The heyday of the concept of ‘morphing’ in popular culture probably happened in the early-to-mid ‘90s, when it was hard to avoid a music video or movie without something transforming into something else. Now Mercedes has picked up the idea for their Frankfurt Motor Show concept car, the body-changing Concept IAA.

The ‘IAA’ in the name stands for Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile, and what that’s referring to is that this car is capable of altering its basic shape to improve its aerodynamics as needed.

This idea isn’t exactly new, as cars have been deploying things like speed-dependent spoilers since the VW Corrado. What is different here is the extent to which the car is capable of transformation. Here’s how Benz’ own PR folks describe it:

At the touch of a button, or automatically on reaching a speed of 80 km/h, the Mercedes-Benz “Concept IAA” (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile) performs a fascinating transformation in which the captivatingly beautiful four-door coupé turns into an aerodynamics world champion: eight segments extend at the rear, increasing its length by up to 390 millimetres; front flaps in the front bumper extend by 25 mm to the front and 20 mm to the rear, improving the air flow around the front end and the front wheel arches; the Active Rims alter their cupping from 55 mm to zero; and the louvre in the front bumper moves 60 mm to the rear, improving the underbody air flow.

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So, it transforms from its fundamental shape as an already aerodynamic four-door sporting sedan with a basic teardrop-shape, long hood and truncated rear to something unashamedly aerodynamic with a long, tapering tail.

Aesthetically, it fits in with other concept cars we’ve seen from Mercedes recently — a front end with lights and grille integrated into once coherent design motif, side windows that are tinted to blend seamlessly and invisibly into the side surfaces of the car, large wheels and wheel arches, and minimal external detail.

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The interior has the usual show-car levels of notgonnahappenitude, this time punctuated with unusual violet (and maybe ultraviolet) lighting for the many large, round vents that sort of feel like robotic versions of those jellyfish you only find really, really deep in the ocean.

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Want to hear about the “steering wheel philosophy?”

The two-spoke steering wheel is a progressive further development of the Mercedes-Benz steering wheel philosophy. The open structure of its horizontal spokes is highly intricate in design, as a manifestation of intelligent and elegant lightweight construction. The steering wheel also incorporates touch-based operating functions, offering great functionality in the most compact dimensions as a study in perfect ergonomics: OFN (Optical Finger Navigation) buttons, embedded in the clusters in a similar hovering manner as the touchpad in the centre console, enable the driver to scroll through the instrument cluster menus. The OFN button on the left controls the left-hand display, while the button on the right controls the right-hand display. In this way, the “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road” operating philosophy which has been applied by Mercedes-Benz for many years now is implemented in a manner which is at once brilliantly simple and uncompromising.

Optical Finger Navigation? Is that like seeing something, and then poking it with your finger? I’m curious to see this in action. I’m also curious to know what the hell they mean by this statement about the interior design:

The choice of colours and materials conjures up extrovert contrasts between anthracite and white as well as between aluminium and cut glass.

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What the hell is an “extrovert contrast?”

It’s not clear yet how long the car takes to alter its shape, or how heavy the required motors and actuators are, or how much more expensive to fix a car like this would be if you back into a phone pole, but those are all the sorts of practical concerns nobody gives a shit about just yet.

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For now, Mercedes has a car that will re-shape its body to achieve a genuinely impressive Cd value of 0.19. And that’s pretty cool.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.