NEWS

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class’ Touch-Sensitive Steering Wheel Could Be a Touchy Subject

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W 213), 2020Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W 213), 2020 Mercedes-Benz E-Class | Manufacturer image

Mercedes-Benz’s push toward the proliferation of touch-sensitive panels is set to get a big step forward with the announcement of a new steering wheel set to debut later this year on the 2021 E-Class family of sedans and wagons. The company has released some new details about its new tiller, and if you’re not a big fan of the touch-sensitive squares on the current generation of Benz products (as many of us are not), you might not be terribly happy with the news that all of the steering wheel controls on the new E-Class are going to be capacitive touch-sensitive going forward.

Related: 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class: New Face, New Wagon

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Three new steering wheels will be offered, depending on the trim and model, which will eventually be used across the Mercedes-Benz lineup, according to the company. All will incorporate a new generation of Touch Control systems that expand upon the minimal capacitive touch-sensitive panels in today’s vehicle to complete capacitive touch control, eliminating the mechanical buttons and switches.

Knows When You’re Holdin’

The rim of the wheel will also now have sensors embedded in it that let the vehicle know when you’re gripping it — useful for the semi-autonomous steering systems in Mercedes-Benz vehicles that currently require you to move the wheel slightly every now and them to let them know you’re still paying attention while the systems are actively steering the car for you. Soon, the system won’t require this, as it will automatically know whether you have your hands on the wheel through a two-zone sensor pad.

Different Designs

Three wheels will be offered on the E-Class: Luxury, Sport and Supersport versions. The Luxury model will have spokes that form a “chalice inspired by elegant Callas flowers,” according to the company, with two spokes containing all the capacitive panels. The Supersport version has a smaller diameter rim and two double-decker spokes, “reminiscent of the wheel wing nuts of sports cars.” The Sport model has not yet been shown. Sizes range from 15 inches in the Luxury model to 14.6 inches for the Supersport.

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As for how that feels, I don’t think we could say it any better than Mercedes-Benz’s own Hans-Peter Wunderlich, creative director, interior design: “The steering wheel rim is the secret kingmaker of a steering wheel,” he said in a statement. “Its geometric design is a science in itself that cannot be found in any textbook. The wreath must fit snugly in the hand. If it is a millimetre too much, it feels unpleasantly bulging. If it’s a millimetre too little, it feels like it’s starved. And that impression then clouds the overall feel of the car.”

But Will We Like It?

How Mercedes-Benz’s new steering wheels work in person remains to be seen, as the current wheel is sometimes criticized for creating areas on the wheel that you cannot touch, lest you inadvertently activate a system or change a setting. Increasing that area to encompass a lot more of the spokes of the steering wheel seems like a step in the wrong direction on first consideration, but a test drive of the new 2021 E-Class later this year should determine how well it works.

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W 213), 2020Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W 213), 2020 Mercedes-Benz E-Class | Manufacturer image

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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