BLAST FROM THE PAST
A Mercedes that carved through corners like a skier
Introduced 20 years ago, the F400 Carving’s suspension tuning and drive-by-wire steering and brakes are now widely used on production cars
Exactly 20 years ago, at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz impressed crowds with its F400 Carving, a research vehicle that leaned into bends much like motorcyclists and skiers.
Named after the carving technique skiers use to to change direction in the snow, the futuristic Benz appeared to lean into corners by increasing the camber angle of its outer wheels by as much as 20 degrees.
In conjunction with newly developed tyres, the computer-controlled system enabled the car to achieve a cornering force of up to 1.28g, nearly 30% better than other sports cars of the time.
Another clever trick was giving the tyres an asymmetric contact surface. When the outside wheels leaned to the side, the two-seater car rode on the inner treads which had more grip. On a straight, the tyre surface in contact with the road had a tread pattern designed for high-speed and low-noise performance.
The cambered wheels also improved braking performance. In an emergency stop, all four wheels of the research vehicle could be cambered in an instant, reducing the braking distance at 100km/h by five metres.
In 2001 the F400 Carving appeared like a messenger from a fascinating future and also showcased drive-by-wire steering and brakes instead of mechanical connections — a system that’s widely used on production cars now.
The engineers also broke new ground in suspension tuning, using active hydro-pneumatics for the first time in the Active Body Control (ABC) which stiffens and softens the suspension to adapt to the driving situation at lightning speed.
The two-seater concept car had scissor doors and a 3.2l V6 engine with 160kW sent to the rear wheels.
The F400 Carving never went into production but the concept found its way into the S-Class Coupe of 2014. Called Active Curve Tilting, the system used cameras to scan the road ahead and tilted the suspension to enable the car to lean into the corner. Rather than increased cornering speeds, the system sought to increase comfort by reducing the lateral acceleration “to make the car glide elegantly through bends” as the company put it.
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