The hugely sophisticated new Mercedes-Benz E-Class will arrive in Australia from June 2016, but key elements of the new model’s autonomous technology suite won’t be available until at least six months after its launch.
Before Mercedes-Benz Australia can launch the full range of autonomous drive features to be offered, it says it will have to get government approval and certification, which could take six months or more because the appropriate department needs to view the cars first-hand.
The tenth-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class revealed in Detroit this week marks the company’s boldest step yet into full-production vehicle autonomy. In a multitude of ways, the new iteration of this large luxury sedan effectively drives itself.
Its abilities include the Drive Pilot System, which allows the car to follow traffic speeds of its own volition at up to 210km/h, automatically adjust its speeds in response to camera-detected speed limits or those logged in the navigation system, and change lanes by itself when you tap the indicator.
This latter system works because the car’s computer ‘brain’ pairs with the blind-spot assist system, lane assist system and others to execute a lane manoeuvre. Even when you’re driving, the active blind-spot assistance can stop you executing a dodgy merge.
The 2016 E-Class also comes with a remote parking feature that parks the car via an app (the new BMW 7 Series does this, while Tesla’s 7.1 software system parks the car by itself too). There’s also car-to-car communication tech.
But here's the kicker: some or all of these features won't come to Australia right off the bat, because Mercedes-Benz Australia says the government will need to see the systems in operation before it approves them.
The autonomous drive system in the outgoing E-Class can effectively drive the car autonomously for 12 seconds, and that has ADR (Australian Design Rule) approval. The new systems are expected to get the same, once tested here.
The same process was conducted for original versions of radar-guided cruise, such as Distronic, which uses certain channels.
It seems the most desirable situation for Mercedes-Benz Australia is to for initial launch versions of the E-Class to come fitted with all the autonomous tech hardware and software, but with it disengaged. That way, it can be activated by your dealer once it meets regulations.
Unlike the Tesla 7.0 autonomous software — which sports auto lane changing via indicators and other features, view our comprehensive video here — the Mercedes systems aren’t put out over the cloud once updated. They can’t be retro-fitted.
Keep an eye out for a development on all this at the Australian Grand Prix in March, where Mercedes-Benz Australia will show off something around its autonomous technologies. What that is remains unclear — perhaps a lap of the circuit sans driver?