We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried. Mercedes-Benz says the redesigned 2017 E-Class can emit a sound from its stereo speakers that triggers your ears to protect themselves from noise during a crash. And if sensors detect a side-impact crash, the front seats can inflate their outboard bolsters to move you a few inches toward the car’s center and away from the doors.
The 2017 E-Class goes on sale in the U.S. in June 2016. A Mercedes spokesman told us it’s “too early” to say which features will make it to the U.S. car, but one will not: a driverless parking system that allows you to park the car via smartphone. That makes the E-Class the second car that parks itself overseas but not here.
Caveats aside, Mercedes announced a litany of tech features on the global E-Class.
- Improved driving assistance: Mercedes promises the next E-Class will offer “semi-automated driving on freeways, highways and in city traffic.” That’s something the current E-Class already does, but Mercedes says the latest capabilities are even more robust. Mercedes’ next-gen Intelligent Drive allows the E-Class to accelerate, brake and steer itself at speeds up to 124 mph, though it still requires you to keep a hand on the wheel. Sensors and cameras can keep pace and heading with the car ahead, read and follow speed limit signs, identify lane markings or intuit its own path if those markings aren’t clear. Enhanced automatic braking can warn you and automatically brake the car if it detects stopped traffic, pedestrians or cross-traffic. If you brake too lightly, the system can brake harder.
- Car-to-X communication: Through embedded mobile phone technology the next E-Class can exchange information with other cars and warn the driver if, say, a car ahead has had an accident. Of course, this requires widespread vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure, which is still in its infancy.
- Smartphone key: Your phone functions as your key, enabling access to the car if it’s nearby.
- Front seat bolsters that move you before a crash: Dubbed the Pre-Safe Impulse Side system, Mercedes’ seats can inflate their outboard bolsters “within a fraction of a second” to move you away from the doors if sensors detect an impending side impact.
- Ear protection: Mercedes says the stapedius muscle in your ear contracts when you hear loud noises to protect against excessive sound pressure. If it senses an imminent impact, the E-Class emits a sound from the stereo speakers to trigger the stapedius to contract. Before you laugh, consider that one study showed side airbags average 178 decibels when they deploy. That’s well beyond the point of hearing damage.
Other available features include inflatable seat belts in the outer rear seats and LED headlights that purportedly illuminate the road better without blinding other drivers. Which features will make it to the U.S. car? Stay tuned for the full unveiling, which we expect sometime around Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January 2016.