Car buyers everywhere are spurning gas guzzlers, and some carmakers feel the pain more than others. Take Mercedes-Benz, long known for its luxury cars—its flagship S-Class is a full-size sedan that starts at around US $90 000. Without sacrificing performance or comfort, the company must meet the expectations of its increasingly environmentally conscious customers.
Mercedes, a division of Daimler, has ingeniously applied technology to come up with a stunning solution. It’s the F700 research car, which debuted last year. The F700 was created to give customers a preview of what they might
expect from an S-Class sedan 10 years from now. The interior is hugely spacious, modern, and filled with electronics; the exterior is shiny and sleek, a dramatic evolution from Mercedes’s current upright look. The car is also fast: it goes from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 7.5 seconds.
And here’s the best part: the massive F700 sips no more fuel than a Toyota Prius.
The critical advance is the power plant. The F700 is a gasoline-electric hybrid, but it wrings most of its efficiencies out of good old-fashioned internal combustion. Mercedes is betting that such engines will be a mainstay of the industry for a very long time to come. But in the face of climate change and soaring global demand for oil, the company decided to show how much room for improvement there was in the 130â¿¿year-old internal combustion engine.
What makes this feat possible is a futuristic technology known as HCCI, or homo-geneous charge-compression ignition. HCCI combines the low emissions of gasoline engines and the fuel efficiency of diesel engines. Automakers have long been working to develop HCCI engines and the electronic controllers needed to tame their combustion. GM and Volkswagen, among others, have running prototypes. But Mercedes’s small power plant—a 1.8-liter four-cylinder twin-turbo HCCI engine that burns regular gasoline—shocked the experts.
”â¿¿’A lot more from a lot less’ is a fundamentally exciting vision for the future of an industry that’s under so many clouds right now,” says Nigel Griffiths, a managing director at the industry analysis firm Global Insight, in London.
Mercedes says the engine delivers the same performance as the 3.5-L V6 offered in European S-Class models while consuming just half the fuel.
”We had to demonstrate that good fuel consumption and premium luxury cars are not a contradiction,” says Herbert Kohler, who as head of group research and advanced engineering for vehicle and power train is responsible for all of Mercedes’s concept cars.