Dec 22, 2021 - Technology

What we're driving: 2021 Mercedes S-class

GIF illustration of Mercedes' augmented reality navigation feature

Navigation using Mercedes-Benz's augmented reality head-up display. Image: Mercedes-Benz

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?

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