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I’m always one for wanting to try new technologies, and as an Apple iPhone owner, have watched with interest as some car mfgrs have enabled Siri Eyes Free in newer model vehicles, as well as providing CarPlay as a single interface into future Infotainment systems.

When MBZ started touting their “Drive Kit” a few years ago, it peeked my interest… but initial availability seemed problematic and stall when Apple came out with the new iPhone 5 and it’s Lightning Connector. Eventually the “Drive Kit Plus” came into existence, and about the only information I could find on it was press releases and the MBZ Drive Kit Plus website. The website provides some high-level Marketing info, but not a lot of specifics on capabilities and the implementation. My dealer Asst Service Mgr was not familiar with what it was. The website indicated R172’s like mine could be retrofitted with the capability, and I’ve seen other MBZ models that now have Drive Kit Plus available as a factory installed option …so, this crazy guy (you’ll learn why I say that later on) decided to take a chance and have this expensive toy installed in my 2014 SLK250.

Having had the Drive Kit Plus installed for the past few days, I decided I may be able to help others who wonder what this thing is all about; Clarify several points in the the very cryptic manual that I’ve figured out for myself; Provide some perhaps practical observations how this option can (and cannot) be used; and then summarize if I’d elect to have the Drive Kit Plus in it’s current implementation in any future MBZ I may own. There is an old thread inquiring about the original Drive Kit out here, but I thought it would be better to start a new thread on what’s really available to us from my POV on our R172s today, so, let’s begin.

My Environment
- 2014 SLK250
- COMAND w/ Nav (and Voice Control)
- Apple iPhone 6 running the latest iOS 8.3
- MBZ Digital DriveStyle App

From the website, the basic prereq for our SLKs is an R172 built mid-2012 or after. You can have COMAND, the Becker Nav, or neither. You must have an iPhone 4, 5 or 6, with any of the variations they include (see below for some caveats). There is no Android variation of the Drive Kit Plus that I’m aware of. You download the free MBZ Digital DriveStyle App to your iPhone which your car will utilities as the means for interfacing to iOS and the WWW.

What Does It Do?

Official Overview: So I don’t have to rewrite the manual, check out the MBZ Drive Kit Plus website.

Bert’s Summary:
Once everything is in place in your SLK and on your iPhone, and it’s all paired-up, you effectively can turn on a new glowing-red interface presented on the SLK’s display that allows access to Siri, Social Media interaction such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, your Contacts and Calendar. Some new Media access capabilities become available to access your iPhone music and Internet Radio stations, along with Aupeo! (which I take must be a more popular European streaming service). There is a pretty complete Google (not Apple Maps) Navigation capability which includes routing, current traffic, Google Street View, Points of Interest, and more all with voice notification. Some additional capabilities like access to your Nest home temperature controls, and some ability for Pebble Watches also becomes available as well (I have not tried any of that).

Installation

Step 1: The dealer installs a module behind the center Infotainment console that enables Drive Kit Plus, and a connection in the glovebox for your iPhone (see photo at the end). A significant amount of firmware updates are then provided, so this is not a DIY project. In my case, 4 hours of labor was quoted for the work, plus parts. In actuality, I picked-up my SLK on the 8th day because of numerous problems they encountered (I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for all their troubleshooting with firmware that didn’t load, and what ended-up as a wrong module that had been sent in the original parts box).

CAVEAT: While it’s not evident on the website that states iPhone 4,4s,5,5c,5s,6,6-Plus are supported, there is actually a different piece of hardware required if you have an old iPhone 4 or 4s, as those use the old 30-pin style connector vs more current iPhone 5 and 6 which use the newer Lighthing Connector. Be SURE you specify which you need at time of order. It’s not known by me or my dealer if a Lightning-to-30-pin Adapter will work or is technically supported.

Step 2: I found no statements about minimum iOS levels required, and I would not suspect a “jail broken” iOS would be supported if you encountered problems. Regardless, I keep all my iOS devices current and my iPhone 6 is running iOS 8.3.

