CARMEL, Calif. — The redesigned 2017 E-class sedan is a snapshot into the future of driving. Or, rather, not driving.
Its driver-assistance technology can practically take over the vehicle in a traffic jam. It can steer, change lanes and stop on its own. It allows up to a minute of hands-free driving.
While it has limitations — a driver still must be ready to take the wheel at a moment’s notice — the semiautonomous features are the most advanced in a production vehicle from Mercedes-Benz, a leader in self-driving car developments. The advances pioneered in the 2017 E class, the 10th generation of the vehicle, will trickle down to lower cost Mercedes models and tick up to the flagship S-class sedan. Mercedes executives expect the advances to influence vehicles by other automakers, too.
“Every generation of the E class has had something in common in that it has contributed something significant not just to the brand but to the entire industry,” said Bart Herring, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA, at a media event here. “That doesn’t change here. What’s new with the E class? Everything, all the way down to the key design.”
But it’s the suite of advanced driver-assistance technology that is the game changer in the E class, Herring said. For the first time, the brand has a 360-degree sensor array around the car using both radar and forward-facing cameras.
“All these things work together, and, in a sense, they’re eyes and ears supplementing the eyes and ears of the driver,” he said. “It’s some really great technology to not only keep you safe but to keep you comfortable — because what we’ve found is a stress-free driver is actually a better driver.”
Next-generation assistance and safety systems that are standard in the 2017 E class include:
• Pre-Safe Sound: If a potential collision is detected, the car emits an interference signal through the sound system that triggers a protective human reflex in the inner ear called the stapedius reflex. It protects the occupants’ hearing by preparing their ears for the sound of the accident.
• Active Brake Assist: It recognizes pedestrians, warns the driver of impending crashes, boosts braking power during an emergency and can even apply brakes automatically, if necessary.
Optional technologies include:
• Drive Pilot: This package includes an advanced adaptive cruise control that can, for the first time, follow traffic in front at speeds up to 130 mph. Steering Pilot helps the vehicle steer when it’s in this mode. Active Lane-Change Assist is available for the first time. It will move the vehicle into an unoccupied lane on multilane roads once a driver has signaled a turn for at least 2 seconds. The lane-change feature is available at launch in the U.S., a change from what was said at the vehicle’s reveal in January, when executives expected it to arrive sometime after the initial on-sale date.
• Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function:This has been improved to make it possible to completely avoid accidents at speeds up to 43 mph or substantially reduce the severity at higher speeds.
• Evasive Steering Assist: This adds steering torque to help a driver performing an evasive maneuver avoid the accident and straighten the car back out safely.
• Pre-Safe Impulse Side: When an imminent side-impact crash is detected, this inflates an air chamber in the side bolster of the front seat to push front-seat occupants toward the center of the vehicle and away from the impact.
• New features in use in other markets but not available immediately in the U.S. include:
• Car-to-X communication: This will come later to the 2017 model in the U.S., hopefully 60 days after launch, executives say. It will allow the E class to exchange information with vehicles far beyond the E-class driver’s line of vision, meaning earlier warnings in dangerous situations.
• Remote Parking Pilot: This allows the vehicle to be moved in and out of garages and parking spaces remotely using a smartphone app. Even though the hardware is already on the car, the feature is being held up by the regulatory environment in the U.S.
“We’re hoping maybe by next model year,” Herring said. “It’s new. We’re not getting a no. We’re getting a “We’re not sure yet.’ That’s almost tougher because they’re seeing it for the first time and then, like a lot of technology, our regulatory bodies are still saying, “Let’s think a little more about that.'”