If there's a theme to the next Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it's technology stuff. No "and," no hashtag. Just technology stuff. The car is so loaded with new and updated features that it eclipses the S-Class as the brand's leading edge automobile just two years after the flagship's debut. The world of automotive technology is progressing at an exponential rate akin to Moore's Law, and the E-Class is at the front of the curve.
For the sake of brevity (and totally not for SEO gamesmanship), the 2017 E-Class has so many new and improved features we're just going to list them: remote control parking via a smartphone app, NFC-based unlock and vehicle start using your smartphone, 84-LED adaptive headlights, Vehicle-to-X communication, evasive maneuver assistance that identifies pedestrians and helps you steer away from danger, adaptive cruise control that sets the speed based on road signs, adaptive steering that can follow a car in front even without lane markings, active emergency braking for cross-traffic, rear-seat seatbelt airbags, an air bladder that pushes front-seat occupants towards the center of the car before a side impact, and an audio system that triggers your eardrum's reflexes to prevent hearing damage in a crash.
And that huge list is all we know so far – Mercedes hasn't talked about powertrain, chassis, or infotainment yet. We're also told that all of these features will be available when the E-Class comes to the States early next year. Unlike other automakers, which save the fancy tech for Europe, Mercedes will give us
Park By Smartphone
Unfortunately one of the coolest features on the new E-Class is the one that won't come stateside. Mercedes calls its autonomous parking Park Pilot, and it's similar to the remote control parking recently shown on the BMW 7 Series. The benefit of both systems is that you can fit into a space that might otherwise be too tight to open the doors. The Bimmer uses a key fob, while the E-Class works with a smartphone app. Finding a perpendicular or parallel parking space starts inside the car by activating the parking system. Once a spot is found, the process can continue outside the car at any point in the process, as long as the smartphone is within ten feet of the car. The app makes you draw a circle on the phone screen to run the car through its movements. See a demo in the video above.
Leaving a parking space is done via a similar process, although the driver doesn't need to get into the E-Class to make it pull out of a spot. It also features Explore Mode, which can pull straight ahead or backward into a garage space and make adjustments – you know, to avoid your boxes of Beanie Babies and Furbies taking up so much space until the market rebounds. If space is extra tight, such as in a narrow two-car garage, Park Pilot will confirm a reduced lateral distance setting, fold the mirror, and squeeze the car in.
Look Ma, No Keys!
For some, the smartphone is the mark of the beast. For most of us, it's an essential part of our lives that gets cooler every day. And with the E-Class the smartphone can replace your keys. All you need is a phone with NFC (near-field communications), such as an iPhone 6, most recent Samsung Galaxies, and this writer's beloved BlackBerry. Tap the phone on the driver's side door handle to lock and unlock the car. Once inside, the phone sits in a cradle that also offers wireless charging, and the start/stop button responds to your whims.
The official literature from Mercedes mentions the need for a secure SIM card. The engineers we spoke with were certain that any phone with embedded security – like the kind that allows Apple Pay on iPhone – will work with the system regardless of any SIM card or carrier restrictions.
Lighting Up The Night
Each headlight on the new E-Class consistss of a single chip embedded with 84 light-emitting diodes. It's an evolution of the 24-LED system on the CLS-Class. The Multibeam adaptive light system works using a combination of its many light sources, without the need for any mechanical movement. This goes beyond a fancy start-up and shut-down pattern – the beams can spread wide for cornering and low-speed driving or dim specific sections to prevent blinding oncoming traffic. Again, we're told this system will be fully active in the US market, although the maximum distance might need to be adjusted downward to meet our antiquated vehicle lighting regulations.
In the rear the E-Class taillights dim at night to reduce glare for other cars on the road. As in the S-Class, the brake lights operate at 80 percent brightness at night compared to daytime, and drop down to 60 percent when the car is at a stop.
