Live-human concierge is the best tech in Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 connected-car service

The best tech I’ve enjoyed on a car recently is the ability to talk to a real and helpful human. Mercedes-Benz made its mbrace2 connected-car technology standard on all 2013 models, but our first experience was with a week’s drive of the 2014 E550 convertible. The mbrace2 service costs money: $280 a year, and an additional $20 per month for the real-human Concierge service. But if you can afford the E550 (which costs $67,300), mbrace2 fees are a drop in the bucket—especially for what you get, which is better than what you’ll find in most connected cars and then some.

With the mbrace2 app's map function, you can quickly look for any place on a map using your smartphone, then share the destination to the nav in the car. It works better than searching from the car itself.

The mbrace2 service comes with an app (iOS/Android) as well as an in-car service connection. You can call a live operator either in the car (by pushing a button near the rear-view mirror) or from the app. If you use the app, you don’t even have to be anywhere near the E550—the app authenticates you as an mbrace2 user.

You can ask the typical questions you’d aim at OnStar or BMW Assist, about traffic delays and movie times. If you get a flat or get into a fender-bender, the assistant can send a tow truck.

But here’s the best part: In our tests, the assistant will help with almost anything. We asked to look up a few obscure Google searches, like who invented cheese curds (it’s a guy named Fernand Lachance). We checked on the weather in Dubai. A Mercedes-Benz rep verified that you can order products from Amazon via mbrace2 if you provide your own credit card, or schedule an appointment with the doctor (the rep will make the call with you on the line). One service mbrace2 could not provide: help with homework. Sorry, kid.

The app lets you send a text to a friend who hits Y (for Yes) to share their location. You can then drive to that friend’s location.

Using the app, you can also lock and unlock the car, sound an emergency (horn and lights), and check on the car’s current location. A handy feature in the app allows you to look up any address and send it to the car’s navigation. (You get a prompt to accept it or not.) Mbrace2 also lets you access apps on the car’s touchscreen. We tested Yelp to find a movie theater and even checked Gmail.com in the browser. The Facebook is amazing: You can pick a stock status update like “stuck in traffic” and even see the current location of Facebook Places friends.

One small gripe: the data connection was a bit flaky for us, especially outside of a metro area.

Connected cars are a great idea that will come with a cost: Your car will need a data plan, just like any other mobile device. Mbrace2 isn’t cheap, but neither is Acura’s new AcuraLink, which offers some basic services gratis for three years, but its premium services (including an app and concierge service) start at $249 and up per year, from day one. Infiniti offers a similarly extensive app and concierge service called Personal Assistant that’s free with new vehicles for four years. Other app-centric cars are not far behind: Chrysler offers an improved Uconnect service, with subscription fees. I’d bet more users would gladly sign on if that homework help became part of the deal, though. Hear me, automakers?

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