Step 3: If you did not already do it before installation of the Drive Kit Plus, pair your iPhone to your SLK using standard methods in the MBZ Owners Manuals. My phone was paired in advance of the installation, and I did not have to do it again for normal voice calls.

Step 4: Download the free MBZ Digital DriveStyle App to your iPhone. I’d suggest then going in and customizing the options for any social media you may want to access such as Google+, Facebook or Twitter now so that is done. You may also want to go into the “Places” section of the app and download any maps you will be needing (more on this later) so you have something to try with your new toy. I suggest leaving the app running in the background of your iPhone.

Step 5: Turn your SLK ON or at least in accessory mode. We need to now additionally pair your new Drive Kit Plus to your iPhone. On your iPhone, go to Settings / Bluetooth. There are two methods for this next step, but if you press and hold the CLR button next to the SLK Controller, it will start up Drive Kit Plus — and if all goes well — after perhaps half a minute, it should figure out it needs to pair with your iPhone and now your iPhone will show towards the bottom of the Bluetooth page “Drive Kit Plus” being available. Click it and complete the code acceptance on both your SLK and iPhone. When you have that done, you’ve gotten through the first big hurdle. Turn off your SLK. You can go back to your iPhone Home page now if you like — you’re done with pairing.

Iniitialization

When you want to use it’s functionality, Drive Kit Plus must effectively be turned-on through one of two methods each and every time after turning on your SLK. Once you do that, you will be prompted on the display to physically plug your iPhone into the connector inside the glove box. I have tried plugging my iPhone into the connector before turning on my SLK, and most of the time everything connects correctly when I go to turn Drive Kit Plus on. From troubleshooting Q&A in the back of the Drive Kit Plus manual, I found it’s important that the iPhone Bluetooth connection you’ve always used establishes first, so if you have problems like I had one time so far, you’ll know what to fiddle with.

BIG CAVEATS:
  • Having to turn on Drive Kit Plus each time is unlike Siri Eyes Free, that is always ON when you turn on a 2014-15 Lexus RX that I’m also familiar with. It makes the interface a lot more seamless, and one less thing to think about.
  • Having to plug in your iPhone each time you want to use the capability is a real hassle that I was not expecting. I always keep my cell phone in my pocket, but now will need to remove it when I get into my SLK, plug it in, and remember to remove and put it back in my pocket before I lock the door each time I get out. It’s great I suppose that you get a “free” charging cable for your phone, but the location is hard to reach when sitting in the driver’s seat of the SLK to both connect and disconnect your phone. Also, the current implementation of Siri Eyes Free I’m familiar with in a Lexus, and the latest release of CarPlay coming out this Fall, work wirelessly (granted, Siri Eyes Free does not have the extensive Google Maps capability that Drive Kit Plus provides).
  • If you have COMAND and Nav installed on your SLK, you cannot use it while Drive Kit Plus is enabled (I suppose the intent is you would be using Google Maps, but if Drive Kit Plus is off, you can’t use Siri… Hummm.)
  • On the positive side, if you have COMAND and Voice Control, you may continue to use voice commands using the button on your steering wheel as you always have. You have to remember to go through the Drive Kit Plus menu however, to access Siri (sorry to beat a dead horse, unlike how Siri Eyes Free works in some other mfgr cars where a long or double click of the same button on the steering wheel will engage Siri Eyes Free vs. the vehicle’s built-in voice commands.)


END OF PART I (due to 10K post limit) -- Watch for Part II soon!
 
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Part II

Continued from Part I Above due to 10K post limit

Mode 1 - Starting Drive Kit Plus (“via AUX with No Native Audio”)

- Turn the SLK ON or into Accessory Mode
- Turn on the Audio/Infotainment System
- Go to the Audio Menu
- Select AUX, and Drive Kit Plus will start (there is a variation available on vehicles manufactured after 7/2012 like mine, such that if you keep the audio source set to AUX, you can press the DISC button on the center console instead of going through the menu system).

