Mercedes-Benz has begun on-road testing for its all-new S-Class, due in 2020, with production bodywork. It's expected that the model will get level 3 autonomy on par with the Audi A8, and is likely to make its debut at the Frankfurt motor show.
Benchmark testing alongside one of its closest rivals - a BMW 7 Series - the next S-Class is expected to make advances in every area for its next generation, although the biggest change will be in styling. Through the camouflage, the car's production bodywork can be seen, and the car appears to feature a development of the A-Class and CLS's 'predator' front-end styling.
A mule dressed in the modified body of the recently facelifted S-Class was previously spotted running with wide-arch extensions, likely as part of early chassis development. Its enlarged tracks confirmed that the next S-Class, which is expected to arrive in 2020, will be larger and therefore more spacious inside. It's likely to benefit from the MBUX infotainment system first installed on the recently revealed A-Class, alongside a host of other technological updates.
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.
The S-Class is a pivotal car in Mercedes' lineup, regularly being the first model to introduce new technologies which then trickle down to the rest of the range. In 2017, the Maybach variant alone sold 25,000 units, with two thirds of these going to China. The brand was the biggest-selling premium brand across 2017, beating BMW and Audi to the title, thanks to 2,289,344 sales across the year. Mercedes' 7.04% market share in the UK also bested those of Audi and BMW, which achieved 6.88 and 6.77% respectively across the year.