Without China, North America, and the Middle East, the Mercedes-Benz S-class would be almost dead in the water. In Europe, sales of the aging starship have fallen behind those of the new Audi A8 and the BMW 7-series. A regional phenomenon or a major headache in the making? To stop the slide, Daimler is busy laying the finishing touches on the next big Benz, known as W222.
In an attempt to cover an even wider swathe of the luxury-car market, the new S-class will be offered in four different body styles: standard-wheelbase sedan (2012), extended-wheelbase sedan (2013), coupe (2013, replaces the CL), and four-seat convertible (2014).
All future rear-wheel-drive Mercedes products will be based on a brand-new components set known as MRA, for Mercedes rear-wheel-drive architecture. MRA is subdivided into ninety-three different modules, which is a good indication of how flexible this matrix can be.
The next S-class boasts a brand-new four-link front suspension designed to further decouple the steering, braking, and damping forces. In the rear, we should find an evolution of the faithful multilink arrangement. Air springs are standard again, but the clever Active Body Control system costs extra. Active Body Control can also be had in combination with MBC, short for Magic Body Control. Employing two cameras to scan the road, MBC can -- at speeds up to 80 mph -- compensate for surface irregularities milliseconds before the car encounters them. Also new is Magic Light Control (MLC), which adds full LED headlamps complete with adaptive free-flow light patterns that vary with speed, weather, and steering angle.
As far as next-generation ergonomics are concerned, those in the know predict a much-easier-to-use Comand infotainment system with fewer knobs, buttons, and switches. Instead, we can allegedly look forward to a single controller, which, in combination with more elaborate steering-wheel controls, addresses all key features and functions.
Instead of a screen positioned above the center stack, Mercedes is considering a large LCD display in the driver's primary field of vision. All in all, the Comand system should be easier to use, have vastly superior memory capacity (for things like music, maps, and Internet), and be easy to reprogram via software updates.
The engine lineup ranges from a 200-hp four-cylinder to a V-12 that's been dyno-tested at 544 bhp. Not enough grunt? Then you may have to wait for the spicier AMG option, good for some 650 hp, sources say. New engines include the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6, which will be available in 300-hp and 350-hp form. One rung up, we find two turbocharged V-8s promising 430 hp and 510 hp. Originally, Mercedes intended to offer hybrid options for all new Mercedes-Benz S-class models, but after a marketing rethink, all that's left are two: a 3.0-liter V-6 and a 200-hp diesel version, both paired with a 110-hp electric motor. A 20-hp electric motor is still likely to be standard on all models but is not quite strong enough to justify an e-mode button. This won't change before 2014, when the new nine-speed automatic transmission should be able to accommodate a more potent 45-hp electric power pack.