Mode 1 - Exiting Drive Kit Plus
- Stop any media playback you started via Drive Kit Plus
- Select the MBZ Star icon in upper left corner of the display; Press the Controller -OR- press RADIO on the center console

Mode 1 CAVEATS:
  • If you start Drive Kit Plus this way, you cannot use any of the basic radio, satellite radio, iPod, or CD Infotainment options at the same time. COMAND Nav is not available. You can only use what is accessible via Drive Kit Plus while it’s enabled.
  • It’s very important to remember to turn off Drive Kit Plus when you are done. If you don’t, it’s possible in some scenarios for things like Internet Radio to continue it’s connection and use up your data plan.

Mode 2 - Starting Drive Kit Plus (“with Pre-set Native Audio”)
- Turn the SLK ON or into Accessory Mode
- Go to the Audio Menu
- Turn on the Audio/Infotainment System
- Press and hold CLR on the right side of the Controller

Mode 2 - Exiting Drive Kit Plus
- Stop any media playback you started via Drive Kit Plus
- Select the MBZ Star icon in upper left corner of the display; Press the Controller -OR- press and hold CLR on the right side of the controller

Mode 2 CAVEATS:
  • If you start Drive Kit Plus this way, basic radio, satellite radio, and CD Infotainment options remain available, however — volume controls work, but I’m unable to change source or channel using steering wheel controls or the center console buttons (the manual says this is possible). For some reason, I can’t get iPhone music to play via Drive Kit Plus in this mode — it looks like it should, but it does not play when that icon is clicked. COMAND Nav is not available.

Accessing Siri

Once you have started Drive Kit Plus in one of the two modes above, and you want to verbally communicate with Siri:
- Using the Controller, select the microphone icon near the top left corner of the display
- Siri is enabled as you’ll see visually on the display

NOTE: If you don’t have COMAND or the Becker Nav, Siri can apparently be started by pressing the voice button on the steering wheel. I’ve not seen or tried it.

Google Maps Navigation

The capabilities are IMHO, pretty well done — certainly more full-function with likely more current street data than what COMAND or Becker Nav could ever provide, but it comes at the cost of perhaps three things:
  1. Use of your data plan for connectivity (I have no way to measure how much that may be)
  2. Offline Maps can be installed via the iPhone DriveStyle App, but are not very granular, e.g. typically “by State” here in the US. I downloaded California and Nevada, and total space for the maps with the App is 1.2GB on my iPhone.
  3. For anyone caring about privacy (and let’s not debate that and go off-topic in this thread), your routes, reroutes, and destination are going up into the WWW vs standalone methods like COMAND or Becker provide.

BERT’S SUMMARY

For geeks, Drive Kit Plus is great. For people liking to be bleeding edge, it’s super. For people that can’t rip themselves away from Facebook, Google+ or Twitter while they drive their SLK, it’s a miracle and a wonderful safety improvement. For people that don’t have COMAND or Becker Nav, Drive Kit Plus provides a very elegant display and perhaps best-of-breed capabilities on your existing SLK display using your iPhone and carrier data plan.

Even though I classify myself as an X-Geek these days, having spent my entire professional career in software, hardware, support and management of those environments, this implementation is just not baked well enough, especially with it’s usability. The requirement to hardwire my iPhone is not good and certainly not best-of-breed. Drive Kit Plus is just flat-out hard to figure out how to turn on. You must pay attention to turning it off in one method of use, or you could inadvertently blow yourself out of the water with data usage on your next cellphone bill. It’s ridiculous to have to manually use the controller to click an icon on the display before you can talk to Siri — it should be a physical button on your steering wheel to be of any real use. The challenges with being able to use standard audio sources when Drive Kit Plus is enabled in your vehicle, is troublesome at best. For me, my audio is a very important part of my driving experience, and this becomes a deal breaker.

I didn’t know at the time when I ordered and made a $1200 decision to install Drive Kit Plus on my SLK, but this was the first my dealership had heard of or installed this option on any vehicle. That would have been a telling sign if I would have thought to ask that question to begin with. It then took 6 business days to get the option installed while my local Service Techs worked with specialists “back East”. There are no online manuals, and the manual that does come with the option — while in English and French — is one of the worst from a clarity perspective. It took me a good 30 minutes trying to figure out what the “c (with a graphical box around it) delete button” was … ah, yes, they meant “CLR” on the right side of the Controller knob. [;-| At pick-up, when I asked my Asst Service Mgr who I should contact if I had questions how to operate this, the response was the website or maybe MBZ Customer Service would be the best. That sorta confirmed it for me, even before I dove into the manual and tried to use the features when I got home.

