Jul
26

Magic Body Control

It’s actually called Magic Body Control, and this newly optional feature of the redesigned 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is really quite amazing . . . or at least it was in the demonstration the company held on a specially paved road (!) at a recent press preview.

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Magic Body Control

The general idea is that stereo cameras at the top of the windshield (placed a bit apart so as to be able to “triangulate” and determine distance, just as your eyes do) can “see” long speed bumps in front of the car. Through the miracle of electronics, the system directs the air suspension to compress and extend so as to effectively erase the bump.

We first hit the six-foot-long trial bump at about 30 mph without Magic Body Control engaged. The results were as expected: The car jumped into the air, porpoising along the top of the bump before thudding back down on the other side. Then we tried it again with Magic Body Control engaged. Virtually nothing; it seemed as though someone had steamrolled the bump flat. There wasn’t much more than a subtle thump at the leading and trailing edges of the bump.

Now, one might wonder why a company that is as safety-conscious as Mercedes-Benz would want to encourage its owners to be able to disregard speed bumps that were put there with safety in mind. However, we were instructed to hit the bump at about 25-30 mph (seemingly because it doesn’t work at speeds above that), and there was nothing to indicate that it necessarily worked on the shorter speed bumps commonly found around our Chicagoland office. Or that it worked on the ubiquitous frost heaves that are indigenous to the area.

Of all the vehicles I’ve driven with electronically adjustable suspension systems since my start here in 1990, only two ever struck me as worth the (typically exorbitant) expense. One was Land Rover’s optional ACE (Active Cornering Enhancement) system that almost completely deleted body lean in the company’s tall (and usually tipsy) Discovery SUV. It was offered as an option starting in 1999, dying (in this country, at least) with the Discovery itself after 2004. (If the numerous Internet posts are any indication, it was somewhat unreliable and very expensive to fix.) And the only other is Mercedes’ Magic Body Control. Note that while ACE was aimed at reducing body lean in corners, Magic Body Control is aimed at improving the S-Class’ already smooth ride.

In truth, Magic Body Control is really among the lesser advancements found in the new S-Class (which takes safety and luxury features to a whole new level), but it’s one that strikes me as living up to its name. See for yourself in this Mercedes video . . .

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