A prestige brand commands an in-car experience to match. Seeing a car with the three-pointed star immediately sets your expectations high.
For a number of years though its infotainment systems were lacking – until recently it still had a full number pad on the console. With the introduction of Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) though, things have certainly changed.
Sitting in a Mercedes-Benz with MBUX is a completely new experience. The entire centre console is now neater and more refined, with large displays replacing many analogue features and dials.
The main display panel stretches from the driver to the centre of the vehicle with two screens. The dials normally presented to the driver can now be customised to show various levels of information based on your preference – including navigation, media, or off-roading.
The central display is your hub for controlling various features in the car and managing the audio experience. This large panel in some ways overlaps some of the air-conditioning vents a little due to how it protrudes. It’s definitely creative, but it makes the display look like an afterthought rather than integrated into the car.
Controlling the infotainment system can be done in a number of ways. You can use voice commands, steering wheel controls, the touchscreen, or use a touchpad near the centre console.
MBUX has one of the best voice control systems seen in a car. It doesn’t depend on smartphone connectivity, where Siri or the Google Assistant are triggered.
MBUX has its own system – “Hey Mercedes” – followed by a mile long list of natural commands will surprise you. “I’m feeling cold” will turn up the climate control, “play pop music” will find a radio station, and “what’s the weather tomorrow?” will provide details via the web.
The responses were also visually confirmed by information on the screen, not just a verbal response. You knew the car understood you, and it responded very quickly. It was rare we’d be embarrassed by demonstrating this and not receiving the expected outcome.
For times when you don’t want to talk to your car, you’re a tap, swipe, or scroll away from everything.
The steering wheel in new Mercedes vehicles has every known control. It includes two mini touch pads for your thumbs – we haven’t seen these since BlackBerry stopped making smartphones with the exact some touch pad to navigate through menus.
From the steering wheel you can customise the displays, manage the radar cruise control, volume, calls, and more. There’s no obvious function on the array of controls here to skip tracks. With all the buttons, scroll wheels, touch pads and dials, none of them allowed us to skip forward or backwards.
We later discovered you can do this through the left touchpad which, even after a week of use, was not immediately evident or intuitive.
The touchpad in the centre console could easily be a wrist rest, it’s a comfortable place to be. It can, however, perform a variety of functions, including writing with your finger the destination you’re navigating to.
You’re able to control the entire infotainment system here, as is the passenger, but we found ourselves using the touchscreen as it felt more natural to point and tap than using the swipe-based touchpad.
The infotainment system provides access to so many features and functions you’ll inevitably use your smartphone less in the car. One feature where people often defer to the smartphone is navigation. In this Mercedes-Benz, you’ll be surprised by what the onboard navigation provides.
Firstly, augmented-reality navigation. This feature uses the display to open the camera on the front and overlay the street you need to turn down. In a route where the road splits, the display highlights it with real-time vision and arrows on the screen. It’s something you must see for yourself, and could be a complete game-changer ensuring you never miss a turn.
The navigation system will also show live traffic and provide alternative routes. But something else we discovered was it will highlight service stations on the map with brands, handy for those using a fuel card, and also shows the price of the fuel relevant to the vehicle.
You’ll be able to look at your map and see which service station has the cheapest fuel price and add it to your trip. This is exactly what a connected world enables, the sharing of data that provides real-world value.
On top of the navigation and mapping, you’ll find Yelp for nearby restaurants and cafes with reviews and images, as well as a 10-day weather forecast. Both can be used as part of your navigation; you can see the weather at your destination and add a coffee shop on the way.
Smartphone mirroring is available from Apple and Android, however on the large displays it was a shame to see Mercedes-Benz not take advantage of the available real estate and stretch CarPlay or Android Auto to full-screen.
You’re left with a four-icon-wide display with large gaps of blank screen on either side. When it comes to Google Maps it’s so disappointing to see Mercedes not use its hardware effectively and fill the display.
You’ll also need to plug your smartphone into the vehicle as wireless CarPlay or Android Auto is not supported.
Within the infotainment system, and depending on the model you’re driving, you’ll have access to one of the best massaging systems for your entire back and lumbar area. It makes road trips a joy and leaves you feeling loose when you finish a long drive.
From a connectivity point of view we were spoiled for choice when it comes to connections. USB-C ports are everywhere in this vehicle, leaving each passenger with easy access to at least two ports. Even the third row had two connections on each side. Wireless charging was also provided at the front.
When you consider where Mercedes has come from and where it is today, its infotainment system is firmly up to date. From the foundations of providing next-generation USB connections to using the internet of things for petrol prices, restaurant reviews, and adding an excellent voice assistant, it’s a very impressive system that’s available from the most basic A-Class hatchback all the way to the S-Class limousine.
The next-generation S-Class due in the second quarter of 2021 will debut a new iteration of MBUX, and we’re excited to see what Mercedes-Benz has in store.