CARS.COM — An area we looked forward to testing over the long haul on our 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 long-term tester was the all-new multimedia system, which for 2015 got a thorough modernization and a newly optional 8.4-inch screen perched on top of the center console. The big, optional screen is included in a $2,690 Multimedia Package and is part of Mercedes’ Comand — short for Cockpit Management and Data — system made up of navigation, CD/DVD drive, the physical buttons, rotary controller, all-new touchpad and USB media ports.
Related: Follow Our Long-Term Fleet
Halfway through our yearlong test, five aspects of the Comand system stand out in Cars.com’s long-term 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 test car.
Perhaps what’s most stunning about the Comand system is the graphic quality and interface that fill the main semifloating 8.4-inch screen with the kind of high-resolution imagery you’d expect to find in a top-tier tablet. Whether you’re customizing things like ambient lighting, scrolling through a music library or tweaking the multiple drive settings, you’re treated with a high-quality (960 x 540 pixels) display showing off sleek and modern graphics.
Dig into the vehicle settings menu and a highly detailed graphic of the C-Class shows cutaways of the powertrain while the car flips around to a model with an open door and view of the inside when adjusting entry and exit settings. The screen is big enough to handle any amount of information cleanly, and the text is always easily read.
The interface may look great, but it doesn’t make up for other issues, according to Senior Editor Mike Hanley.
“Graphics quality and resolution has improved with this generation of the available Comand navigation system, but usability has declined because of one seemingly small change that’s not: Before, all of the Comand menus at the top and bottom of the screen stayed on the screen. Now, when you’ve performed an action like selecting a radio station, those menus disappear,” he said.
“It’s very annoying, and visually locating what menu you need takes more attention than it otherwise would if it was just there all the time.”
The main access points to control all functions of the C300’s multimedia system are a large rotary dial and new touchpad located just ahead of the center armrest. The rotary controller performs many of the same functions as the touchpad and is the primary way most of our staff interacts with Comand even though the touchpad is flashier and has more tricks. Making the controller easy to use is its close proximity to the driver plus a separate volume wheel and a much-appreciated back button also in close proximity.
Cars.com Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek primarily uses the rotary controller. “The rotary controller is my go-to because of its hefty, weighted feel and consistent performance,” he said. “The touchpad sometimes requires an extra swipe before the intended function is recognized.”
The new kid on the block is the touchpad that hovers over the controller like something straight out of the captain’s chair of the Star Trek Enterprise. The touchpad — while aesthetically pleasing — hasn’t caught on with our driving staff, but it does have a few tricks that separate it from the main rotary control knob. While using navigation, a press of the touchpad brings up the nav viewing function. You can slide the cursor around to any destination using the touchpad, then pinch and zoom in and out of a destination like with a smartphone. It’s handier than using the dial for the same function.
The pad also can be used to write destinations into the navigation system.
“The written entry works extraordinarily well and faster than I could scroll and click letters using the rotary controller for the same address,” Bruzek said.
When adjusting stereo settings like bass, treble and midrange, you can use a turning motion with your fingertips to crank the stereo setting up and down. The touchpad often gets in the way of using the controller; a brush of the arm can trigger an unwanted command. The touchpad also has buttons for favorites, quick access to audio and phone as well as a back button.
“I only use the touchpad when listening to music,” said Managing Editor David Thomas. “I leave the beautiful map on the screen and then swipe through my tunes with the touchpad. That’s all I use it for, but I use it a lot.”
Overall, however, the touchpad is mostly redundant and its placement creates some issues.
“My biggest beef is with the placement of the touchpad. Too often, when I want to use the dial controller, I also manage to hit the touchscreen, which brings up menus I don’t want,” said Senior Editor William Jackson.
Integration With iPhones/iPods
Our C-Class came with an Apple Lightning connector for the latest-model iPhones that has worked flawlessly, so far, with the majority of our staff’s iPhones. The high-quality display showcases what it can do when searching through artists and albums, and a carousel of artwork pops up from Gracenote. Big music libraries are easily navigable with the quick-scrolling rotary controller and search-by-letter navigation for long song or artist lists. Plus, the Burmester premium sound system in the Premium Package ($2,120) pumps out good tunes.
The Lightning connector is a nice addition, but the bulky L-shaped connector doesn’t fit with all phone cases. Thicker cases have to be removed to use the factory cable, though a standard iPhone cable still works when plugged into either of the two USB ports.
Hanley noted that Comand offers a unique compatibility when paired over Bluetooth instead of a USB connector; that’s something that not all multimedia systems support.
“I paired my iPhone to the car over Bluetooth and was pleased to see that the screen showed track information and gave you control of song playback through the Comand interface. Not all systems do,” he said.
Mercedes-Benz’ mbrace Phone App
The mbrace app may not be a direct part of Comand, but its functionality can access some systems like navigation. Available for Apple iOS and Android devices, the Mercedes-Benz mbrace app is a slick way to keep tabs on your car with a vehicle locator as well as offers a Curfew Minder that allows you to set a time limit and receive an alert if the car is operated after curfew. Got trust issues? Or a teenager? More useful, however, is the ability to send a destination to the navigation system right from your phone.
A few staffers, including Assistant Managing Editor Jennifer Geiger, struggled with the navigation system’s traditional destination entry.
“It was very difficult to input my destination; I tried using both the touchpad and the dial controller,” she said. “The menu structure is complicated, and I found that nothing is set up in an intuitive way.”
The app would have been a great shortcut for Geiger since all you have to do is enter the address in the app, send it to the car and when you fire up the C-Class a message appears on the Comand display asking if you want to navigate to that destination.
Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.