With a super-stretched iPad serving as instrument cluster as well as centre display screen, Mercedes-Benz is about to take a giant step forward in digital dashboards.
Richly detailed and highly customisable, the Comand Digital Instrument Panel will be an option in the new E-Class.
This big sedan, a long-running mainstay of the Mercedes model range, won't be officially unveiled until the Detroit motor show next month. The exterior of the E-Class remains under wraps until then.
Meanwhile, the company has revealed some of its innermost secrets, including a radical rethink of how a car interior should look.
It mounts a pair of 12.3-inch full HD screens behind a single slim sheet of mineral glass extending across half the new E-Class's dashboard.
The maker had considered, then rejected, a smartphone-like touchscreen interface. It also nixed gesture control, a technology adopted by BMW for its new 7 Series luxury limo.
Stuttgart's smarties instead developed unique steering wheel-mounted touch controls. These are additional to the existing interface hardware, a twist-and-click dial with an overarching touchpad, mounted as a unit between the front seats.
The steering wheel touch controllers allow navigation of the E-Class's good-looking menus with thumb swipes and presses, with no need to take a hand off the wheel. They are intuitive to use and the sensitivity can be adjusted just like a desktop's mouse.
The touch controller on the steering wheel spoke closest to the centre of the car handles the multimedia, the other connects to the driver's instrument display.
It's so classy that it makes the more expensive S-Class flagship look passe
To handle a heavier computing workload, including navigation, the centre screen has a quad-core processor. A dual-core chip is good enough for the driver's screen.
Despite this digital detune, the driver's display has three options to customise graphic and colour treatments, a first for Mercedes-Benz.
Classic and Sport look the way they sound and Progressive is modern and minimal — a single do-it-all dial flanked by graphics with a glassy, city-at-night feel.
There's a blank area about 5cm wide between the instrument panel's two screens — this is the area usually obscured by the steering wheel and driver's hand.
What makes the new setup feel special is the central multimedia screen. It adopts display graphic and colour themes to match those selected for the driver display, features some fluid and informative animations, with even more customisation options.
The Comand Digital Instrument Panel was the work of a dozen-strong user-interface design team assembled by Mercedes.
There's just one issue with the digi-dash — it's so classy that it makes the counterpart in bigger, more expensive S-Class flagship, look passe.
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