http://www.autoweek.com/cat_content.mv?port_code=autoweek&cat_code=carnews &loc_code=index&content_code=0Spied! Mercedes' World-Beater 2006 S-Class Luxury Flagship
By GREG KABLE
This computer-generated rendering, based on the latest scoop photographs, provides an accurate indication of the swoopy appearance we can expect in the next-generation S-Class. (Photos by G. Lehmann / Hidden Image)
Mercedes-Benz is taking no chances with its all-new 2006 S-Class. Along with the evolutionary appearance revealed here, Stuttgart's future luxury flagship receives a new range of engines as well as an improved interior and a host of high-tech features, all aimed at fending off challenges posed by the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Volkswagen Phaeton, Cadillac STS and Jaguar XJ.
Codenamed W221, the big sedan arrives in North American showrooms in early 2006 following its world debut at next year's Frankfurt motor show. That's still quite a ways off, but in a clear display of Mercedes-Benz's intent to see the S-Class remain atop the luxury car ranks, prototypes have being plying the roads around Stuttgart for 18 months in what has been described to AutoWeek as one of the German carmaker's most intensive development programs ever.
Going against the prevailing trend at the top end of the luxury car ranks, Mercedes has eschewed aluminum space-frame construction in favor of a more conventional steel monocoque, mainly in the interests of strength and refinement. The new S-Class body, however, will be fashioned out of a mixture of steel and aluminum in a bid to meet weight-reduction targets of 10 percent across the range compared with today's model, which tips the scales at 3800 pounds in base S350 guise.
Like the larger Maybach, the initial styling proposals for the new S-Class were created at Mercedes' Tokyo design studio as long ago as 2000. Credit for production styling, however, goes to the company's Sindelfingen design studio near Stuttgart.
A bold new front end gives the new car greater visual presence, incorporating large, single-piece headlamps similar to those found on the current model. The bi-xenon units will incorporate Active Light Control technology, allowing the main beams to swivel in tandem with the front wheels for increased illumination.
The biggest styling departure is toward the rear, where the familiar look of today's model is replaced by a more dynamic appearance heavily influenced by the soon-to-be-launched CLS, Mercedes' new four-door. The integration of the trunk is similar to the controversial 7 Series, with its freestanding trunk lid.
Mercedes designers also have been challenged by requirements to engineer portions of the body to extend out in case of a crash, as part of the continuing evolution of Mercedes' Pre-safe system. It is yet to be officially confirmed, though AutoWeek understands the hood of the next S-Class will be mounted on hydraulic struts and will automatically lift up in a frontal impact. The arrangement is needed to meet European pedestrian safety laws in effect in 2005.
Dimensionally, the new S-Class remains close to today's model, with a lengthened wheelbase and widened tracks to make the car far roomier than either the 7 Series or A8, and "make the STS and XJ appear like mid-range vehicles," a Mercedes official says. Once again, there will be two distinct versions: a standard-wheelbase model and a more luxuriously equipped long-wheelbase flagship. The new car will also form the basis of a sleek replacement for the 2+2 CL coupe, codenamed C216 and likewise due in 2006.
Following criticism about the quality of today's S-Class interior, Mercedes-Benz is putting a lot of effort into ensuring its new model meets the expectations of buyers. "There's a big push on to lift the look and feel of our interiors," said a Mercedes-Benz official. "We're experimenting with a range of different materials that will put us back on top."
Power will come from a new line-up of modular V6 and V8 gasoline engines. Among the more significant developments is a switch from three-valve to four-valve cylinder heads and the adoption of Mercedes' Twin Pulse direct-injection technology as seen on the carmaker's four-cylinder powerplants. Allowing finer metering of the fuel supply than today's conventional sequential-injection engines, it contributes to a more efficient combustion process, with moderate power increases, lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions. Secrecy surrounds the exact makeup of the new S-Class engine lineup, though AutoWeek sources say there will be a base 3.5-liter 272-hp V6, a 4.7-liter 325-hp V8 and a 5.5-liter 410-hp V8. Topping the lineup will be a 5.5-liter 500-hp twin-turbo-charged V12.
Also planned is a powerful successor to the popular S55 AMG. It is earmarked to run a new 500-hp normally aspirated 6.3-liter V8 now under development at AMG's Affalterbach headquarters outside Stuttgart. Above it will be the replacement for the S65 AMG, using an updated version of today's 6.0-liter 612-hp twin-turbo-charged V12. The new engines will drive through Mercedes' 7G-tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, with AMG versions set to receive steering wheel-mounted shift buttons.
The suspension is an evolution of today's AirMatic system, with upper-end models set to receive a refined version of Mercedes' roll-reducing Active Body Control system. Mercedes' Sensotronic Brake Control is being reworked to incorporate fully hydraulic operation and a series of other features, including a traffic-jam program that allows the S-Class to creep forward of its own volition using the parking sensors to judge the distance to the car in front. The radar-based Distronic cruise control system will be updated to include a lane departure warning system. Mercedes is also testing a new system that uses small cameras within the front and rear bumpers to project images onto the COMAND system monitor to help the driver maneuver in tight spaces.
Simplified dashboard controls and more intuitive operation are among the aims of the new car's interior, which receives a central controller and steering column-mounted automatic gearbox shifter. A new DVD-based COMAND system is being developed and Mercedes-Benz is also considering offering the so-called Floating Car Data Module, enabling it to receive information from fellow road users on such things as road conditions, weather and traffic flow.
Also planned is night vision that uses an infrared camera to alert the driver of obstacles in the darkness, a wireless communication and data interface, electrically height-adjustable door armrests and the electrochromatic glass roof from the Maybach.