I unfortunately believe in less than a week of ownership and less than 2 hours on the road with actual use (and another couple sitting in my driveway), I’ll make little use of Drive Kit Plus from here on out, and I will just write it off as a big, bad decision where I should not have trusted MBZ for doing as good of an integration job as I’ve found with most of the rest of my SLK and first MBZ. Sadly, Drive Kit Plus is now the #1 thing I’m most disappointed with on my SLK — even though I remain in love with the rest of my very best toy. I just can’t recommend Drive Kit Plus in it’s current form to anyone.

Bert
 

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Thanks for the write up!


Mercedes had hinted about possible bringing CarPlay to older vehicles. So I had made the decision to wait until CarPlay started showing up in Mercedes vehicles and if they followed thru before deciding to do Drive Kit Plus if they didn't backport CarPlay. This makes my decision even easier, wait for CarPlay or just enjoy the pretty decent COMAND. The only thing I wish I had was Siri. That is the one thing I miss about Windows Phone is that it would have a method to automatically read a text message over Bluetooth without any required car support and use Cortana to respond if you wanted. I think it would fool the car into thinking a real phone call was taking place, when it was just a conversation with Cortana.
 

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Thanks for the write up!


Mercedes had hinted about possible bringing CarPlay to older vehicles. So I had made the decision to wait until CarPlay started showing up in Mercedes vehicles and if they followed thru before deciding to do Drive Kit Plus if they didn't backport CarPlay. This makes my decision even easier, wait for CarPlay or just enjoy the pretty decent COMAND. The only thing I wish I had was Siri. That is the one thing I miss about Windows Phone is that it would have a method to automatically read a text message over Bluetooth without any required car support and use Cortana to respond if you wanted. I think it would fool the car into thinking a real phone call was taking place, when it was just a conversation with Cortana.
Glad it was useful. Appreciate the feedback.

At least with a current iPhone, TEXTs go through the data plan, so it can happen alongside a voice call if you've got the right carrier... The cellphone never goes off-hook with texts. In fact, on my Lexus, my iPhone is paired like with my MBZ, such that when I turn the car on, the pairing happens behind the scenes. On my 2013 RX, if a text comes through, it displays on my Nav display as a pop-up sorta thing, and can be read back via the basic car functions. If I had a 2014+ with Siri Eyes Free, then I could even reply to that text by pressing the voice button on the steering wheel, saying what I want, Siri will transcribe and ask me to confirm what it's about to send, and voila, it's handled, all hands-free -- and could be completely "eyes free" never taking my eyes off the road. Not sure how a Windows Phone with Cortana works with all that, but likely similar. CarPlay will provide similar capability and provide a way for say Siri to control many of the other Car Systems, I would suspect much like how MBZ Voice Control works now (that's pretty slick if you've not tried it, since you have COMAND.). I'm personally stoked about CarPlay in the future as it provides a possibility that I won't have to try and learn different voice commands or sequences for different mfgr vehicles like I do today, and honestly Siri and MBZ Voice Commands almost never make a mistake understanding me, whereas, none of my Lexus ever know what I'm saying so I gave up using their built-in voice commands within days after taking delivery of my last two. If I drove my SLK even more, I'd probably remember the commands better than I do. Now, I keep a piece of paper with my top voice commands that I use to quickly remember what I'm after, and that works when I'm on longer trips or get lost in the menu system for some reason.

Anyway, the technology is fun. I just wish the Drive Kit Plus were also as usable as the rest of my SLK. IMHO, the guts of what they need are there, it's just too hard to use as it is, especially for the price, and needs a major rework through an end-user design studio to see how people really do or don't use what they have produced. ;). Take care.
 
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