Mercedes shows the future of crash protection

Published: 09 June 2009

It might look familiar, but the Mercedes ESF 2009 concept is about as futuristic as they come. Ostensibly an S400 Hybrid, the car showcases the very latest Mercedes safety technology, some of which will be in mainstream models soon, and some of which is, frankly, pure fantasy mollycoddling.

The concept will be officially unveiled next week, but CAR has already been to the company’s Stuttgart base for a sneak preview.

Mercedes ESF 2009: the car that thinks for you

We already get Pre-Safe in current Mercs - the system that detects an imminent frontal collision and automatically applies the brakes, readies the seatbelts and closes the windows - but the ESF 2009’s next-generation Pre-Safe is positively precognitive, able to detect side and rear collisions and take some very innovative mitigating action.

There’s an ‘inflatable metal’ side impact protection system - hollow, light side impact tubes that instantly fill with pressurised gas when Pre-Safe detects an imminent strike, cushioning the blow. At the same time, Pre-Safe Pulse will ‘nudge’ front occupants towards the middle of the car using moveable seat bolsters, beginning sideward momentum and thus limiting the crash impact. There’s a new, stiff central airbag above the centre console to prevent head collisions between the front seat passengers, too.

That’s very impressive, but what about the people in the back?

Well, they get the ingeniously simple Belt Bag - a seatbelt airbag that reduces load on the chest, as well as a central head restraint that pops out to prevent head collisions, but can also be manually deployed as a handy headrest for sleepy diplomatic offspring. And Pre-Safe braking now extends to rear-end crashes: if it registers an impending shunt, it will apply the brakes exactly 600mm before the impact to stop the car moving forward into the path of another car.

Click 'Next' below to read more about the Mercedes ESF 2009 

I hear Mercedes has also invented the world’s first external airbag

That’s right, Mercedes has successfully deployed the first external airbag (that we’ve heard of, anyway) - but perhaps not for the purpose you’re thinking. The Braking Bag is actually an emergency frictional braking tool, positioned at the front axle and endowing the driver with a mighty 2g of braking force when, you’ve guessed it, Pre-Safe detects an imminent smash and unleashes it.

ESF 2009 also sees the debut of front airbags that detect the size, weight and seating position of occupants and unfurl to a volume based exclusively on those parameters, optimising their effectiveness.

Mercedes admits most of these safety breakthroughs are currently at the prototype stage and will prove expensive to gestate, but the maker also reckons it’s likely some of them - like the Belt Bag - will filter into production models within the next couple of years.