THE HIPSTER IN ME likes to be the first to do something. Right now I’m not doing anything, really. I guess making amends with a deity does count as doing something. I’m also fighting the urge to take back control of the steering wheel, because testing a new function takes full commitment. I peep at my visibly distressed photographer in the rear-view mirror. A truck cuts in to my lane up ahead and I notice that it’s travelling below the national speed limit that the Mercedes-benz E-class I’m driving is set to. I also notice that the road is about to curve quite significantly. As one of the first people in the country to be testing this car’s self-driving chops on public roads and highway speeds, this is the moment of truth. I cross my arms and legs and put faith in the car.
Mercedes-benz is making a statement with the latest version of its E-class premium saloon. With competitors taking major technological leaps, the German manufacturer has seen its traditional marketleading cars lose ground. That changes now. The old dog has learnt some new tricks and is delivering high-speed semi-autonomous driving to the South African market.
Vivendren Patchiappen knows the new E-class backwards. He should, because he’s the product manager for Mercedes-benz South Africa and has literally just returned from Daimler HQ in Stuttgart, where he was extensively briefed on the car’s many capabilities. “When Connect (Mercedes-benz’s smartphone app) arrives later this year, your smartphone will become your car key,” he teases. “You’ll be able to unlock the car via an NFC chip in the door, then place your phone on the Nfc/wireless charging pad in the car and press Start.”
Connect will enable more than just that. In the June 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics we sketched the dream scenario of having your car drop you off at a shopping mall and go off to park itself. The new E-class is halfway there.