In Las Vegas for the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES), CarAdvice today had a taste of Mercedes-Benz's all-new smartphone-style operating system - MBUX - in, of all vehicles, the upcoming A-Class.
You'd expect such clever, high-end technology to debut in something far more exotic such as a new S-Class, but according to the German Manufacturer, the all-new A-Class is the perfect platform to showcase the technology.
Speaking to Australian media at CES, Ola Kallenius, member of the board of management for Mercedes-Benz, said the A-Class is exactly where this new interactive smart-car technology makes the most sense.
"The A-Class has the youngest customer group for us," Kallenius said. "The new-generation car is therefore the right one for us to showcase the MBUX system."
Effectively 'Hey Siri...' or 'Hey Google...' for cars, MBUX brings numerous clever technical advances to the cabin of the A-Class, all while keeping your eyes focused on the road, and your hands on the wheel.
MBUX will eventually expand further into the same kind of app store system we're all used to now, where some apps will be free, while owners can opt to buy other apps as well.
While we initially thought MBUX might cut down on the different ways you could interact with the system, that hasn't happened, with Mercedes-Benz still offering control via voice, the steering wheel, the touchscreen or the rotary dial. However, with voice commands working as sharply as they do, there's no real need to access any of the other options in the real world.
We're not yet sure how the system will be specified for Australia and Australia-bound A-Class variants, but there is effectively a base option, followed by three different 'layers' of tech that can be added on top.
We tested the full-tilt system from the passenger seat of a heavily-disguised A-Class on the streets of Las Vegas, and in short, it is both accurate and impressive.
The speed with which it picks up requests and commands looks like it will rival the best Apple or Android users currently experience. The system works with all facets of the interface, including satellite navigation, lighting, climate control, contacts, mapping, weather, and your calendar.
For example, if you get into the cabin and the temperature is set at 18 degrees, you can say "Hey Mercedes, I'm too cold", and it will raise the temperature by a few degrees. Alternatively, you can also ask the system to raise or lower to a specified temperature.
MBUX will even control the cabin lights, including ambient LED lighting. "Hey Mercedes, will it rain tomorrow" is met with a voice weather update, as well as a forecast for the next few days on the central screen.
Finding the nearest restaurant is also clever, given Mercedes-Benz's collaboration with Yelp. Tell MBUX you're hungry and it won't just show the nearest restaurants and their distance from you, but also the Yelp rating out of five as well. There's also a partnership with Trip Advisor, taking the effective information even further again.
Mercedes-Benz isn't going to cut out other smartphone systems either, leaving owners to decide whether they prefer MBUX, or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
"We believe in the two Cs," said Sajjad Khan, vice president of digital vehicle and mobility for Mercedes-Benz. "Compete and collaborate. So other smartphone connections will be available as well as MBUX."
I've asked often in testing, for manufacturers to stop developing their own systems and allow us to simply use our smartphones as we wish, however, the MBUX system may make me eat my words. It will connect securely to your WiFi network for quick updates, has the best available hardware that shouldn't go out of date too quickly, and works in much the same way as the intuitive command system of any smartphone.
It's no surprise then, that Mercedes-Benz reckons it's the best of its kind in the world.
"We call it 'human centred innovation," Kallenius said. "We are turning the car into the ultimate mobile device, more mobile than a mobile phone. MBUX has exceptional graphics and controls and it will be the best conversation you’ve ever had with a car."
CarAdvice will test the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class in February.