Another baby-step toward electrochauffeurdom.
The recently introduced E-Class got a new suite of driver-assistance hardware and software (internally dubbed version 4.0) aimed at further reducing driver workload when traveling on well-marked highways. This gear leapfrogged that of the current range-topping W222 S-Class—an untenable imbalance of power that is being righted with the refreshed 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and 2018 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class (pictured above). The luxury sedan’s mild redesign will be unveiled at the 2017 New York auto show next month, but its version 4.5 driver assistance gear was just demonstrated in Germany. Highlights include enhanced software controlling the E-Class’ radar and camera equipment (forward-looking radar that can sense obstacles up to 820 feet away and two rear/side-looking ones providing a range of 260 feet aft; forward stereo cameras that can discern objects in 3D almost 300 feet in front of the car and can interpret approaching headlights up to a third of a mile ahead). All of this has enabled the rollout of a redubbed Active Distance Assist Distronic adaptive cruise control, enhanced Active Steering Assist, improved emergency assist functions, and a new remote parking package.
Don’t call it ADADASA
Nor Magic anything. But the Active Distance Assist Distronic and Active Steering Assist system melds the car’s improved situational awareness with enhanced map data to allow the cruise control part of the system to automatically slow for upcoming bends in the road that might otherwise make passengers feel uncomfortable, for approaching reduced-speed-limit areas (based on map data), or when approaching a roundabout, intersection, toll-booth, or a highway exit that the navigation program expects you to take. Whenever such speed reductions occur, an icon explaining the reason for it appears in the instrument cluster. This system offers comfort, eco, and sport settings that alter the aggressiveness with which the car slows and resumes speed in such instances. As with other Distronic systems, it works at speeds up to 130 mph (209 km/h).
Mind you, this is still Level 2 autonomy, so it remains the driver’s responsibility to safely negotiate said roundabouts and exits. In some cases, however, slowing for gentler bends might allow the system to steer through them without human assistance—provided human hands have not yet been off the wheel for too long. We’re told the steering assist function is improved and that rather than striving for perfect lane centering, it still takes a luge-run approach that favors the center while allowing some sideways leeway. (Curiously, straying over a solid lane marker toward the shoulder, for example, triggers a course correction via braking on the inboard wheels instead of just an electric steering correction.) These systems are all controlled by new steering wheel–mounted buttons.
Active Brake and Evasive Steering Assist
When driving or reversing into potentially hazardous traffic, the car will autonomously brake to avoid a collision. And like the brake-assist function many cars have had for years, steering assist is provided whenever the driver initiates evasive maneuvers to avoid a potential pedestrian or vehicle collision.
Active Lane Change Assist
Simply touch the turn signal as if initiating a three-flash-to-pass signal, and the relevant sensors check to make sure a lane change wouldn’t cross a solid lane marker or risk a collision. If the lane change is deemed safe within 10 seconds of the driver signaling, the car steers into the intended lane (and accelerates to resume the set speed if necessary). The flasher continues flashing until the lane change is completed.
Active Speed Limit Assist
Using map data verified by camera-based traffic sign recognition, the car always knows the speed limit and can be programmed to obey it but cannot be set to follow a given offset (such as 9 mph (14 km/h) above—perhaps the hacking community can provide this feature?). Happily this is a separate function that can be enabled. The traffic-sign recognition system will also warn against making prohibited turns or entering one-way roads the wrong way.
Active Emergency Stop Assist
Ignore the car’s instruction to put your hands on the wheel for too long while also failing to touch accelerator or brake, and the car will come to a stop (as the E-Class will), switching on the flashers below 35 mph (56 km/h). After coming to a stop (in the lane), the doors are unlocked and an emergency call is made to summon assistance.
S-Class cars will join the conversation already happening between all new E-Classes and the Mercedes-Benz cloud, sharing live traffic information about icy road conditions, hard braking events, etc. and also passing along certain infrastructural information from organizations that partner with Mercedes-Benz. In Germany, that includes the instant location of moving autobahn mowing crews. In the North America, it could soon involve lots of information from the mapping/traffic-info. Mercedes is currently using the cellular network for such communications while the industry awaits unique spectrum allowance.
As before, the adaptive cruise system will follow the car in front right down to a stop. Now it will automatically resume following said car if it moves off again within 30 seconds.
Remote Parking Assist
At the end of your partially autonomous journey, let the S-Class park itself, either using the parallel and perpendicular park assist function. Or for narrow and barely accessible spots, hop out and let a smartphone app maneuver it up to 50 feet away, negotiating around obstacles and even folding the mirrors if necessary.