Mercedes showed us what's powering its next E-class

Mercedes license

Mercedes-Benz used CES to provide technology previews of the next-generation E-class sedan, ahead of its expected global debut at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit next week. The upcoming E-class is the first standard production car to receive a driver's license from the state of Nevada for autonomous driving, and sports an all-new infotainment system.

We drove a 2015 S550 with Distronic Plus from Las Angeles to Las Vegas and thought the driver assist technology was amazing, but the next-generation E-class takes things to a whole new level. Mercedes equips the new E-class with all the sensors and hardware required for autonomous driving.

The three autonomous E-class sedans driving around Nevada do not have any hardware modifications from the production version, but the changes are in the software. Mercedes only makes small software changes to the car's Drive Pilot control unit to transform a production E-class into a fully autonomous vehicle, by Nevada standards.

Mercedes E-class

An all-new dash layout with dual 12.3-inch high-definition (1920 x 720) surrounded by gloss black bezels gives the new E-class interior a floating display look. A production interior wasn't on display but Mercedes displayed development units at its booth that included the dual displays, USB ports and control interfaces.

Mercedes provides three methods of input for the infotainment system: steering wheel gestures, a control knob and a gloss black track pad. Controlling the infotainment system with gestures relies on two sensors on the steering wheel, which replaces directional buttons. There's two gesture sensors, one to control each LCD.

Mercedes E-class

I tested out the gestures, which ideally is used with your thumbs, and found it odd to wave my thumb around to move around the user interface. I got used to it after a minute and it became natural afterwards. The gesture controls reminded me of the trackball in BlackBerry devices, but there's no physical resistance, yet the motion is similar.

There's a button to press to select items at the center of the gesture sensors. A long press of the button brings up a gesture-friendly pop-up menu. Ultimately, you can control functions of the LCD gauge cluster and the infotainment display without ever taking your hands off the 12 and 3 o'clock positions on the steering wheel.

Mercedes E-class

Mercedes drastically improved the human-machine interface (HMI) in the new E-class as well. It's much more intuitive and less clunky to use than the HMI in current Mercedes vehicles, including the S550. The icing on top of the cake is support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, for those inclined to rely on their phone.

The new E-class interior lets you have your cake and eat it too, with an excellent native interface, gorgeous 3D maps, and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I can't wait to get behind the wheel of one, preferably a wagon version.