First ride: 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class prototype

Mercedes-Benz says it will revolutionise luxury car dynamics with its seventh-generation S-Class, which will offer two different rear-wheel steering set-ups within a host of new chassis functions intended to make it the most agile, driver-focused luxury limousine.

Planned to be unveiled in early September, prior to UK deliveries starting in early 2021, the new S-Class will be the first non-AMG Mercedes to offer four-wheel steering – a function already available on its Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series competitors. Of the trio, the BMW has always been notably the most driver-focused.

While rival systems offer only a few degrees of rear-wheel steering angle, one of the set-ups developed for the new S-Class achieves up to 10deg – a figure usually seen only on large commercial vehicles. The move provides the new standard-wheelbase S-Class with a considerable 2.0-metre reduction in turning circle from the current model’s 10.2 metres, according to S-Class chief engineer Jürgen Weissinger. This compares with a 11.4-metre turning circle for the A8 when it’s fitted with its Dynamic All-Wheel Steering.

Weissinger says the new system brings added agility in urban conditions as well as vital improvements in handling and stability at higher speeds. Autocar took a brief ride in the rear of a near-production prototype, and this confirmed the first claim, as the S-Class tackled tight spaces with all the ease and manoeuvrability of a much smaller car.

The impression is of a much wieldier car than the current S-Class, having the ability to turn in to parking spaces and gaps in traffic without the need for any steering correction. “It’s a whole new world,” said Weissinger. “The turning circle is better than that of the A-Class. It really is a game-changer.”

To steer its rear wheels, the S-Class uses electroactuated arms incorporated within a newly developed five-link rear suspension. As is usual with these systems, it steers in the opposite direction to the front wheels at low speeds and the same way (at up to about 1.7deg) at higher speeds. A second set-up, reserved for S-Class models with rear wheels a different size to the fronts, can achieve a more conventional angle of 5deg. Also new is a the latest development of Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel drive system, which features fully variable apportioning of drive, and a new active suspension system, E-ABC, which includes a curve function to counteract body roll through turns and better control pitch and dive under acceleration and braking.

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The interior, meanwhile, has been heavily reworked, with an emphasis on a reduction of switchgear. The button count alone has been reduced by 27. Their functions have been moved to digital screens, of which there can be up to five: a instrument display and a portrait-orientated 12.8in touchscreen within the centre console are standard, while buyers can specify up to three touchscreens in the rear.

Our first ride confirmed that Mercedes has once again set the standard in terms of technology. Of particular note is the new digital instrument display, which provides a full 3D experience without the driver needing to wear 3D glasses.

Another key development is the new augmented-reality head-up display, which projects important information into the driver’s eyeline at a virtual distance of 10 metres ahead.