A glimpse into the future of cars, today

Mercedes-Benz E200

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Mercedes-Benz E200

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The E-Class is an important car for Mercedes-Benz. It is one of the German brand’s best-selling cars worldwide and it is also one of the most popular cars here in Singapore. To make sure that the newest E-Class would be a hit, Mercedes-Benz has pulled out all the stops in making sure that its latest medium size luxury saloon would be a technological tour de force. And boy have they succeeded. The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is dripping with technology. And this is evident right from the moment you open the door and get into the driver’s seat.

The cabin is, as you expect, very elegant, classy, and luxurious. The test car we drove had lots of aluminum trimmings, which is really nice and lends a more modern touch that I’m sure younger owners would appreciate as opposed to the more familiar wood veneer that most cars in this class would otherwise have. The seats are leather, of course, and are also fully electric and very adjustable and comfortable.

However, what really catches your attention and hints at the level of technology in the new E-Class is its twin 12.3-inch displays. Each display offers a resolution of 1,920 x 720 pixels and both are housed under a single shared glass cover. The two large screens are used to display the Mercedes COMAND system (Cockpit Management and Data System) and also replaces the traditional instrument dials like the speedometer and tachometer. It looks as if you are driving with two large iPad Pros in front of you.

The COMAND infotainment system has loads of features and is highly customizable too. Apple and Android users will be happy to know that it supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also has a comprehensive navigation system with 3D maps. The interface is slick and loads smoothly, and because the display is of a fairly high resolution, graphics look sharp. On the flip side, it isn’t the most user-friendly interface and first-time users will almost surely struggle and will need some time to get acquainted with the menus.

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However, despite the expansive screen real estate, it is important to note that the two displays are not touch-enabled. Instead, you will need to control them using either the buttons on the steering wheel or the rotary knob on the center console, or you can use also use voice controls. Personally, I think having a touchscreen will make things a lot easier, especially since the COMAND system is confusing to navigate. Since the traditional instrument dials are now replaced by a large LCD display, drivers can now customize their dashboard to their heart’s content.

There are three main designs to choose from: Classic, Sport, and Progressive.

Classic shows speedometer and tachometer on the same screen, while Sport is basically the same as Classic but has a sportier look. Progressive is my favorite and I suspect most owners’ too.

It puts the tachometer in the middle and within it a digital readout of the speed - very concise and legible. And then to the sides of the tachometer are two customizable panels that can be used to show other information like mileage, efficiency, and navigation.

The high-tech interior aside, the new E-Class can also be equipped with Drive Pilot, which consists of three separate technologies: Steering Pilot, Distance Pilot and Speed Limit Pilot. With Drive Pilot, the new E-Class can call upon its array of cameras, radars, and sensors to provide semi-autonomous driving. Once activated, Drive Pilot can automatically maintain a safe distance from the vehicles ahead of you and follow it at speeds of up to 210km/h. It can also bring the car to a standstill on its own and move off when traffic resumes.

With Speed Limit Pilot, the E-Class can even intelligently look out for speed limit signs preventing the car from triggering any speed cameras, hidden or otherwise. In a nutshell, the new E-Class can give its owners a taste of the future of autonomous driving may be like.

And then there’s Parking Pilot, which helps owners park their car. Again, using its cameras, radars, and sensors, the E-Class will scan for parking lots. Once it finds a spot, it will emit an alert and all the driver has to do is to engage reverse and the car will begin to steer itself into the lot. All the driver has to do is to slowly ease the car in by putting his or her foot on the brake. It is eerily good and definitely useful when it comes to parallel parking because the E-Class is a big car - almost five meters long.

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The new E-Class is undeniably clever, but Mercedes-Benz hasn’t forgotten about the other stuff that makes the E-Class a benchmark in the mediumsized luxury saloon market. The test car came with optional air suspension, which automatically raises and lowers the ride height and also reduces body roll, and so the ride quality is exemplary and irreproachable.

The drivetrain is impressive too.

We drove the E200 model, which has a turbo-charged 2-liter engine that produces 184hp and 300nm of torque. Mated to a speedy 9-speed transmission, it sprints to 100km/h from a standstill in 7.7 seconds and has more than enough punch for our roads.

However, we never ever got into ninth gear.

For now, the new E-Class is certainly one of the smartest and most high-tech cars we have driven. Unfortunately, most of the really clever tech are only available as optional extras, and that does add to cost of the car substantially.

In basic trim, the E200 Avantgarde will set you back over a quarter million. Add in stuff like the air suspension and Drive Pilot and the overall price of the car will balloon quite quickly. But if money isn’t so much of an issue, you would be hard pressed to find a car with more smarts than the new E-Class.