A mule dressed in the modified body of the recently facelifted S-Class has been spotted running with wide-arch extensions, likely as part of early chassis development. Its enlarged tracks suggest the next S-Class, which is expected to arrive in 2020, will be larger and therefore more spacious inside.
The future flagship saloon will also be vastly more autonomous-capable, advancing the current car’s so-called Distronic Active Proximity Control and Active Steer Assist systems. The current car can achieve Level 2 autonomy but is expected to eventually be upgraded again with Drive Pilot capabilities, which links to GPS satellites and is featured on the new E-Class. The new 2020 model is therefore expected to introduce near-fully autonomous capabilities.
Mercedes driver assistance systems boss Christoph von Hugo told Autocar earlier this year that 2020 would see some Mercedes cars be able to handle “critical situations”, such as urban streets and junctions. The S-Class’s role as the brand’s most luxurious model leaves it as the top candidate to get this tech first.
The next S-Class will also increase its use of electrification, boosting the performance and range offered with the current top hybrid S-Class, the S 560e. That car combines a turbocharged V6 engine and electric motor, offering up to 31 miles of electric range, which is vital to ensuring the car can be driven in cities that may soon enforce zero emissions.
Trends suggest an all-electric version of the S-Class is inevitable at some stage, although sources do not think battery technology will be at an advanced enough state to make it viable at the next S-Class’s 2020 launch. Autocar understands that the room required for batteries presents a major challenge for an electric vehicle (EV) variant, with Mercedes not wanting to hamper cabin space and luxury as a result. It's highly plausible that the next-gen car will feature an EV variant later in its production life, however.