Mercedes swings for the tech fences and gives us a car as near to autonomous a regular car can be.
- Ottawa, ON
There used to be a saying among Mercedes-Benz owners that the company changed its models every ten years whether it needed to or not.
Presently, the time between model updates encouraged the quest for perfection upon which the company built its reputation. Of course, everything moved at a much slower pace back then. Today’s an entirely different world and, in order to keep ahead of the pack, companies must lead with innovation in a timely fashion. Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz knows this business-class luxury market well, which is why this tenth generation, the 2017 E-Class could perhaps be considered as the world’s most intelligent and forward-thinking luxury sedan.
The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, at a glance
- Two new 4 and 6 cylinder turbocharged engines. A 2.0-litre 241 horsepower turbocharged inline-four for the E300, and a 3.0-litre 329 hp V6 biturbo for the E400.
- Industry first for the segment, a 9-speed automatic with manual shifting mode (E300).
- The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is now 43 mm longer, allowing for greater legroom and comfort for rear seat passengers.
- Improved driving dynamics, thanks to the standard Dynamic Select (Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Individual settings) and available Air Body Control suspension.
- Next generation connectivity and infotainment systems with steering wheel isometric joystick controls (industry first), Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto and available NFC wireless phone charging.
- A new smooth-cornered pocket-friendly key design which, although initiated with the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, will now roll out to other models in due course.
However, it’s all about the technology
Although the E-Class receives all of the above and more for 2017, it is the technological advancements of this vehicle which set it apart from the crowd. Labeled as semi-autonomous, the new E-Class is likely as close as we’ll get to self-driving vehicles until the infrastructure (and lawyers) catch up and, although it’s not quite 100-percent perfected, it’s remarkably impressive. So let’s take a closer look at what the 2017 E-Class can offer potential buyers.
Next-Generation Driver Assistance Systems
Mercedes-Benz has always been at the forefront of safety, yet the 2017 E-Class takes this to an entirely new level. With features such as Active Brake-Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, drivers are forewarned of impending collision situations and, if required, the system can apply the brakes and bring the vehicle to a controlled, rapid stop. The system can also detect wayward pedestrians and, although currently unable to detect smaller creatures (such as small dogs & cats), this feature could very well save lives when encountering larger beasts such as caribou and moose. We must say that in Mercedes-Benz demonstrations, the system worked extremely well. Together with this, there is also something called Evasive Steering Assist which kicks in when a driver deliberately or instinctively performs an evasive manoeuvre in a dangerous situation. In such an occurrence, the system recognises the driver’s intentions and immediately adapts the torque support for the movement of the steering, thereby enabling the driver to complete their action without having to fight the steering wheel.
Also standard on the 2017 E-Class is a feature called Crosswind Assist, which can help reduce the effects of those side-ward gusts we often encounter on highways or when passing gateways and suchlike. Again standard, is Attention Assist with adjustable sensitivity which focuses on the attention of drivers and steps in with a warning should they perhaps become slightly drowsy behind the wheel. It will even bring the vehicle to a complete halt safely (more on this later). Continuing with safety and part of the Intelligent Drive Package, the 2017 E-Class employs a feature called PRE-SAFE Impulse Side (industry first). In the case of an imminent lateral collision being detected, the system inflates an air chamber within the outside edge of the seat cushion which moves the occupant 50 mm further away from the point of impact. A fairly short distance perhaps, but one which could likely save a number of broken bones and possibly even lives.
Working on both highways and rural roads, Distance Pilot DISTRONIC is not only capable of maintaining a set distance from the vehicle in front, it will now autonomously follow said vehicle at speeds of up to 210 km/h.
However, it is the optional Drive Pilot system which takes the next giant leap towards autonomous driving. Working on both highways and rural roads, Distance Pilot DISTRONIC is not only capable of maintaining a set distance from the vehicle in front, it will now autonomously follow said vehicle at speeds of up to 210 km/h. Of course, driver input is still required from time to time as, although the system is quite capable of navigating moderate bends, tighter turns may require some additional manual steering effort. The same could be said for changing lanes as, although the system will make these manoeuvres for you, the process must first be initialised by the driver’s use of the turn signal. A quick two-second touch to the stalk is all that is required before the vehicle moves over and repositions itself in the centre of your chosen lane, providing of course that the lane is free of traffic which it also kindly detects for you.
