular, it can read street signs to manage your cruise speed and recognize red lights and stop signs to warn you if you're going to blow through one. It's got adaptive cruise, active steering assist, lane change assist, auto emergency braking with cross-traffic recognition, and an "evasive steering assist" that would surely be fun to test.
It certainly looks like a nice place to spend some time. The S-Class has long been a dominant force in the luxury saloon market, and Mercedes has thrown everything it's got at this new version to make it an even more compelling package. Check out an exhaustive launch video below.