First Look: Mercedes-Benz F125! Concept

The Mercedes-Benz F125! Concept may be a sneak-peak at a future S-Class, but not one that'll hit roads in the next few years. Instead, the so-called research vehicle, which debuted at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, is the company's vision of what an S-Class sedan could look like in model year 2025.

If that's the case, expect the S-Class of the future to be a sleek, low-slung sedan -- albeit one that's slightly smaller than today's luxo-barge. The F125! Is about four inches shorter and two inches lower than today's S-Class, but passengers won't likely notice -- the concept's cabin is pushed far forward in order to eke additional interior room. A wide grille encompasses most of the F125!'s front fascia, while thin, triangular LED headlamps are tucked into the space between the front bumper and upper front fender. Gullwing doors have been used on a number of legendary Mercedes-Benz sports cars in the past, but designers apparently believe they could be ideal for luxury sedans of the future. The F125! uses a single gullwing door -- which runs almost the entire length of the cabin -- on each side.

Mechanically speaking, the body structure itself is as advanced as the styling. The F125! Is built primarily from a mixture of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), aluminum, and high-strength steel in order to keep weight low. Mercedes-Benz says the entire body shell tips the scales at 551 pounds, which is reportedly 40 percent less than a contemporary S350.

Engineers also worked to encompass a hydrogen storage tank into the floor structure of the F125! -- important, since a hydrogen plays a large part in the concept's powertrain. Daimler built the sedan largely as an extended-range electric vehicle. A lithium-sulfur battery pack provides a pure electric range of 31 miles, perfect for jaunts within urban environments. For longer trips, a hydrogen fuel cell comes online to serve as a generator, charging the battery while simultaneously powering the car.

Four electric motors -- one for each wheel -- physically propel the F125!, albeit in a novel manner. By pairing more powerful motors with the rear wheels, engineers biased power to the rear wheels. Front motors are rated at 67 hp and 55 lb-ft of torque, while those fitted in back provide 134 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes' so-called e4Matic system promises to provide electronic control over each motor's output; on slippery surfaces, power will only be provided motors and wheels that have the most traction.

Mercedes-Benz claims the entire system provides a net output of 308 hp, allowing the car to sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and reach a top speed of 138 mph. When factoring in the hydrogen fuel cell, range is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 621 miles. Better yet, the car reportedly delivers the equivalent of 87 mpg, and, says Mercedes, produces no emissions.

Advanced technology isn't relegated to the car's construction and driveline. Inside, the F125! Uses a next-generation infotainment system, which can be linked to a driver's home computer to access music, movies, and other media feeds. Each car has its own web access portal, allowing users to remotely configure vehicle settings, entertainment options, and climate controls for each seat. Daimler also touts its new Natural Handling voice recognition system, which reportedly allows the driver to interact and control the vehicle's subsystems with conversational English -- not a list of memorized commands. Natural Handling is also "mood-based," which means it can cater information like weather, traffic, or news to the driver's every whim. Speaking of handling, Mercedes-Benz claims the F 125! can autonomously perform some driving maneuvers, including lane changes and overtaking, and will communicate with other cars to alert the driver of approaching emergency vehicles or traffic jams well ahead of time.

The F125! May sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there are many hurdles preventing it from suddenly appearing at your local dealer. First, the battery pack used much be roughly twice as efficient as today's battery packs, yet not much more expensive. In order to achieve this, the car's lithium-sulfur battery packs -- which Daimler views next step after today's lithium-ion battery standard -- must be perfected and become cost efficient. Furthermore, Mercedes must figure a way to store hydrogen at low pressures in order for the thin, floor-mounted tank to be feasible. Today's hydrogen vehicles largely utilize high-pressure cylindrical tanks, which eat up valuable packaging space.

Impossible? No, says Mercedes, but these developments won't happen over night. The company thinks these two pieces of technology -- to say nothing of CFRP production and electric motor assembly -- could become less expensive and more mainstream over the next 14 years. Until that happens, expect the F 125! to mostly inspire the shape -- if not the substance -- of future Mercedes cars, including the next-generation S-Class.

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