I am a huge fan of cars. Not so much of the screens they use inside of them these days. You see, despite the development of the automobile over the past three centuries, the past 15 years have shown just how out of reach automakers can be. Sure, cars are getting more efficient, using alternative fuels, and performing better than ever, but they’re not ubiquitous yet. There are many places on earth that would consider a car the privilege of the well-to-do. But those same places have advanced in the democratization of connectivity with mobile phones. Cases in question: India and China. You see it all around you – it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, or how much money you make – you can (and probably have) made a TikTok video. Give a child an LCD screen and they will slide it around waiting for something to happen. This is where we are, this is how we have been trained. We are mobile first.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Hello Mercedes … it doesn’t matter
Two days ago, as I made my way through Bangalore traffic in the Mercedes GLS that the automaker sent for me, I was struck by the sheer number of buttons and controls on the large SUV, apparently to control various functions as quickly as possible. . The driver seemed to rely on Google Maps for directions to the hotel, so I decided to give him a head start by programming the onboard navigation to do the same on the bigger screen. It took me five minutes to enter “MARRIOTT” using the jog dial and capacitive panel combination, and another two to figure out where the ENTER / OK button was. Excellent context for what we will soon experience: Mercedes’ new MBUX infotainment system, developed in part in India, promising a completely new and efficient way of interacting with one’s car.
This is not a new idea. You’ll find a voice assistant button on the steering wheels of most cars with a decent infotainment system, but Mercedes has decided to go one step further by developing its own on-board system. Most cars will essentially invoke the assistant on your phone (Siri / Google) when you press that button. This car, however, reacts to “Hello Mercedes” or the button, and it does so almost instantly. Mercedes has partnered with Xilix and NVidia to ensure the hardware specs are on point, and it shows – the system itself is fluid and responds quickly and accurately to gestures. The UI also appears to be revised to use large touch targets and less ambiguous buttons and text. This is important for when you are driving and you need to focus on the road.
But really, the trip to Bangalore was all about the voice assistant. We even visited the offices of Mercedes Benz Research and Development India to take a look at the parts made in India and their gigantic team of 10,000 people. This is where things got interesting, and Mercedes betrayed its legacy as a car maker, not a tech company. While there is a great deal of capacity and offline capability in MBUX, much of the functionality relies on an internet connection to Mercedes’ own cloud and through that its API partners.
Apparently, Mercedes decided to install SIM cards from a recently beleaguered telecommunications company in its press fleet: the cars we were driving. Unsurprisingly, 4G connectivity was spotty and completely offline in many cases. This left the MBUX voice assistant severely disabled. We are eager to see how the car performs in urban areas when we do a road test. We’ll give the MBUX voice assistant a pass this time, because I think connectivity was a major issue.
Additionally, MBUX includes a connected car element through the Mercedes Me app. Like Kia and MG, the Mercedes app allows the car owner to track the location of the car, operate some functions like lights and air conditioning, etc. We expect this to become more and more common in luxury cars as they are already available to consumers in cheaper models as well as aftermarket add-ons.
Actually, I was much happier running the new GLC than trying in vain to interact with its systems. A bit tweaked for 2019-2020, the GLC remains curvy, understated, and confident as a design exercise. There is some shiny chrome under the bumpers, new headlights and taillights, but it appears to be a minor facelift on the exterior. The proportions are still generous, muscular but not sporty. Mercedes seems to have left the racing crowd behind with its AMG line of vehicles. The GLC is still very mature in appearance, as well as in the way it drives.
Coming straight from a chauffeur-driven previous-generation GLS, the GLC’s comfort and luxury were familiar, but surprising for a supposedly lower-end vehicle. The GLC’s cabin is as quiet as the one I’d just experienced, and it stayed that way even with the engine running high. The engine we tested was a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel producing 194PS & 400Nm, and upgraded to BS6 specs. There are no compromises on this new engine, and combined with the 9-speed automatic transmission, progress is smooth, fast and seamless. Riding modes are available, but clearly, things are tuned for balance and comfort rather than spirit.
The suspension is a highlight, and it handled daily commutes to Bangalore and the highways well. The 19 “wheels look good and with the generous profile of the supplied tires the ride quality is good. There are some sharp bumps through potholes and multi-tone road joints, but overall, I’ll take it.
The mature vibe continues inside, with the trendy unvarnished wood finish on display. There is mood lighting and leather throughout. Mercedes has steered clear of flat-bottomed steering, with the tiller handle conservatively round. Besides the floating MBUX screen, there is no excess LCD screens here. The driver’s binnacle has two dials and a color multifunction display, but it doesn’t have a full TFT unit like in some of its other cars. With the addition of touch and the removal of the redundant scroll dial, the center console is refreshingly clean, with a few touch buttons as needed, storage, a capacitive touch panel, and a wood finish. The upholstery is a bit bland, but I suspect it is by design. I would have liked the power steering adjustment and seat adjustment memory to complete the package. Without them, I feel a little nickel in this price range.
Mercedes has included a space-saving tire in a completely flat, rimless boot, allowing 550 liters of cargo space, expandable to 1600 liters with the second row of seats folded down. This is almost normal and it easily swallowed our light load of luggage and gear. The rear seat comfort is satisfying too, but aside from AC vents, USB-C charging, center armrest, and blinds, there are no other notable luxuries.
The facelifted GLC is clearly aimed at the distinguished nobility of all ages. He’s smart, mature, sober, and is among the first vehicles from the automaker in India to get the next-generation tech stack. We will have more information about the technology when we operate it in city conditions. The Mercedes-Benz GLC costs Rs 52.75 lac for gasoline and Rs 57.75 lac for diesel. It is a solid and up-to-date competitor with a lower premium than its peers.
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