The new Mercedes-Benz E-class teaches our man some lessons in driving.
People are the weak link in the car accident chain and the car manufacturers know this. We get distracted, lose our keys and have no reliable perception of space when sitting at the steering wheel of a car. The motor manufacturers know this and have responded to our needs in spectacular fashion over the last couple of years. All, that is, except the most influential one. They have now and it’s quite the statement.
When Mercedes-Benz South Africa handed over the keys to its most technologically advanced car yet I was impressed by the accessibility. Not because of the wide aperture of the driver side door, but rather that the badge on the back didn’t say S-class. The original car maker decided to deliver its best tech toys to a wider market at a price far below the imposing million Rand mark. An executive saloon is still expensive, make no mistake, but more people can drive in it. Or, as I would later find out, be driven in it.
I’ve had a car be in full control at up to 50 km/h before, but nothing could prepare me for handing over the reins at the national speed limit. This particular E200 benefits from the latest evolution of the COMAND operating system. With this unit the Distronic+ adaptive cruise control, Steering Pilot lane keep assist and Drive Pilot all work in harmony to keep the car on the road. While competing autonomous driving systems put a big emphasis on having clearly marked line on the road surface, the E-class will dutifully follow a lead vehicle and maintain a safe distance from cars on either side without needing to follow lines.
It’s a complicated choreography of cameras and radar, but it works wonderfully and was almost faultless in its execution. The only concern I ever had was that there‘s a small dashboard indicator which shows when the auto steering is working and there’s little else to warn you when it has stopped working. With a system that can operate at up to 200 km/h I expected more bells and sirens when the car needs to hand control back over to the driver.
In the future (end of 2016) Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t actually hand me a key. Instead I’d download the Connect app and use my NFC-capable phone as the key. The car will also then wirelessly charge my smartphone when inside the car. And when I want to park I’d simple let the car find a suitable parking spot, select the parking maneuver, get out of the car and walk away. The car will then park itself. I’d also summon my car out of the garage from my phone.
If I was buying an E-class, I’d take out a Vodacom data contract with my purchase. That data will be linked to the embedded simcard in the COMAND system and allow me to access internet radio and all my podcasts straight through the car.
At the moment I can do all the data streaming things with a smartphone connected. There’s also support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (when it’s available in South Africa).
The future of the car is alive in the Mercedes-Benz E-class.