I bet you didn’t know Mercedes-Benz had a Vel Satis of its own. Apart from the visual oddness, though, there’s little the two – the french car and the Mercedes-Benz F 500 Mind – have in common.
Once again, just like with the F 400 Carving, the Tokyo Motor Show proved to be the venue of choice for unveiling this strange looking car. It was basically a mobile demo vehicle for over a dozen new innovations for enhancing the safety, propulsion and comfort of future Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.
For starters, there’s the propulsion system which, for the first time in the premium segment, used a hybrid drive. If there was a need for a great amount of power, the 4.0 litre V8 diesel engine came into play with all its 250 hp driving the wheels and, at the same time, charging the batteries. There was also a 50kW electric motor that could work either by itself, or in conjunction with the combustion engine.
All the features of a modern full-hybrid car were being used by the F 500 Mind as well. The electric engine was most important in city traffic where the stop-and-go routine would have been extremely taxing on the diesel engine’s consumption figures. Instead, the electric motor was capable to move the car on its own when great speeds were not required.
Another novelty presented by F 500 Mind – one that didn’t make its way on production models despite the obvious advantages – was the variable door concept. The two door on one side could be opened in two different ways, depending on the needs of the occupants. In conventional mode, the large doors swivel forward independently of one another to a maximum angle of 90 degrees. Alternatively, the rear door could be opened in the opposite direction by unlocking the shortened sill mounted B-pillar via a button, once the front door was opened. The B-pillar then swivels backwards together with the rear door to reveal a clear open span no less than 1.9 meters wide.
Even though the F 500 Mind was only a concept car, the engineers were dead serious about all safety aspects of the vehicle. The shortened B-pillars were a serious dent in the body’s overall structural rigidity so a solution was needed. After intensive testing, it came in the form of the central roof pillar connecting the transmission tunnel to the Y shaped roof structure. This solution proved to be a god-send, providing additional opportunities for the interior designers as well.
The F 500 Mind was also the first vehicle to incorporate a night vision system. It relied on two powerful infrared lasers that projected their invisible light 150 meters in front of the vehicle and a windshield mounted camera that captured the resulting image. The camera then fed the data to a display in the dashboard which used a clear black-and-white picture to highlight the potential hazards.
In a world where “concept car” usually means “design study”, the F 500 Mind was a lot more than that. It was a testbed for a number of technologies, of which some actually went on to become the norm. It’s curious that the diesel/electric hybrid system didn’t catch on, but I’m sure there’s a good reason for that and a Mercedes-Benz engineer would be more than happy to tell you all about it.