A well-informed assistant.
As a neurotic urbanite, I generally never draw attention to myself on the way to the office. Yet today I have somehow attracted the puzzled – not to say anxious – looks of people concerned for my state of mind. On this mild, later summer’s morning, I’m stuck beside a bus stop at a red light and the windows of my A-Class are wide open. “What appointments do I have today?” I ask aloud, glancing to my right. The passenger seat is empty, as is the rear seat. Two ladies standing at the bus stop seem nonplussed. I turn to face the front to hear the voice of Siri emanating from the loudspeakers: “Today you have three events: at 11 a.m., at 1 p.m. and at 5 p.m.” But before she can list what each diary entry entails, the lights turn to green.
People in the street have no idea my companion in the A 220 d 4Matic is a well-informed assistant. For my little helper – concealed in my smartphone – is fully integrated into the car’s system.
When I switch her on at the touch of a button on the steering wheel, she goes on to explain that my first meeting is with my boss, the second a telephone conference with Dr. Foster, followed by a seminar appointment in the afternoon. How reassuring it is to be able to consult my schedule whenever I want. And since I still have time on my hands, I decide to enjoy and explore the wonderful sense of freedom this car offers.
The term multitasking.
In the facelifted A-Class, the term multitasking – which I usually associate with a heavy workload – is a much more relaxed affair. This is the first model series from Mercedes-Benz to completely integrate smartphone functions – either from Apple with Siri voice control, or other manufacturers using Android operating systems – into its onboard system. The new A-Class combines the virtual possibilities of the Internet with the very real ones of driving a car. It may seem like science fiction to passers-by, but to me it opens up a world in which I feel entirely at home after just a few miles.
I unlock the car to be greeted by a sophisticated blue-and-white light show courtesy of the daytime running lamps. Then with CarPlay selected and the iPhone hooked up to the USB port in the centre console, I find myself suddenly transported to my personal communications environment. My familiar Apple icons are all there on the freestanding, frameless display – easier to read than on my cell phone. For those who need it, the optional 8-inch screen is even larger than in the predecessor model.
Your wish is my command.
The range of apps on offer is more restricted, however: to avoid distracting the driver, the package does not include games, video programs or Web browsers. Otherwise, virtually everything that can be operated by voice control or finger command is sent to the Mercedes display from my cell phone or can be called up using Siri: calendar, phone, messaging, route planning, podcasts, not to mention my Apple Music and Spotify. All it takes for a specific wish to be fulfilled is a touch of the voice control button in the right-hand steering wheel spoke. If I feel like a pizza, Siri tells me how to get to the nearest Italian restaurant – and supplies details about its customer rating and value for money. If I want to send my brother an SMS, I dictate the text and Siri will read me out his reply.
If I want to listen to Coldplay, I need neither the CD to hand nor do I have to search for the appropriate radio station. I just have to say “Please play Coldplay” – and the Harman Kardon surround-sound system strikes up with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”, which I must once have bought via iTunes.
A clear head for what matters.
After ten minutes I’m beginning to wonder why I ever operate my smartphone by hand. Maybe it’s because voice control needed to come of age. When the technology first appeared on the market in 2011, it was by no means as accurate at understanding commands as the version in today’s A-Class. Perhaps the car provided the perfect application: it feels somehow weird talking to a device in the street or at the office. But in the car you’re often alone. I sing along if I feel like it. And no one is around to hear if I ask Siri a question. Unless I happen to be waiting at a bus stop with an open window. CarPlay for Apple helps take care of the organizational side of things, leaving me to focus on the key essential: the driving experience.
The aspirations of the new A-Class are evident at first glance – and underpinned not least by the on-trend colour elbaite green. The front bumper is more arrowshaped than its predecessor and reminiscent of the design of the Concept A-Class, which stunned the automotive world in 2011. The sporty appearance is further enhanced by the diamond radiator grille, the all-new rear light cluster and the tailpipe trim integrated in the rear bumper.
“This is how I want to drive the A-Class over the Alps.”
Equally distinctive are the new optionally available LED High Performance headlamps. Thanks to their wide beam pattern, nighttime visibility is almost as good as for daytime driving. And once beyond the city limits, the A-Class can really show its character. With permanent all-wheel drive transferring the power to the road, the A 220 d 4Matic boasts an additional 7 hp. The new suspension with Adaptive Damping System (optional) can be set to Comfort or Sport mode by a touch of the Dynamic Select button. While the Comfort setting encourages me to settle back into the all-new depth-adjustable seat cushions, in Sport mode I suddenly find myself in a sports car. Steering response is more direct and the stiffer damper setup turns the road’s contours into a visceral experience. “This is how I want to drive the A-Class over the Alps,” I say to myself.
And I ask aloud: “How’s the weather in Nice today? Where’s a good place to stay on the Côte d’Azur?” My invisible assistant replies: “Today in Nice it’s sunny and 25 degrees (77°F).” That does little to whet my appetite for the office, but it certainly gets me thinking seriously about my next trip.