I’ve been waiting to drive a car that prefers the band Wilco.
I queued up that artist on a recent test of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 53 and was happy to find that the vehicle liked my taste in music. While driving this elegant and stately sedan, I found a new feature called Energizing Comfort Control that is a hint of future innovations. One of them is that the car will turn off your music if it doesn’t match a specific mood.
The settings are intended to provide a more enjoyable driving experience. You choose what is essentially a driving mood: Freshness, Warmth, Vitality, Joy or Comfort. When you pick a setting, the CLS 53 will adjust the climate controls (even emitting a specific fragrance), ventilation level, heating, massage settings, and the music to match that vibe. One setting I found actually tries to match what you’d experience in on a windy day where the vents blow randomly at irregular intervals. It’s like the car has a mind of its own.
I tested Energizing Comfort Control at a rally in Wisconsin recently, and was surprised by how the CLS 53 liked Wilco and a few other bands.
As explained by a Mercedes rep, the CLS 53 can analyze the beats per minute of your own selected music (I had connected my iPhone using a USB cable; I don’t think this feature works over Bluetooth) and will turn off the music if it doesn’t match the mood you selected.
There was another surprise as well: I queued up a wide array of artists like Chelsea Wolfe (gothic grunge metal), the punk band Iceage, and country artist Gillian Welch. The CLS never disabled those tracks during my testing, either – and the amazing Burmester sound system has 13 speakers and makes you feel like you are in a concert hall. I started to envision a car that knows I don’t like Taylor Swift and offers to find a different selection.
This is exactly the type of AI in cars that we will come to expect in the future – a vehicle that knows the mood we want to set, either energetic and upbeat or laid-back and serene. I am not a fan of the fragrances that fill the cabin as you drive, but I can see how some drivers might like to have that level of control over the climate settings.
What might come next is a car that sense our mood based on reading our facial expressions and even knows that we just went to a stressful meeting (say, with a lawyer or to buy a house). The car might be able to read our pulse rate and breathing patterns as well. If we’re in an upbeat mood, the vehicle might enable all of the performance modes for more spirited driving, or might immediately enable the seat massage to help calm us down.
For now, you select the mode you want and the CLS 53 does the rest, adjusting the climate settings and music for ten minutes. The CLS can play stock music that also matches the mod if it doesn’t notice you have loaded up your own music. One day cars might be able to stay more vigilant with safety features if it senses we're tired or agitated.
For now, I’m happy the CLS likes Wilco. That’s a major win in my book.
On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully self-driving cars.