This past January, amid the smart watches, phones, and digital goodies at Las Vegas’s Consumer Electronics Show, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the F 015 self-driving concept, all but predicting the end of human-controlled cars as we know it. The car was straight out of science fiction, and in releasing it at an electronics trade show instead of an auto show, it seemed like the first death knell of the industry as we know it. But nine months later, Mercedes is back on the auto show circuit with another futuristic concept. But this time, it’s not predicting the end of drivers — it’s predicting the end of wind resistance, along with previewing the company’s design language of the future.
Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the IAA (for Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile) is the most audacious concept we’ve seen in some time. Not that there haven’t been more out-there concepts of late (F 015 included), but the IAA is radical in the same way the 2011 BMW i8 concept was; it’s a glimpse of the near future, and that future looks bright and positive, more Star Trek than Blade Runner. Most importantly, it actually looks like it could actually be just around the corner.
The four-door IAA is most likely a preview of what we can expect from the next-generation CLS-Class. And that’s not a bad thing – the past, present and future of Mercedes-Benz is on display in this concept. Its front end bears more than a passing resemblance to the F 015, and its ridged taillights and rear grille recall the C-111 cars of the ’60s and ’70s. Its flowing coupe-like roofline is straight out of the CLS’s design book, and its long, flat hood, angled nose, and big tri-star grille all evoke the R107 SL-Class of the ’70s and ’80s. But the IAA is no clever history lesson; the car has one serious party trick, and that trick is aerodynamics. In fact, when the car’s active aero aids are deployed, it has a drag coefficient of .19 – making it more aerodynamic than a Tesla Model S, and nearly as slippery as Volkswagen’s 260 mile per gallon XL1.
Active aerodynamics have been around on production cars since at least the ’86 Porsche 959, and today, everything from the Ford Fiesta ST to the Koenigsegg Agera R use them to make a car slipperier and more efficient at speed. But the IAA takes active aero to a whole new level. At around 50 miles per hour, the car begins transforming. Flaps inside grille close, the front air splitter extends backward and down to smooth wind traveling beneath it, and the “Active Rims” move out from the wheel hub, going from a 55 millimeter cup to perfectly flat. Most noticeably, eight panels extend from the rear deck, adding 15 inches to the car, giving it an even slipperier shape.
Unsurprisingly, the tech-laden IAA is a plug-in hybrid. The gas/electric drivetrain is no slouch either, putting out a respectable 279 horsepower, and reaching an electronically-limited top speed of 155 miles per hour, just like most of Mercedes’s current lineup. In fully-finned Aero mode, the car can go 41 miles in EV mode, while that figure drops to 38.5 in the more parking lot-friendly design mode. Inside, the seats are covered in white leather with deep blue accents, while the all-digital dash and controls look like a fresh take on the current S-Class’s setup.
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