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Car and Driver: Benz’s New Infotainment Interface Test-Fingered, Well, Thumbed Actually

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E-Klasse InterieurE-Class Interior

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Mercedes-Benz recently showed us the interior of the new, 2017 E-class, and aside from the new seats, which are very comfortable, and a sculpted cabin of leather and wood, the highlight was a chance to thumb the new infotainment interface.

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There are three different infotainment and instrument display packages for the 2017 model. The base version features the somewhat-typical, dual-circular instruments flanking a 7.0-inch display in front of the driver, with an 8.4-inch display in the middle of the dash. Those instruments are cropped TFT displays and not analog gauges, although they display only vehicle speed and engine speed. Upgrading one notch keeps the conventional-looking instrument cluster but the center display grows by nearly 50 percent to 12.3 inches. The top-line option dumps the fixed instruments for a second 12.3-inch display, creating a an ultra-widescreen display like that of the S-class, although there are still a few hard buttons on the center stack for the HVAC controls. All models, however, get standard touchpad controls on the steering wheel.

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E-Klasse Interieur E-Class Interior

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The pad on the nine-o’clock arm controls the instrument display, be it the 7.0-inch or 12.3-inch display; the control pad on the three-o’clock arm controls navigation, media, and other systems on the main infotainment screen at the center of the dash. The pads work sort of like a video-game directional pad: Swipe your finger in the direction you want the cursor to move, highlight a function, and click in the center to select. They work well, even if you’re wearing leather gloves.

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Mercedes says the goal is to reduce distraction. Having interfaced with the system only in a static environment, we can’t say if that will be the case, but there’s something to be said for keeping one’s hands on the wheel and not fumbling for buttons to change the radio. Audi’s new control scheme, launched with the TT, is not all that different. Also, the touchpads create a nice symmetry on the wheel, which has been slowly abandoned with the proliferation of buttons in recent years.

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With the addition of the new touchpads, there are three ways to control the main infotainment screen: steering-wheel pad, center touchpad (the same as in the  S-, C-, and GLS-class), and scroll wheel. We tested what happens when the system gets two inputs from two sources, and the cursor jumps around like a feline on a catnip bender. Drivers have one tool to keep passengers otherwise occupied: the hot-stone-massaging seat. That should keep passengers distracted and away from the controls. Use the steering-wheel touchpad to turn it on, if you like.

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