The F015 Luxury in Motion concept is Mercedes-Benz’s vision for an autonomous car at the luxury end of the market, an S-Class of the future that will have chauffeurs feeling nervous about long-term employment prospects.
It is a concept car in the truest sense and a radical design that embraces and exploits new technology in its powertrain, construction and, most importantly, the interior design and layout to rethink how we’ll use a car when we’re not concerning ourselves with driving it.
Indeed, as Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche himself said at the F015’s unveiling earlier this year: “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”
To give an idea of its size, the F015 is slightly shorter than a long-wheelbase S-Class, but is a fair bit wider and also a touch taller. But the most radical difference is in the proportions; the F015 is a vast, streamlined monobox design instead of the three-box silhouette of an S-Class, all designed to maximise space in an interior that is all about being lounge-like rather than a cocooning driver’s car.
The F015 can be such a shape as there is no conventional engine in the bonnet, so the overhangs are ultra-short and the front and rear windscreens upright, allowing the bulk of the car’s footprint to be taken up with cabin space thanks to the 3610mm-long wheelbase, which is some 445mm longer than that of an S-Class LWB.
It’s only really recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz from the outside by the shape of the front grille and the three-pointed star in the middle of it, again living up to its out-there concept car brief. But the most interesting part of this car is not as a purveyor of some future exterior design language, but that interior.
The theory of autonomous driving is all about giving time back to the driver. So this concept, as the S-Class of tomorrow, aims to show just what can be possible at the top end of a market of autonomous cars, where that time you get back from not driving really is treated as a luxury.
Enter the cabin for the first time and you’re struck by just how Mercedes has managed to so radically change something that’s usually so familiar, in terms of layout, materials and the absence of the usual ‘hard points’. It’s like one of those rooms they erect in IKEA with a clever, Tardis-like and minimalist use of space.
The four-door F015 does without conventional B-pillars, so access to the luxurious cabin is via a pair conventional front and a pair of rear-hinged doors.
Despite all that space, it has only got four seats; this is no MPV, remember. The seats swivel by 30deg when you open the doors to allow easy access, and can be put in two seating arrangements, either in two rows of two, or all facing one another with the front pair of seats swivelled around.
Enter the cabin and you'll nod with approval with the quality of the material selection; there are premium woods, leather, carpet, and metals, all seamlessly blending into one another in a flowing space.
Living alongside these luxurious materials are six touchscreens, one mounted at the front as a dashboard that can be controlled by gesture controls, another on the back wall, and then four more mounted into the doors. These screens allow the individual passengers to control everything from the infotainment options to the speed of the car itself, all by touch and swipe controls. Images from the outside world, or even further afield, can be displayed around the screens also, as can live TV pictures from sports games for a 360deg view of the action.
Seeing four seats facing one another in a car takes surprisingly little time to get used to. Once the doors are shut, the seatbelts are locked in and the car is moving, it all feels very normal. Indeed, the car feels trustworthy enough for you not to have to focus on what it is doing, and you can concentrate on that lost art of conversation with your fellow passengers.