Mercedes touts self-driving technology in E-Class

Kevin A. Wilson
Special to The Detroit News

In another big step toward autonomous vehicles, Mercedes-Benz incorporates what it calls Drive Pilot technologies that can follow other cars at up to 130 mph — braking, accelerating and steering as needed without driver input — into its all-new 2017 E-Class.

The redesigned, 10th-generation midsize luxury sedan was revealed Sunday night at a media reception previewing the company’s Monday press conference at the first press day of the Detroit auto show.

Standing before a giant screen in a ballroom of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, Dieter Zetsche, Daimler-Benz chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz cars, bragged about the “biggest screen of the show,” as it displayed a Pac-Man game in progress. “Pac-Man is suitable,” Zetsche said, “because we at Mercedes-Benz are hungry to gobble up market share.”

Zetsche expects the new E-Class to attract buyers with its advanced technologies. Going beyond the Distronic automated cruise control found on current Mercedes products, Drive Pilot adds Steering Pilot to keep the car on the road and in its lane. Mercedes claims it functions even if lane lines are obscured or absent, at speeds up to 81 mph. It also includes safety features to help a driver steer when swerving to avoid an accident with a pedestrian or another vehicle, and to regain control after such maneuvers. The company isn’t calling this a “driverless” car, but its users will certainly have less driving to do.

Active Lane-change Assist will steer the car into a new lane after the driver has the blinker on for two seconds, and Remote Parking Pilot allows remote control of the vehicle via smartphone app so it can be moved into or out of tight parking spaces without a driver inside. They won’t be ready, however, when the E-Class goes on sale this summer, Mercedes-Benz said. These features are expected later in the 2017 model year.

Added safety systems include one that emits a sound to trigger a protective reflex in the human ear to reduce potential injury from the noise of a collision and air bag deployment. Another inflates one side bolster in the seats to move occupants away from an impending side impact. Mercedes says the driver and passenger may be pushed nearly 3 inches farther from the side where the car’s radar and camera scanner have detected an imminent collision.

The 2017 E-Class also gets a new drivetrain: A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission will be standard. Other engines and drivetrain options will be revealed later, Mercedes said.