The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will debut in the northern hemisphere summer (winter for us) with a host of new technologies, including a new high-tech six-cylinder petrol engine with 48-volt mild-hybrid technology, as well an updated semi-autonomous drive system, and, possibly, new Digital Light high-definition headlights.
Ola Kallenius, head of research and development for Mercedes-Benz, told CarAdvice at CES 2017 that the update to the S-Class will include a tech upgrade over the just-launched E-Class – specifically, the Drive Pilot semi-autonomous assistance system.
“Already in less than six months time we will have Drive Pilot reloaded. The one that we introduced on the E-Class last year already gets a whole heap of additional features,” Kallenius said.
“The next-generation Drive Pilot which we’re launching in the S-Class this summer will have an emergency stopping function. This is one of those situations that if you completely ignore all the warning signals on the car – it tells you to put your hands back onto the steering wheel, because for legislative reasons you have to do it: if you ignore that completely, the car assumes that you relinquished your responsibility of the driving situation.
Pictured above: The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class system screen.
“In a very orderly fashion it slows down the car, turns on the warning blinkers, puts a call out to the emergency services, opens the door so the door is open – so we’re assuming something has happened, maybe you’ve fallen asleep, maybe you’ve taken ill,” Kallenius said.
“Calling the emergency services, making the doors open, making the car accessible – that’s one. Another one, is now to – in an intelligent way – actually use the map information together with the sensors.”
The car will essentially slow down for sharper corners, according to Kallenius.
“Clearly, the map knows where you are, and on the map you can see, here’s a corner that is much more tight… or if you’re putting your blinker on because you want to turn right down the road and you know it will be a 90-degree turn, the car will automatically adjust the speed,” he said.
“You can buy vanilla ice creams from a lot of brands, but they taste different,” he said of competitor cars’ automated steering systems. “To get it absolutely right we have worked very, very hard on how the car corners, and that it does that in a very natural smooth way, and that we can take corners with much tighter radiuses.
“If the Drive Pilot we introduced in the E-Class last year covered about 80 per cent of all Autobahns in Germany, the new one also covers about 80 per cent of the smaller highways called Bundestrasse in Germany, which usually are small roads with more corners and tighter corners than the Autobahns.
“So the cornering ability of what the sensors can do has also been greatly improved,” he added. “It relies on the map – GPS knows where you are, but this relies on the map. High-definition mapping, in the way we describe HD maps: so the HD, 3D maps that we need eventually for level four and level five autonomous drive, those maps are not yet available. You need several more layers of detail compared to the maps we have today – so you have to re-map the world again.”
For Australian customers, it is as yet unknown whether the maps we have will be up to the task, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of corporate communications, David McCarthy.
“It depends on the mapping,” he said. “We aren’t sure if the maps we have locally will be suitable, but the system will be fitted – if not operable.”
As for the engine, the new straight six-cylinder unit hasn’t had its power outputs or full detailed specifications announced yet, but McCarthy said that Australia is “definitely” going to get the drivetrain as part of the update due late in 2017 locally.
The new S-Class drivetrain will have a 48-volt battery system for energy storage that can boost the drivetrain when needed, as well as an integrated starter alternator and electric auxiliary compressor that supplements the conventional turbocharger.
Kallenius – former head of AMG – said the new engine is a powerhouse.
“The inline six-cylinder gasoline engine that’s coming in the S-Class this summer, which in terms of driving dynamics, and just being fun to drive – as an ex-AMG guy, when I drove this for the first time it was the first time that I almost admitted that you don’t need a V8,” he said. “But then I came to my senses, and of course, didn’t say this.
“It uses 48-volt for an integrated storage and generator, and it also has an auxiliary electric boost for the turbo which is kind of the secret sauce for the agility of this engine,” he said. “And it will be a benchmark in terms of fuel economy and emissions as well.”
The headlight technology that could be offered as part of the update is Mercedes-Benz’s Digital Light. It’s not confirmed for it, but perhaps it will be made available a little later in the model cycle.
The Digital Light headlight technology uses more than one million micro-mirrors in each of the car’s headlights to make driving safer for road users and pedestrians alike.
“The two headlights will have one million small mirrors, pixels, that can more or less create any type of light spectrum in a very large distance, that you can think of,” Kallenius said.
“It could light something up, and individually decide to not light the face of a pedestrian walking down the sidewalk at night – but everything else is lit. So you’re not flashed by the car, but everything else around you is lit,” he said.
“You could of course put a Mercedes-Benz star on the road, or put a zebra crossing to illustrate to pedestrians that it’s safe to walk, or greet your neighbours. Or if your TV is broke, you could actually use it as a projector in your garage to watch a movie.
“This is another example of where Mercedes-Benz is taking the lead using technology to make the whole transportation system safer and more intelligent,” he said.
The system works using algorithms based on detailed information on the surroundings of the car and “calculate in real time the brightness value for each one of over two million pixels”.
As for the styling of the new model, Gorden Wagener, chief design officer for Mercedes-Benz, told CarAdvice that the S-Class cosmetics won't change too much.
"We had a phase in the last eight years where we needed to make larger facelifts to update all the cars into the new line-up. Now I don't think that's necessary any more, we can make smaller modifications," he said.
"It does not need to be a major makeover," Wagener said.