It’s not just new technology being revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year – Mercedes-Benz is unveiling its brand new CLA compact coupe. And don’t worry, gadget fans, it’s not wanting for on-board wizardry.
First, the car itself. Consider this the four-door coupe version of the acclaimed Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The previous one was popular; Mercedes-Benz sold 750,000 of them, mainly to people who’d never owned a Merc before. Those buyers are typically 10 years younger than the average Mercedes customer, too. The firm is targeting more of the same this time.
The fact the new CLA is even sportier than the original should help. It’s longer, wider and a bit lower-slung, and Mercedes has worked hard to make the rear end smoother-flowing and less awkward. It’s tried to give it the ‘long-nose’ look of a proper GT, which isn’t easy to achieve on a compact car, but the balance is better here than the original.
Inside, it has the same open-plan architecture as the A-Class, complete with freestanding dual widescreen displays. With extra emphasis on sportiness and jewel-like detailing, the wow-factor is upped even more. The CES crowds are going to love it.
Underneath, it’s all A-Class, albeit with a lower centre of gravity and wider tracks front and rear. The suspension is firmed up accordingly (electronically controlled adaptive suspension is optional) and we’re told it will be the sportiest of all Merc’s compact-class cars. Wheels? From 16 inches to 19 inches. Of course, you really need the 19s.
The engine is a four-cylinder turbo that puts out 225hp and drives the front wheels via a DCT automatic gearbox. More engines will filter through in due course. But engines are immaterial: the new Mercedes-Benz CLA is all about the tech.
The dual screens are built around the new MBUX architecture, and the CLA introduces the next development of that, called MBUX Interior Assist. This introduces gesture control, but don’t worry – it’s a step beyond the rather rubbish systems we’ve seen from brands such as BMW up to know.
For starters, it works in both sunlight and darkness. Raise your hand towards the interior mirror and the reading lamp comes on, reach over to the passenger seat and the area is illuminated, turning off again when your hand moves away. It recognises which passenger is gesturing, too – so an animated passenger won’t inadvertently turn the stereo volume up.
There are gesture control ‘favourites’ too. Spread index and middle finger in a v-shape over the centre console (flick it the v-sign?) and commands can be stored – such as, ‘navigate me home’. Again, driver and passenger can have their own favourite commands.
“We are now igniting the next level with an intelligent interior assistance system for the compact class,” said R&D chief Ola Kallenius. “By recognising gestures, it facilitates natural operation.
“Hey Mercedes” and avocados
Voice control has also been developed. Part of the MBUX User Experience, saying “Hey Mercedes” now works on much more complex queries than the launch system on the A-Class.
You can, reckons Mercedes-Benz, say, “Which child-friendly Asian restaurants are nearby that are neither Chinese nor Japanese?” and it will find just the place for you. You can ask it sport questions, stock exchange questions (“How has the Apple share price performed compared to Microsoft?”), even get it to do calculations (“What is the square root of three?”).
If you’re really keen, ask Hey Mercedes general knowledge questions. It really can, if you want, tell you the fat content of avocados, or the size of Texas. Coming to America first, other markets will follow with this next-level functionality in due course.
Oh, and if you have passengers in the car, they don’t need to zip it when you’re talking to your Mercedes: the system has been trained to respond only to the commands of the person who last said “Hey Mercedes”.
What else? The so-called Mercedes-Benz ‘Energizing Coach’ connects to a Garmin wearable device and logs stats such as stress level, pulse rate or quality of sleep. It duly adjusts the air-con, seat massage, lighting and music to give a bespoke ‘wellness’ mood tailored to both an individual and a situation.
“The aim is for passengers to feel well and relaxed even during demanding or monotonous journeys,” says Mercedes-Benz. Presumably, if a driver hasn’t had much sleep, the air con chills and blasts accordingly, to keep them sharp.
Mercedes-Benz is even launching a special Vivoactive 3 Garmin smartwatch at CES to link up with it.
After being shown at CES 2019, Mercedes-Benz will ship the new CLA to other auto shows in the build-up to its market launch in May. The firm says it “sets new benchmarks for the compact class”. It certainly packs in plenty of tech for the CES faithful to get their teeth into.