What we're driving: 2021 Mercedes S-class
Cars are getting more and more sophisticated, but you haven't seen anything until you've experienced the 3D driver display and augmented reality system in Mercedes-Benz's flagship S-class sedan.
- It's one of the most exciting technology features I've encountered in a vehicle.
Why it matters: Technology that debuts on the Mercedes S-class typically winds up in more plebeian vehicles five or 10 years later.
Details: I test drove the 2021 S580 sedan, which is everything you'd expect from a $131,500 Mercedes-Benz — smooth, luxurious and comfortable, all the way down to the 10 seat massage modes and the plush pillows in the headrest.
- And it's packed with technology, including Mercedes' next-generation infotainment system, featuring a nearly 13-inch touchscreen and voice-activated digital assistant.
What really blew me away, though, was the car's dazzling head-up display with augmented reality.
- I'm a big fan of head-up displays, which project key information like the speed and direction of travel onto the windshield to help drivers keep their eyes where they should be, rather than looking down at a center touchscreen.
- Adding augmented reality makes the technology even more useful.
How it works: I plugged in my destination, and a little blue arrow came to life on the windshield telling me when and where to turn.
- It felt like I was following an animated bird.
- The arrow multiplied and resembled a flock of birds, which grew larger as my turn approached.
- After completing the turn, the arrow shrunk again until the next maneuver.
- As I neared my destination, a floating checkered flag inside a map icon grew larger.
I also noticed that when driving with Mercedes' highway assisted-driving technology switched on, a green pathway projected on the windshield told me when and where it was safe to pass.
The augmented reality system works in concert with the super-cool 3D display on the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, displaying the same information in a different format — but without 3D glasses.
- Images in the head-up display can also appear on the car's center touchscreen, if desired.
The bottom line: The 3D augmented reality package is a $3,000 option, but when you're already spending that much on a Mercedes, why not?