Radar-scanning variable cruise control, double-glazing, laminated glass, cooled seats - most of the toys you get on today's ordinary saloons debuted on the S-Class about ten years ago. A tech briefing of the new stuff that'll appear MB's next flagship, then, serves as an extremely useful glimpse into the future, not just for the new model but for the broader automotive landscape. Which is why TopGear.com tumbled into Germany to get a special debut of the features that'll be fitted to the 2013 car. And Gott im Himmel, they're clever.
Using 26 sensors (seven more than the last model), three-dimensional vision systems, three ECUs and information and technology from industries as varied as the military and health care, it'll read street signs, leave a little box of darkness for the car in front so you can keep your full beams on, provide extra braking when you crash - hell, it'll even drive for you...
Yep, it'll actually drive itself. Well, for up to 15 seconds, but that's still pretty impressive. Like the old Distronic system, you can set the cruise control to a certain speed and, using radar, it'll slow down if the car in front does. Now it's got Steering Assist, which effectively follows the car in front wholesale, using it as a means of orientation even when there aren't any clear lane markings.
Jochen Haab, Mercedes-Benz's Manager of Technical Support, told TopGear.com: "We have all the sensors for autonomous driving already, but we have to allow the driver to drive. This system is only for when you want someone else to take control. The realistic use case has always been highways."
As well as what's ostensibly semi-autonomous driving, there's a new and improved version of Active Lane Keeping Assist that intervenes when you cross a broken line in the road and the neighbouring lane isn't clear. Providing you're going between 37mph and 124mph (they're the current operational parameters) it'll pull you back into the right lane with single-sided braking. Nifty.
Another futureland update is the full-beam system. It's called Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus and it lets you keep the high beams on permanently. If the camera-based system registers a vehicle ahead, it adapts the light distribution, leaving a hole of darkness so you don't glare the person in front. If it sees someone driving towards you, or a reflective road sign, it courteously dips the beam. Incidentally, there's not a single light bulb fitted - it's all LED.
On its bottom, the new S-Class has brake lights and indicators that illuminate at varying intensities depending on the amount of cars around and the ambient brightness levels. So, if you're stuck in a traffic jam with the brakes on, the brightness of the lights dims to avoid dazzling anyone behind.
Other safety innovations are pretty dull, but incredibly worthy. Mercedes worked with Tübingen University in Stuttgart - a leading medical institute - to develop the airbag seatbelt, which inflates to three times its size, spreading the load of a crash across the chest more equally. It pre-tenses too, taking out the slop if you bin it.
There's another clever touch with the braking system. After lots of test-drives in the manufacturer's alarmingly large simulator - the most powerful in the industry - MB found that people reacted to emergency situations quickly enough, but didn't apply enough pressure on the pedal. So with the 2013 model, and using the baffling array of sensors, it detects the severity of the braking force required and just... does it all for you. Using the all-new rear radar sensor, it can also firmly apply a stationary vehicle's brakes if you're about to get rear-ended, which prevents secondary accidents.
Remember to spec this stuff on your 2022 Mondeo, people...