2015 Mercedes C-class Gets Semi-Autonomous Braking, Distancing, and Parking

On Monday at the North American International Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz staged its public debut of the 2015 C-Class sedan. While this is the lowest-end of the luxury German automaker's offerings in the U.S., it has no shortage of tech, including a generous helping of--well, help, with accident avoidance, stop-and-go driving, and that pesky parallel parking.

On Monday at the North American International Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz staged its public debut of the 2015 C-Class sedan (after an online announcement late last year). While this is the lowest-end of the luxury German automaker's offerings in the U.S., it has no shortage of tech, including a generous helping of--well, help, with accident avoidance, stop-and-go driving, and that pesky parallel parking.

Touchpad tech

The interior tech centers upon a 7-inch, freestanding central display and raised, glossy touchpad controller. Mercedes-Benz describes its display as "eye-catching," and it is--in fact, it looks a lot like an iPad hovering above three brushed-metal air vents. But it's not a tablet, nor even a touchscreen. Instead, this display is controlled by a small touchpad controller that sits at the base of the console.

This is not the first touchpad in a car. For instance, Audi's MMI infotainment system features a touchpad that doubles as a touch-sensitive radio preset screen. But the Mercedes-Benz touchpad controller is different--and dare I say, more intuitive--than Audi's.

Developed specifically for the new C-Class, the actual touchpad part is raised, with three buttons at the base and a physical scroll wheel at the top. It supports various gestures, such as swiping, tapping, and clicking--in fact, the entire pad is clickable, so you can easily select an option. What's nice is that it's always a touchpad--unlike Audi's, which is sometimes a static screen--so you can swipe effortlessly through menus and seamlessly hand-write letters, numbers, and special characters. You can also use the physical scroll wheel (which has its own surrounding buttons) to scroll and click.

Safety features are highly autonomous

The new C-Class can be equipped with Mercedes-Benz's Intelligent Drive safety system, borrowed from the company's flagship S-Class line. With Intelligent Drive, you get Collision Prevention Assist, a feature that lets the car brake autonomously if it suspects you're about to crash into a vehicle or object. You also get what Mercedes calls "Distronic Plus," a semi-automatic traffic assistant that lets your car follow the car ahead of you (staying within your lane and braking and speeding up as necessary) at speeds under 37 miles per hour.

Other safety and convenience options on the C-Class include a parking assistant similar to Ford's Active Parking Assist. As you supply the gas and brake at appropriate times, the car will steer itself into a spot. The Hands-Free package adds an automatic liftgate that opens when you swipe your foot underneath the back of the car.

While fully autonomous cars are still years away, the elements are coming together. The C-Class will hit U.S. markets in September. There's no word on price--and Intelligent Drive and other safety tech will be optional--but the current C-Class line starts at $35,800.

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