The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a better driver than you are
Movie pitch: The Terminator meets The Fast and the Furious. When future Vin Diesel comes back to warn us that self-driving cars were part of a conspiracy to move millennials out to the new Amazon/Whole Foods Exurbs® - "the cheap avocados in ’17 were a trap, man!" - which companies will our hero infiltrate to preemptively shut down the autonomous-automobile revolution? Certainly Tesla. Definitely Waymo. And if the 2018 S-Class is any indication, you can add Mercedes-Benz to the list.
Over a few hundred miles on California’s Pacific Coast Highway and its environs, I let the latest generation of the world’s best-selling luxury sedan pretty much drive itself - hands lightly on the wheel, no feet on the pedals. Its updated driver-assistance features navigate me into the future.
Using map data, sophisticated sensors, and cameras, the S-Class automatically decelerates at curves and steers on its own except while making the sharpest turns, a trick few other cars can pull off. In town, it will slow to the appropriate speed for a 90-degree turn. You just steer, although you get the sense that it could do this by itself if the powers that be would unleash the ghost in the machine.
Experts say we’re about five years away from the type of four-wheeled cocoons that can ferry us to Grandma’s while we binge-watch The Handmaid's Tale. Yet according to a recent survey by AAA, most of us fear the idea of fully self-driving cars. To help assuage the Luddites among us, automakers are gradually phasing in autonomous features that make our commute feel like time regained, but the real cushioning of future shock comes in the form of coddling driver-assistance tech.
Benz’s new flagship can find a parking spot and back into it, use cameras to anticipate speed bumps and potholes so you barely feel them, and even lean into curves so you’re not sliding around in your seat—centrifugal force is for the olds, dude. Like the most lauded tech achievements of the 21st century, the S-Class excels at solving problems we didn’t know we had.
Prime example: the new “Energizing Comfort” feature, six ten-minute programs that tweak the interior’s lighting, music, climate control, and massage seats to elicit . . . feelings. On the menu: “Joy,” “Freshness,” “Vitality,” and “Training,” which guides you through exercises you can perform in your seat. Namaste.
Are we ready to give up our freedom to take the wheel in exchange for self-driving pleasure pods of the future? To that, I ask: Does a millennial eat avocado toast?
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