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Driving a Mercedes in Traffic Will Never Be the Same Again With This Tech

Imagine it: You look at bumper-to-bumper 405 or 5 freeway traffic and don’t instantly fill with dread. Don’t roll your eyes, it could happen with some technologies Mercedes is introducing to the U.S. market in the near future. If time is the biggest luxury of all, time to yourself is probably a close second. And just think of how much more you’ll have with Mercedes’ updated Level 2 and new Drive Pilot (Level 3) semi-autonomous driving systems. We recently experienced these technologies for ourselves as a (very comfortable) passenger in the backseat of a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class prototype in Northern California. Here’s what you need to know.

Setting the Scene

Mercedes is not the only automaker working on driving tech that gives the car more control on the highway while decreasing the load on the driver. We’ve seen efforts in this direction from GM, Ford, Tesla, and others. Shifting the dynamic of who has control is already happening with cruise control and if you think about it, with stability control systems that assist before we know there’s even a problem. Level 2 tech suites incorporate adaptive cruise control systems that can accelerate and decelerate up to a speed you designate, and turn around highway curves, too.

Mercedes’ latest Level-2 tech update is Automatic Lane Change (ALC), which can change lanes on the highway so the car can reach your designated speed. You may be thinking that Tesla pioneered a version of this tech years ago. That’s true, but this is the same Tesla that was recently forced to recall 360,000 cars with Full Self-Driving beta software because it may increase the risk of a crash.

With the Mercedes system, automatic and driver-summoned lane changes felt smooth from the backseat; some automaker systems turn too abruptly, leading to more head toss than we’d like. But not here. With both systems, we’d recommend not engaging until you’re on the highway. Merging onto a highway before your onramp lane disappearsand potentially filling a gap in traffic out of necessityis not the system’s strong suit.

Still, a well-tuned adaptive cruise control system that can change lanes could be an interesting advance for those already comfortable with basic adaptive cruise control. Mercedes says that the feature will use machine learning to improve, meaning the system you use three years after purchase may be better than what you experienced on day one. This approach isn’t unique to Mercedes, but it’s still cool in this age of software-defined vehicles.

What Mercedes Will Drive Itself?

Although our prototype ridealong was in a Maybach S-Class, the first production Mercedes model to get Drive Pilot will be the 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV. This Level-3 system is legal in Nevada, and we hear California’s approval is coming this year. Once that happens, Mercedes cars with the system will be able to take control and drive in traffic up to 40 mph, though not at night. In time, Mercedes hopes to double the speed at which the system can operate, but for now, it’s strictly for traffic-choked highways.

Once Drive Pilot activates, you can lift your hands from the wheel and can watch streaming apps on the main display or play one of more than 1,500 games available, including Angry Birds. To repeat something we’ve said before, once Drive Pilot engages, Mercedes takes legal responsibility if there’s a collision. Unlike the Level-2 system, however, Drive Pilot can’t (yet) change lanes.

So clearly, there are still limitations, but that’s partially because Mercedes is taking a more conservative approach. In the future, Mercedes hopes to add freeway-to-freeway transfer to Drive Pilot, potentially something that could be added via an OTA update.

What Mercedes Models Get Drive Pilot First?

Drive Pilot, the more advanced of the two systems mentioned here, will debut in the U.S. on the 2024 S-Class sedan and 2024 EQS four-door. Cars equipped with the tech will reach buyers in the second half of 2023, and we’re curious to see over time how many drivers will remember the systems exist and know how and when to use it. As for the new ALC feature, that comes to the 2023 EQE SUV first.

So, Should I Want This Tech?

We still have plenty more testing to do with Mercedes’ ALC feature and Drive Pilot, but for now we’re cautiously optimistic. At least for now, some drivers still value having some control behind the wheel, whether it’s a drive for pleasure or even a commute home. For so many others, however, having capable, advanced tech take over could help drivers mentally and physically relax. Considering this tech will start life on $100,000-plus cars, it’ll take a minute for the feature to spread to less expensive models, and we still wonder how expensive these sensors will be to maintain and repair.

Whether it’s GM’s excellent Level-2 Super Cruise or Mercedes’ “yes we’ll take responsibility” Drive Pilot, we suspect a select group of owners will find this the latest technology they didn’t know they needed.

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