2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class mule - click above for high-res image gallery

We find it hard to believe that the W221 S-Class has been with us for five years already. Introduced to the world in the fall of 2005 at the Geneva Motor Show, the tenth generation S-Class is the biggest, fastest and heaviest of them all – at least in S65 twin-turbo V12 trim. However, like all good things, the W221 must come to an end to make way for the 11th generation S-Class. As Mercedes-Benz seems to be intent on keeping the S-Class on a six-year production cycle, it comes as no big surprise that some spy photographer friends of ours just captured the 2012 S-Class in the heavily camo'd flesh.

What exactly are we looking at? It's really tough to say, as this particular mule is draped in a hot mess of panels, shrouds and rubber bunting. The side sills are even missing. That said, we got a taste of what a new S-Class might look like when Mercedes-Benz showed the world its eco-friendly F700 concept back at the 2007 Geneva show. Rumors persist that the future range topping MB will indeed come with shrunken headlights and a more upright grille, but not quite as extreme as on the F700.

Obviously, the protruding tail lights seen here on the mule are pure fiction, and will miserably fail European pedestrian safety standards. You can also see that the door cuts on the car above are different than the current S-Class, though they are disguised to the point of not really being able to tell. Especially as these are far from the final, production body panels.

Weight probably won't fall very much thanks to Mercedes' mission of always swaddling the S-Class with as much new technology and safety equipment as possible. However, a plug-in hybrid S-Class is on the way, along with a full hybrid, a mild hybrid and all those big bad V8s and V12s we love so much. Expect the new S-Class to appear in 2011 as a 2012 model.

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