Talking To The Cloud
Vehicle-to-X is a term for smart communication between vehicles via a central server. Along with vehicle-to-vehicle communication it's a often-promised, yet-to-be-delivered technology for future transportation. Mercedes already offers this as an optional kit on the Euro-market A-Class, but the E-Class is the first model with the functionality hard-wired in. It uses the existing cellular communications module in the car to send and receive information about traffic and road conditions to a Mercedes server that shares the data with other nearby cars. If you experience a sudden slowdown, accident, or slippery road conditions, you tell the rest of the E-Class world in about two seconds. Drivers can also report roadside incidents via the infotainment system.
The major limitation, for now, is that this system is limited to the E-Class. If you're the only car in town, you won't get any benefit. But that data can be linked between automakers should other vehicle-to-X systems come online. It can also tap into government-based traffic reporting, and Mercedes is already in talks with several German states to add this functionality. In terms of privacy, Mercedes claims the system dumps all personal data as soon as a car is validated in the system – ill-intentioned hackers wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between and S-Class and an E-Class.
Evasive Steering Assist could very well eliminate the car chase cliché of driving through plate glass. When the system detects a pedestrain or other obstacle in front of the car and the driver turns the wheel to avoid a collision, extra steering input is applied to help steer clear of danger. It also adjusts if the driver puts in too much steering to keep the car stable.
What Evasive Steering Assist won't do is make an Asimo-esque moral decision. Control of the car remains in the driver's hands. Keep straight with a danger ahead, and the collision prevention system will kick in and haul on the brakes. The system only works when the driver tries to steer, and doesn't judge if a left or right maneuver is the better choice.
Smarter Smart Cruise
We've had both adaptive cruise control and speed limit information for years now. The E-Class combines the two with the Speed Limit Pilot function. Using either camera or embedded navigation data, the car's set speed can automatically slow when the posted limit drops. This is one feature that might not make it to the United States, and Mercedes-Benz representatives were unsure of the database and legal restrictions for using such a system in our country.
The Distronic adaptive cruise in the E-Class is improved to follow cars ahead, even if lane markings aren't clear. The system picks out the most relevant car to follow (usually the one directly in front) and can identify objects like reflectors or safety barriers to determine the edge of the road. This is a step up from the S-Class, which relys on lane markings to automatically follow curves in the road. As before, Mercedes requires you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
Active Braking Assist in the E-Class now features a cross-traffic alert function, so that if a vehicle pulls out in front of you the car will automatically brake to lessen the chance of an accident. Mercedes claims that can prevent collisions at speeds up to 43 miles per hour. In addition, the E-Class now scans multiple lanes for its automatic emergency braking. If it sees clogged traffic across the road, the braking will activate sooner.
A Better Belt
Seatbelt airbags are nothing new – Ford has offered them as optional equiment for years. In the event of a crash, the belt inflates and expands to spread its restraining forces overa wider area. Where Mercedes claims an improvement is in overall comfort. The latch in the E-Class is barely bigger than the one on a conventional seatbelt, and unlike the Ford system there is no restriction in seatbelt length. The belt itself is woven as a single tube using a Jacquard loom (the same method that prints words on elastic waistbands).
Front, Move Center
It's called Pre-Safe Impulse Side, and the idea is pretty simple. In the event of a side impact, a special bladder in the front seat bolster inflates and nudges the occupant to the middle of the car. This shifts the driver or passenger away from the danger, and the lateral movement helps lessen the impact. According to Mercedes, the internal bladder can be reused after a crash once the propellant is replaced.
What's That Sound?
By far the most mad-scientist feature of the new E-Class is Pre-Safe Sound. It takes advantage of a phenomenon called the stapedius reflex, a contraction of the inner ear muscle in response to loud noise. By triggering this effect before a crash, Mercedes-Benz claims that Pre-Safe sound can minimize hearing damage from an accident.
More To Come
As we mentioned, Mercedes-Benz has plenty left to reveal about the 2017 E-Class, like interior and exterior styling, powertrain options, and chassis details. The full reveal of the car is slated for the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but expect more news to trickle out in the intervening months.