We’ve spent quite a considerable amount of time testing this out and, apart from one or two occasions when we chose to take back control, such as when passing large tractor trailer units on the highway (we typically like to pull out slightly wider when passing these, yet the system is set to constantly maintain the vehicle’s position in the centre of the lane), the system worked remarkably well. Yes, you still need to pay attention. Take your hands off the wheel for longer than a few seconds (up to 60 seconds is possible, depending on conditions) and a series of warnings will initiate. Fail to heed these and the vehicle will perceive this as an indication that something has gone drastically wrong. Perhaps the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel or is possibly encountering a debilitating health issue. In this situation, the system takes full control and with the 4-way flashers engaged, the vehicle will gradually be brought to a complete halt within its lane. Being somewhat concerned with how gradually this would happen and the effect an abrupt stop would have on any vehicles following, we tried this on a deserted stretch of highway and it worked with superb efficiency. It is indeed gradual enough to supply plenty of advance warning to following traffic and would be similar to many other emergency situations we encounter on the highway such as sudden stops in heavy traffic. The only difference being, the person ahead of you who has sadly suffered a heart attack, is now safely stationary in his E-Class instead of swerving all over the highway causing a real danger to other road users. In this sense, this is a huge leap forward in safety.
As previously mentioned, the entire system is not yet 100-percent foolproof and Mercedes-Benz would agree, in part, due to evolving technology and partly our somewhat imperfect roadway infrastructure. Together with radar and cameras, the system uses line markings to distinguish lanes/vehicle positions etc. Because of this, on the rare occasion that these are unavailable, or in the case of Quebec highways, where the outside lane ridiculously disappears with little or no warning (which unfortunately happened to us), the system can become somewhat confused. Certainly no fault on the part of Mercedes-Benz, yet one more reason why full-autonomous driving is still a rather long way off.
In fact, the driver truly doesn’t need to do anything but simply sit back and enjoy the ride. The vehicle will even search out a suitable parking spot when required and then park the vehicle.
Of course, downtown traffic is an unavoidable part of everyday life for many Canadians today and the 2017 E-Class can assist in eliminating much of the frustration associated with city driving. With systems engaged, it's simple to follow the vehicle in front in stop-and-go traffic. In fact, the driver truly doesn’t need to do anything but simply sit back and enjoy the ride. The vehicle will even search out a suitable parking spot when required and then park the vehicle. This Park Assist function works in both parallel and perpendicular spaces and can even be used to exit said location. We checked out this feature too and when we say that this system can turn anyone into a parking professional. It’s just one of the long list of 2017 E-Class features which are designed to make owners’ lives better thanks to Mercedes-Benz.
Yes, this a Mercedes-Benz product and, over the years, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to the company surprising us with these technological advancements. So we end the test drive with one particular new feature of the 2017 E-Class, which truly stands out. It’s all about your hearing and, if you don’t know this already, there are three rather delicate bones in your ear which, if damaged, are irreparable. Loud noises such as heavy metal music can harm these. Yet perhaps even louder than your favorite hardcore band is the noise created by a series of air bags deploying in an accident. After all, these safety devices are powered by explosives. The company has therefore studied this and has introduced something called PRE-SAFE Sound (another industry first), whereby the vehicle recognizes an imminent collision and emits a short white interference noise via the vehicle’s speaker system. This then triggers the occupant’s natural defence system within the ear and prepares them for the upcoming sound of impact.
Although we aren’t quite there yet, when it comes to self-driving automobiles and owners sitting in the back seats enjoying their morning coffee, we are getting much closer and the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class definitely proves this. The 2017 E-Class also demonstrates the great lengths Mercedes-Benz goes to in providing its customers with the very latest in technology for both convenience and safety.