Infotainment systems are a mixed bag. There are very few truly good ones, but even if an automaker can pull off a solid interface, it's mired by latency thanks to a slow processor. Typically these in-car systems usually aren't up to par with the offerings from Apple and Google. Mercedes is trying to change that with a new UX that's quick, voice controlled and may keep you from defaulting to Android Auto or CarPlay when you get in the car.
In a yet-to-be-announced Mercedes-Benz A Class, the automaker took me on a drive around Las Vegas -- not to see the casinos, but to look at its upcoming infotainment system (MBUX), and during the drive, I have to say, it was impressive.
The automaker has worked with natural-language powerhouse Nuance to make talking to your car easier and to understand how humans actually say things -- in 23 languages. There's no longer the need to press a button to enable voice controls. A simple "Mercedes" will get the car to listen to you and launch a wide range of features, including navigation, adjusting the climate controls, heating and moving your seat, media selection and more. The list goes on and on.
With its work with Nuance, Mercedes has been able to do away with the scripts needed to find a location. You just say something the way you would tell a friend. That also includes interrupting the infotainment system while it's asking follow-up questions.
The most impressive part of the demo was when the car was asked: "can I wear flip flops?" in a city as a weather query. It answered. When the driver said, "it's too hot" the car also reduced the temperature.
Voice controls are awesome, but latency issues are one of the biggest complaints with infotainment systems. Mercedes took care of that by using the NVIDIA Parker 128 chip, which is powerful enough to render 3D buildings (along with art to resemble the buildings in real life) and a revolving real-time rendering of whatever car it resides in on the 10-inch touchscreen.
Getting around in the system was straightforward and has replaced the deep folders with horizontal and vertical swipes. There are various themes, including a silent mode that reduces all the clutter to the bare minimum.
Finally, the MBUX is connected to the cloud, but keeps most of the voice-control information stored in the car. So if you lose connectivity, you can still control the climate and other in-car systems and even navigate. Mercedes will update the system regularly, including adding new slang words in case the word 'flip flops' goes out of style.
The end result is an impressive evolution of the luxury brand's in-car system that might have you plugging in your phone just to charge it. It will premiere in the new A Class, which will be shown next month in Amersterdam.
Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2018.