Mercedes sure knows how to take the fun out of driving.
You still have to keep your eyes on the road. But keeping your hands on the wheel? Thatís becoming optional.
The all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 is available with a feature called Drive Pilot, which should not be confused with Teslaís Autopilot, even though they do pretty much the same things. Drive Pilot is actually a collection of features enabled by cameras and radar that combine to allow the E300 to steer itself between the lines on the road, manage its speed and autonomously brake for things that get in front of it.
Whatís that? Your car already does all that? Yeah, there are quite a few out there with lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking systems. But, believe me, aside from maybe the Teslas, they donít do it as well as this one Ė including your year-old Benz.
If there are relatively clear lane markers to keep a camera eye on, Drive Pilot locks the car in the middle of them. Thereís no bouncing side to side like a poorly thrown bowling ball between gutter bumpers, and it traces curves likely as well as you. Itíll do it on the highway and also in stop-and-go city traffic, where the experience is more creepy than thrilling.
Like the looks of the lane next to you? Just hit the directional and prepare to be transported into it. The car checks its blind spot on its own, waits if thereís anything there, and then changes lanes when thereís room. I dare you not to laugh out loud the first time you try this. Or the hundredth.
You canít sit back, relax and enjoy the ride for too long, though. Mercedes would prefer that you treat Drive Pilot as a safety net, rather than a chauffeur. Every minute or so it asks you to touch the wheel to prove you havenít gone AWOL. If you donít, it turns on the hazard lights and gently brings itself to a halt to save itself ... I mean you. It also checks in more frequently if the road starts getting twisty, even though it can handle typical interstate-grade curves on its own just fine.
Most of the time.
Over about 200 miles of driving, there were two or three occasions when the E300 I was testing started drifting out of the lane and urged me to take control as its road departure prevention system alerts kicked in. I chose not to see what happened if I didnít, but Iím told that if the car was about to hit anything it would use the inflatable side bolster in the seat to push me a couple of inches further away from the door and the speakers to emit a noise to brace my inner ear muscles for any damaging louder ones that might ensue in a crash.
So, while Drive Pilot is impressively effective, itís not flawless, and youíre still very much on the hook. Itís also lacking the navigational ability to guide it from point A to point B, changing roads along the way. Although the E300 can read speed limit signs and adjust itself accordingly, the car can go only in the direction you point it. Obeying red lights and stop signs is up to you.