Look Ma, no hands…
We’re doing 50 km/h and bearing down on a human form standing staunchly in the middle of the road. Our driver chats away, unconcerned, his hands barely touching the wheel, his right foot on the accelerator.
Suddenly there’s an urgent warning beep and we’re flung forward in our seatbelts as the car brakes with full force. Ahead of us the human figure is unmoved as we screech to a halt, using brake assist (BAS) and ABS to their fullest extent.
Our driver has been woken from his reverie in time to apply the brakes himself once the car has stopped, preventing it rolling into the still unconcerned ‘scarecrow’ at less than walking pace. But we’ve been sparedthe scikening thud of an impact by the car’s automatic crash avoidance capability.
Our car, its four passengers and the scarecrow have been saved by BAS Plus and ‘Pre-Safe’ brakes, two of the latest optimised driver-aid systems fitted to the new E- Class.
Activated by an electronic brain evaluating data picked up by the car’s on-board radar and a video camera positioned in front of the interior mirror, the set-up, which has been on trial by many carmakers over the years, proved amazingly effective.
Mercedes calls it Intelligent Drive, ‘the fusion of safety and comfort’ and, in a departure from traditonal practice, the system, developed for the new S-Class, is reaching the market in the slightly smaller, revamped E-Class.
Among the other updated features of Intelligent Drive are Distronic Plus, (which maintains a buffer behind the car ahead, braking automatically when the gap tightens), Active Lane Keeping Assist (which doesn’t only ‘vibrate’ through the wheel to warn of lane departure but actively keeps the car in the lane through application of the brakes individually at each wheel), traffic sign recognition, and Attention Assist (which detects driver drowsiness and intervenes with warnings to take break.
Offered in a restyled body and with a revised range of diesel and petrol engines, as well as a diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain, the New E-Class is being introduced to the world’s press in Barcelona and goes on sale in South Africa in June.