The stuff of science fiction is rapidly becoming everyday reality, especially when it comes to automobiles. By the end of the decade, we may see the first fully self-driving cars. And the completely made over 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 will get you amazingly close today. The new E-Class sedan (always popular for introducing new technology) can now not only operate its brakes, accelerator and steering wheel without driver intervention, but can pass another car in traffic.
As you sit behind the wheel, what's bound to catch your eye are the twin video screens, a 12.3-inch LCD display operating the updated comand infotainment system, and a second, reconfigurable display replacing conventional, analog gauges on all but base models. Those two huge screens help you manage a high-tech fantasyland of features that come just a few inches short of fully autonomous driving. There's the latest version of Mercedes' oddly named Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control system, which not only holds to the speed of traffic without driver intervention, but can bring you to a stop when traffic snarls. It will hit the brakes on its own to avoid an accident if you don't react quickly enough. And you can even tap the turn signal and let the E300 pass a slower vehicle without you touching the wheel.
Well, you actually have to put your hands on the wheel every 30 seconds or so. Mercedes isn't comfortable with full, hands-off motoring just yet, even on limited-access highways. But the German maker is planning to allow over-the-air updates, much like a smartphone, and it may add hands-free operation before it's time to trade in. Another feature Mercedes plans to activate a year or so from now will allow the E300 not only to park itself with minimal driver intervention, but even to remotely pull out of a parking spot and fetch you, simply by tapping a button on the key fob.
From a visual standpoint, the 2017 Mercedes E300 is handsome, adopting the more curvaceous, coupe-like roofline of the maker's CLS model. The new sedan gets a taut and sculpted body, a more muscular and planted look than past E-Class models. The interior, meanwhile, takes on a new level of refinement, especially if you opt for the distinctive, open-pore wood trim. At a starting price of $52,150, plus $925 in delivery fees, the E300 features a peppy, turbo four making 241 horsepower. The sedan will be followed by a wagon, and other body styles, including a coupe, are in the works.
Mercedes bills the new E300 as "the world's most intelligent automobile," and it's hard to dispute that. Expect to spend a fair bit of time learning how to operate all these new features, however. We spent three days behind the wheel and still found ourselves struggling to get the hang of all that technology. But it's quite a ride when it all comes together.