Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion Concept: We Go for a Ride in Daimler’s Half-Baked Bean


Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion prototype

When it comes to ultraluxe sedans, there is much to be said for the Mercedes-Maybach S600. The long-wheelbase, twelve-cylinder S-class for the most discriminating of sybarites is whisper-quiet, will launch you to 80 mph before you’ve even noticed, and remains fundamentally unperturbed as it mows down the proletariat—its Magic Body Control reducing the thwump of the wheels over their limbs to the inconvenience of a mere road-surface imperfection. But Mercedes-Benz has its eye on what the future might hold, and we found ourselves sitting in that future as it clomped around an old naval base across the bay from San Francisco.

In the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, the ride is anything but Benz-serene. Naval Air Station Alameda, famous as the location of Chekhov’s desired “nuclear wessels” in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and more recently known as the site of plenty of Mythbusters’ stunts, was shut down in 1997. In the ensuing eighteen years, time has not been kind to the old runways, and the 26-inch wheels fitted to the far corners of Daimler’s metallic space bean don’t do the concept any favors in the isolation department.

Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion prototype

But the wonky, Conestoga-grade ride is about the only clue to what’s happening in the outside world. Peer through the screened windows and you’ll note the container ships passing by, but your eyes are soon once again drawn inward to the opulent cabin, with its touch-screen-lined door panels displaying an abstraction of the outside world as a cavalcade of coolly pulsating dots. The oh-so-serious Germans running the event take pains to point out that the F 015 isn’t driven, it’s merely conducted. Yes, there’s a steering wheel and pedals, but we never touch them. Via a swipe of the door screen, the driver can offer control of the car’s behavior to any passenger, allowing for speed adjustments, a choice of 360-degree photos displayed around the car, changes to the cabin ambiance, and we imagine—were the F 015 equipped like a modern S-class—even control of the aromas delivered via the HVAC system.

Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion prototype

Welcome to the autonomous future, where you can cede control to back-seat drivers just to shut ’em up. Of course, your mother-in-law won’t exactly be driving, she’ll simply be adjusting the tempo at which the automobile goes about its own business. And while nobody inside the car was in direct control of it once the driver’s seat had spun a 180 to form a face-to-face conference area, Mercedes admits that the F 015 wasn’t exactly driving itself. While they noted that it was set to follow a preprogrammed route, that big Sprinter parked on the side of the runway with blacked-out windows and roof-mounted A/C unit looked awfully suspicious. The official line was that the van’s presence was to keep other vehicles from intruding upon the F 015’s play space. We couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a team of engineers inside waggling joysticks and eyeing displays connected to the vehicle’s cameras.

And although the operation of the interior controls was a bit funky—the touch screens didn’t exactly feature iPhone-grade responsiveness and the gesture-based dash controls were even more blood-boilingly frustrating than the worst of the worst touch-screen systems—the aesthetic was certainly impressive. Mercedes reached back to the analog world for inspiration, bonding walnut veneer to the aluminum floor and visually connecting surfaces via a halftone-pattern dither. In the case of the seats, the pattern was milled into the aluminum shells, filled with a white resin, and then polished to a high gloss. In fact, the overall effect of the aesthetic lands the F 015 firmly in a sci-fi continuum between 1965 and about 1987. It’s a vehicle that could’ve existed in either Kirk’s world or Picard’s.

Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion prototype

The grille area and rear fascia were made deliberately friendly, illuminated by LED-lit blocks that can be used to communicate. The rear is capable of actually spelling out “STOP” in red, while the nose will light up in sequence, following a pedestrian’s path as he crosses in front of the car. Mercedes also demonstrated a laser system that could project messages onto the pavement ahead of the car. The lack of a “KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!” message was a significant disappointment.


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In a sense, the F 015 is a typical concept car. It looks 20 years down the road, but its underlying tech is from only 30 seconds into the future. In some ways, the current Maybach is more impressive. After all, you can go out, buy one today, and hire a chauffeur who only has to half-drive it, courtesy of Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. No, the front seats don’t swivel, and yes, it requires gasoline—and drinks it at a healthy rate—but the V-12 limo is a whole package that really works. William Gibson noted more than 20 years ago, “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion prototype


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