Although the futuristic Hyperscreen in the EQS sedan is Mercedes’ infotainment headliner right now, the E-Class appears to hold its own—at least upon first glance. As increasingly large screen sizes proliferate across the market, the two 12.3-inch screens of our Mercedes E450 aren’t as noteworthy as they once were. Use the digital instrument cluster and infotainment display as much as we have, and you’ll see the tech is very much a mixed bag. There’s more to this picture than simply 24.6 inches of screen behind a smooth glass panel.
E-Class Infotainment: What Should Be Improved
When the E-Class earned its title as the 2021 MotorTrend Car of the Year, MBUX was criticized by nearly every Car of the Year judge. A couple months behind the wheel has helped me explore the layers of usefulness baked into the brand’s infotainment tech, but it remains a point of frustration.
Take the track-forward command as one example. Moving past a song you’re not in a mood to hear should be easy, but it’s too complex in the Mercedes. There are plenty of ways to get the job done, but none work as well as a direct button on the steering wheel (which the Mercedes lacks) or a one-touch button somewhere on the dash (nope). Instead, the 2021 E-Class offers several options that work depending on what displays you have open.
The “Hey Mercedes” voice command feature is a good starting point, but it doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay, a feature some drivers use most of the time they’re in the car. Then there’s the form-over-function touchpad control on the center console, with a button on the top to change the track. But the button is flush with the rest of the touchpad, making it difficult to find without looking down while you’re at speed. Find that button and then swipe the touchpad backward or forward depending on whether you need to rock out one more time or if you’re not feeling that song right now. Another alternative: You can control the track from the instrument cluster or infotainment screens—but again, only if you’re not using the many other display options. What we’d give for a smartly placed, simple steering wheel control. Where this also comes into play is if you’re channel surfing—with no tuning knob, your best options are to use the touchscreen with the audio menu displayed or operate the steering wheel’s tiny swipeable controls.
Mercedes also goes its own way when it comes to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Once your phone is connected, you’ll immediately notice the nearly 2.0 inches of mostly blank space on either side. We wish Mercedes would either offer a full-screen CarPlay display option or do what Toyota, Acura, and others do with their large screens: have the phone mirroring feature comprise two-thirds of the screen with a selection of other info displays on the other. This has been a recurring complaint with Mercedes infotainment systems for years, and although it appears to be fixed in new models including the S-Class, it’s too bad other models haven’t received an upgrade. This detail alone makes the car feel older than it should.
The picture is better with the digital instrument cluster, but even there, the car has a few needs-improvement areas. Like when the car is using its “reserve” fuel capacity, the last thing you want is for the estimated distance-to-empty indicator to just disappear. That doesn’t encourage the driver to get fuel faster, it merely adds anxiety.
After a few days behind the wheel, associate editor Alex Leanse liked the display but had a suggestion: “I am impressed by how configurable everything is, but it can become TMI. A view that puts just the speedometer and bare essentials on display with some lovely Mercedes-ish background would be nice.”
A Zen display would be great. My solution with the existing tech is to use a full-map display and zoom out as far as it can go. There you’ll see a graphical display of stars, the moon, and most of the planet (the top is cut off by an info strip). The digital cluster is fine as it is, but as we’ve noted before, infotainment is the great equalizer among automakers. And despite this unit’s customizability, a few things could make the experience much better. On the upside, if you’re still smitten by the E-Class—and we do recommend the E450 model if that’s within the budget—by the time you’re ready for a new model, Mercedes will have hopefully made improvements to the updated system we’re seeing in the C- and S-Class sedans.
E-Class Infotainment: What It Does Well
Although infotainment isn’t this car’s strongest suit, there are positive aspects besides how much better it looks than whatever you’re trading in. For example, after thousands of miles behind the wheel, I can change volume with a simple swipe of my right thumb on the steering wheel controls. And even though the updated integrated navigation system doesn’t always have the updated points of interest a phone-based system might, voice-commanding a destination is easy. The maps get two over-the-air updates a year, so this won’t likely be a big issue for those who actually use the integrated system.
The augmented reality navigation feature is cool, too, though it would be helpful if it could show in the instrument cluster, as well. Augmented reality navigation shows graphical arrows and information on a camera view of your actual surroundings. So if you have a right turn ahead but you’re not sure if it’s the street immediately ahead or the one shortly after, augmented reality navigation can help.
The future of Mercedes interior design is even more screen-heavy, but we’re thankful to have the up/down toggles for temperature. They’re not as good as knobs, but those physical controls are still easier to manipulate, especially when you don’t want to interrupt your music with a voice command.
Speaking of what’s on the radio, our E450 also has a helpful function that alerts you when an artist, song, sports team, or league is featured on another satellite radio station. That functionality is not unique to Mercedes, but in case you use satellite radio in your car but didn’t know what the alert button did … you’re welcome.
E-Class Infotainment Verdict
The infotainment tech in the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class has room for improvement—and no, that doesn’t automatically translate to, “It needs more screens!” The displays look good, and there are bright spots, but a couple issues should be addressed. Spending more time with our one-year E-Class test car has taught me two main lessons: one, that it’s not as bad as I remember it from recent E-Class models I’ve driven; and two, that it’s still far from being a class leader. Good thing the rest of the car is so good.
Read More About Our Long-Term 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic:
- Arrival: Hello to a Family Friend
- Update 1: Hits the Track, Where We Learn Not to Push It
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