The next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-class will strengthen its position as the world’s best-selling luxury saloon with unparalleled levels of safety, driveline, chassis and telematics technology when it goes on sale next year.
With up to five cutting-edge new safety systems, including a ‘Braking Bag’ that bursts under the front axle to add an extra dimension of last-second emergency stopping power, the S-class is likely to rate as the world’s safest car when it launches late in 2012.
A computer-controlled suspension system, with redesigned multi-link front and rear axles, more efficient engines and a nine-speed automatic gearbox promise to make the latest S-class a better drive, a more relaxed ride and a more sparing consumer of the planet’s resources.
The platform structure for the new family is Mercedes’ steel, modular rear-wheel drive architecture — which already underpins both the E-class and the M-class and will soon form the basis of the next-generation C-class.
However, in an effort to keep weight under control, some exterior panels of the S-class, such as the doors, will be fashioned in aluminium.
There are also strong indications that the four-wheel-drive 4Matic model will at last become available in the UK following extensive lobbying by Mercedes-Benz UK.
There will be five models in the range: a four-door saloon, two extended-wheelbase cars, a short-wheelbase coupé and, for the first time, a soft-top convertible.
The standard and long-wheelbase saloons are due for launch next year, the extra-long- wheelbase Pullman and coupé in 2013 and the convertible in 2014. The Pullman will satisfy demand in China for an even roomier car than today’s LWB S-class.
The coupé will replace the current CL. It will form the basis of an all-new S-class cabriolet, with an advanced fabric hood previewed on the Ocean Drive 2006 concept car, and targeted at the Bentley Continental GTC.
The new S-class will have a more contemporary style than its predecessor. “We’ve moved away from the Gothic-inspired look towards a more technically orientated appearance,” says Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener.
Wagener talks about the new model “adopting a certain visual lightness” through “new sculptural forms”, while “retaining visual substance” through “a more cohesive lineage, front to rear”.
Key styling cues include a more upright and wider grille, LED headlamps, a strongly contoured bonnet, heavily sculpted flanks, a more upright windscreen, a rounded roofline, a heavily angled rear screen and drooping rear end.
Insiders privy to the S-class’s final styling link the design to the CLS and the F800 Style and F125 concepts.
Dimensionally, the new car remains close to today’s fifth-generation model; the standard wheelbase runs to just over 5010mm in length, with the long-wheelbase model set to measure around 5230mm. The Pullman will mirror the dimensions of today’s Maybach 57 at around 5680mm.
Inside is where Mercedes is touting big advances, with officials suggesting the S-class will set “new standards in interior design and quality”.
The basic theme was previewed on the F800 Style concept, and is said to be much cleaner looking than today’s S-class, with a less prominent fascia, soft-touch switches and a free-standing monitor to display the next-gen Comand multimedia system.
Natural interior trim materials, such as marine-inspired wood and aluminium, replace the more functional products currently used.
The S-class chassis has been comprehensively reworked to include new four-link front and multi-link rear suspensions. Both feature a larger number of aluminium components for greater sharpness and lower unsprung mass. There is also an electro-mechanical steering system, part of a whole host of standard fuel-saving functions, including automatic stop-start, brake energy recuperation and on-demand functionality of components such as the water and oil pumps.
The big news, however, is the appearance of Mercedes’ heavily touted Magic Ride Control system. First unveiled on the company’s F700 concept car, it uses cameras to detect the state of the road and alter the tuning of the springs and damping to provide what the German car maker’s engineers describe as “optimal ride comfort”. A development of the existing S-class’s Active Body Control system, it can alter the characteristics of each individual wheel, through a fast-reacting air spring system, to provide constant ride height and virtually no lean in corners.
Engines and transmissions
A Mercedes full model change usually involves a retooled body and interior, with engines carried over from the previous generation with some updating. New engines are then reserved for the mid-life refresh. Such is the plan this time as well.
One improvement for petrol engines is ‘nanoslide’ cylinder liner technology. The crystalline iron coating is claimed to create a super-smooth bore surface that reduces friction and wear to boost combustion performance and economy.
The base engine will be the four-cylinder 250 CDI unit, available in today’s S-class, but once again it is not expected to be sold in the UK.
Instead, the UK entry-level S-class is tipped to be a new diesel-electric model, the S300 Bluetec hybrid, running a 201bhp 2.1-litre, four-cylinder diesel in combination with a 20bhp electric motor and lithium ion battery pack. It is likely to give over 60mpg and sub-150g/km CO2 emissions.
Rising up the range will be a V6 S350 CDI, the UK best-seller, and another new diesel-electric powertrain, the S400 Bluetec hybrid. The S400 will mate a 241bhp 3.0 V6 diesel to the same electric motor as the S300.
It is not yet clear if the hybrids will have plug-in capability, although in 2009 Mercedes showed an S500 concept based on today’s S-class. With a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine combined with a 60bhp electric motor housed in the gearbox, it was claimed to have a 20-mile range at speeds of up to 68mph and return 97mpg fuel economy.
Further up the range will be an S500 V8 petrol and an S600 V12, revised to pass 2015’s EU6 regulations. Topping the line-up will be successors to the V8-powered S63 and twin-turbo V12 S65 AMG.
Most, but not all, engines will be mated to a new, Mercedes-engineered nine-speed automatic gearbox. Currently under development at the firm’s Mettingen plant, the so-called 9G-Tronic unit adds a further two ratios to today’s 7G-Tronic, providing the basis for improved performance and fuel economy.
Mercedes is also set to expand the number of four-wheel-drive 4Matic models it offers following increased demand for the existing car. Insiders indicate that there will be at least two petrol and two diesel options. Changes to the architecture of the four-wheel drive system, including a revised driveshaft arrangement for the front wheels, means the UK will also get right-hand-drive S-class 4Matics for the first time.