In case you didn’t know, there’s a war going on on your dashboard! While Apple CarPlay & Android Auto might have designs on your digits, homegrown systems like Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) are here to steal your heart.
The latest iteration of Mercedes-Benz’s infotainment platform, MBUX raises the bar in voice recognition, touchscreen responsiveness and third-party app support. For the driver, that makes a whole lot of difference, as I found out when I took it for an extended test-drive in the all-new 2019 A-Class.
The face of MBUX is the touchscreen in the center stack, either 7-inch- or optional 10.25-inches in size, and now gratefully using a capacitive panel than the awful resistive touchscreen panels that previous Mercedes models was encumbered with. It’s now receptive to a light tap, rather than demanding an angry stab – or, more precisely, several stabs or twists of the center knob and touch pad, since the old interface had a habit of ignoring your fingers and commands through the center knob.
Another of Mercedes’ previous interface shortcomings was its occasionally lumbering speed. Happily, that too has been addressed for the most part in MBUX.
Overall user experience on the MBUX is nothing short of greatness; There’s less time spent waiting in switching among tabs, and map redraws are faster, too. The voice recognition system is quicker as well and I can tell you that activating it by simply saying ‘Hey Mercedes’ is years ahead in terms of both functionality and uniformity.
Not only can you control an endless list of features — from navigation through to cabin temperature — but you can also ask Mercedes all you like, from the current soccer scores to the sense of life. That’s a good thing, since Mercedes wants a whole lot of interaction to be done via voice to ensure driver eyes remain on the road.
If you ask us how MBUX is, we can tell you that she’s smart, and keeps getting smarter all the time. She can learn your habits and can make suggestions: to get you to work quicker via a less congested route than what you’d usually take, for instance, or be more helpful, such as automatically pulling up the contacts you dial up most often everyday after work.
Luckily, besides Hey Mercedes, there are no specific expressions to be learned either, as Mercedes is using what Mercedes calls natural language recognition. Getting a bit hot? All you need to say is “Hey Mercedes, I’m hot” and she’ll cool down the temperature. She can also handle multifaceted requests and follow-up questions. Tell her you’re starving and she’ll make some suggestions. Then ask her to sort them by price or star evaluation and she’ll happily gratify.
For the most part it turned out to be the case, though sometimes I was confused whether I was getting the speech prompt wrong or whether there simply wasn’t such a feature. A good example is asking for “nearby attractions”, which seems like it should be an obvious feature, but which MBUX constantly rejected.
Navigation has been refurbished too, including features born from Mercedes-Benz’s partnership with UK company, What3Words. For each three-meter square of earth has been designated a three-word identifier, so if you don’t have a street address but you’ve looked up the location in the What3Words app, Mercedes will take you there, even if it’s the middle of nowhere.
As part of the optional multimedia package you also get navigation with augmented reality. It’s a whole new level of heads up display and while it doesn’t turn the windshield into a transparent display, it does superimpose navigation instructions over your real-world view through the central screen, including street numbers over buildings and highlighting traffic signs.
The team at Mercedes say they won’t afford you the option to change the name of your Mercedes: her name is Mercedes and she’ll stay that way. And if your passengers start demanding she re-route you to the nearest Paul’s Ice Cream shop or keep trying to change your playlist to some ungodly genre such as AmaPiano, you can easily cancel the request with a one push button on the steering wheel.
In addition to intelligent voice control, the whole menu experience has been redesigned and offers the swipe, pinch and scroll functionality you’re used to on your phone, and there’s no digging through never-ending layers of menus to get to the things you want.
It’s not entirely smooth-sailing, however. When I tested Apple CarPlay with an iPhone XR, for instance, I had to make sure the apps were running on the phone before they’d show up in the Apps tab in the car. They didn’t need to be in the background on the iPhone, but they did need to be in recent memory. It was either that, or the interface did not initiate CarPlay presence at all.
The infotainment space is becoming fiercely competitive, and this MBUX is a much-needed upgrade. Mercedes Benz may have been one of the few first to smarten up the dashboard with yesteryears infotainment panels, but its rivals have stepped up in the intervening years. Meanwhile, Google and Apple have set their avid appetites on the automotive space, counting on smartphone-addicted owners themselves driving car companies to a place of submission.
Mercedes’ MBUX gets the basics and so much more right. To survive the interesting times the automotive industry faces, however, it’ll need to perfect what already is a leap in innovation before MBUX can become a serious selling point. Hi Mercedes, let’s chat in vernacular.
Check out our First Drive of the A-Class here