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Minor design changes hide major tech and powertrain updates.

Amateur spy shots taken in the Middle East have given us an early look at the updated Mercedes-Benz S-Class.The photos confirm the visual updates are minor at best. Eagle-eyed observers will point out the 2018 S gets new-look headlights with three strips of LED daytime running lights, a redesigned front bumper, and a revised grille. The tail lamps have been redesigned, too, but the changes aren't exactly noteworthy.

Inside, we can tell the S receives an updated steering wheel with touch-sensitive surfaces, a technology borrowed from the newest E-Class. All told, the visual updates are minor at best, but it's what's under the skin of Mercedes' big sedan that counts.

The 2018 S-Class will inaugurate Mercedes' first straight-six engine in about two decades. The 3.0-liter unit will gradually trickle down to other members of the company's lineup, including the E, the GLE, and the next-generation CLS. A hotter version of it will power AMG-badged models, too.

The car depicted in the spy shots wears a S560 emblem on the trunk lid, which suggests the V8-powered model will receive upgrades, too. While the name hints at a bigger engine, website Saudi Shift reports the S will follow the industry's downsizing trend and adopt model-specific evolution of Mercedes' twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. It will generate roughly 476 horsepower, a 20-horse increase over the 4.7-liter unit it replaces, while returning 12 percent better fuel economy.

New semi-automated driving aids will round out the list of mid-cycle updates.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will make its debut in the coming months; it might even be displayed next month during the New York Auto Show. Sales will kick off before the end of the year.