Mercedes taps into technology to give drivers an assist

DETROIT—Mercedes Benz invited Joshua Jackson and Diane Kruger to take its new E-Class cars out for a spin at the North American International Auto Show, but the cars left both celebrities with little to do. The updated E-Class line—which includes the Sedan, Wagon, Cabriolet, Coupe, and swanky 550+hp E63 AMG 4MATIC Sedan and Wagon—comes fitted with a slew of new and enhanced driver assistance features.

Mercedes calls the new package “Intelligent Drive,” and it boasts systems aimed at preventing collisions with cars, pedestrians, and oncoming traffic. Other features include Steering Assist, Brake Assist, and Attention Assist. It’s the successor to Mercedes’s Pre-Safe and Distrionic Plus safety assistance systems; Intelligent Drive works with these existing systems to bring even more safety features to Mercedes’s E-Class cars.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
The E63 AMG 4MATIC from Mercedes Benz is one of the vehicles in the car maker’s E-Class line to feature Intelligent Drive assistance features.

Pre-Safe relies on sensors on the outside of the vehicle to detect an imminent crash, using distance measurements coupled with speed and other algorithms. That triggers precautions inside the car—tightening seatbelts, moving seats to an optimal (non-reclined) position, and closing the sunroof and side windows—to ensure that passengers are protected. Pre-Safe can also automatically apply the brake if necessary, and monitor driver attention and fatigue.

Distrionic Plus works in conjunction with Pre-Safe’s braking ability to prevent collisions. It uses advanced radar sensors on the outside of the vehicle to determine whether traffic is stopped or slowed. If it is and a collision is imminent, Distrionic Plus turns on Pre-Safe’s braking system, which applies up to 40 percent of the brake, audibly alerts the driver, and starts implementing the Pre-Safe safety precautions. It’s also prepared for when the driver brakes, by applying 100 percent of the brake pressure. (if the driver doesn’t brake, Pre-Safe can apply 100 percent of the brake on its own.)

What’s new

Intelligent Drive combines Pre-Safe and Distrionic Plus with updated features and sensors on the new E-Class vehicles. Mercedes has replaced the mono multi-purpose camera (located on the windshield, near the rearview mirror) with a 3D stereo multi-purpose camera. The upgraded camera offers a 3D view of an area up to 55 yards in front of the vehicle; it can also detect pedestrians. In addition, Mercedes enhanced the Multi-Mode Radar sensor system for better collision prevention and attention assistance.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
An upgraded camera that can offer a 3D view of the area in front of your car and detect pedestrians highlights the Intelligent Drive features showcased by Mercedes Benz.

Other new and enhanced assistance systems in the E-Class line include Distrionic Plus with Steering Assist, which helps drivers stay in their lane and semi-autonomously follows traffic. BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist can detect oncoming or crossing traffic and pedestrians, while adjusting the braking power applied by the driver accordingly. Pre-Safe Brake can now identify pedestrians and apply automatic braking, while Pre-Safe Plus can identify rear-end collisions and start the Pre-Safe precaution sequence. Active Lane Keeping Assist can see if the adjacent lane is not clear and can prevent the car from traveling into the adjacent lane by applying brakes on one side. Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus adapts highbeams automatically so they don’t blind other drivers on the road. Active Parking Assist features active steering and brake control in both parallel and perpendicular parking spots. And a Surround View Camera covers all four sides of the vehicle, as well as the top, and offers dynamic guidelines to help drivers with parking.

What’s standard

Only a couple of these Intelligent Drive features are standard on the new E-Class vehicles: Collision Prevention Assist, which is a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive braking, and Attention Assist, which monitors driver fatigue and distraction and can be sensitivity-adjusted for each person. These features are standard on the new E-Class Sedan, Wagon, Cabriolet, and Coupe, as well as the E63 AMG 4MATIC (Sedan and Wagon).

The other features, including Distrionic Plus with Steering Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist PLUS, and Active Parking Assist, are optional. They are part of the New Generation Driver Assistance package for the E-Class Sedan and Wagon. They’re individually available options for the E-Class Cabriolet and Coupe, and they are not available for the E64 AMG 4MATIC Sedan and Wagon.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Distrionic Plus with Steering Assist helps Mercedes Benz drivers stay in their lane.

OK, so it’s not quite automated driving as we saw throughout last week’s CES 2013 show, but it’s getting there. These cars, if they’re fitted with the optional driver assistance package, are capable of staying in lanes, monitoring traffic and pedestrians, automatically braking, and even self-parking, to a certain extent. As Dr. Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, said at Monday’s reveal, “Our approach is to let the car do all the driving that you have to do—such as during rush hour—so that you can focus on all the driving that you really want to do.”

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