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Taxi Times International - January 2015 - English

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CARS CARS On the lonely

CARS CARS On the lonely highways in the United States the new E-Class can already act fairly autonomously. At the first tests Mercedes didn’t want to reveal the external … PIONEER WITH A STAR With its new E-class model Mercedes demonstrates that the future of autonomous driving already began long ago. We participated in the latest test drives in the U.S. If the executives of BMW and Audi do not cover their first kilometres with the competing model of the new Mercedes E-Class before next spring, their jaws will drop. Not because of the discreet design or the quality interior, nor because the Swabians have made the faux pas of offering standard features such as LED headlamps, animated instruments and even the navigation system at extra cost. The competitor’s excellent seating comfort or the low noise level will also annoy them. But when it … and internal appearance of the new E-Class. takes to the motorway and what they call the ‘drive pilot’ is switched on, it will likely make the development divisions from Munich and Ingolstadt look like schoolboys. That’s because the Mercedes E-class W 213 series simply redefines the field of autonomous driving. As it stands now, if the driver of a competitive model from Audi or BMW has not had to steer for a couple of seconds at most, the driver of the Swabian upper-range saloon may already have been relaxing behind the wheel for ten minutes or more. It’s not that the main model of the star fleet from Stuttgart has nothing else new to offer. In fact, not only does it raise the bar in terms of driver assistance, it redefines it as a completely new field. The drive pilot is a kind of autopilot that already impresses on regular roads by reading road signs, keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front and using road markings and the preceding traffic to travel along roads everywhere at an easy pace. But it really shows what it can do on the motorway and dual carriageways. This is where the drive pilot ensures that Michael Kelz has next to nothing to do in the driver’s seat. Right now, the head of development of the E-class is driving on the Interstate 15 from Barstow to Las Vegas. After what seems like an eternity, his hands rest idle in his lap. When the alert on the dashboard signals him to take the steering wheel again, the head of development swipes one of the two touch keys on the steering wheel ever so slightly and folds his hands PHOTOS: pressinform again. The Mercedes E 400, wrapped in crazy designs, drives slowly northwards, approaches a convoy of lorries and decelerates imperceptibly. ACCELERATES AND OVERTAKES AUTOMATICALLY Kelz calmly activates the turn signal and his 333 HP preproduction model automatically changes lanes. With his legs bent, Kelz pushes the driving programme switch on the centre tunnel to sport. The E-class tenses its muscles, switches back, accelerates and overtakes – all automatically. If he wanted to, Kelz could lean back or write a few emails on his mobile phone. He looks ahead along the dark I-15 only for safety’s sake and sees the bright halo on the horizon of the major metropolis in the Nevada desert. The new Mercedes E-class seems perfectly ready for the future of autonomous driving, but it is still behind in terms of the legal framework. “We have numerous directives in the logbook and a multiphase warning system that allows the driver to take the wheel again”, says Kelz. But that’s not all. The W 213 communicates with other vehicles via a central Daimler server and notifies them of accidents, breakdowns or danger zones. When slamming down the brakes at the tail end of a traffic jam, the car goes from 100 km/h to a complete stop. It brakes for pedestrians crossing the street in the city and can automatically avoid a collision before it happens. CONSUMES FOUR LITRES Mercedes wants to roll out its new star quietly in 2016. It will be launched in April with two engine versions, the 135 kW / 184 HP E 200 and the 143 kW / 194 HP E 220d. The Stuttgart automaker has built the engine market around a new four-cylinder (with the internal reference OM 654), at least in Europe. The twolitre capacity aluminium engine is available in 150 and 231 HP and is coupled with a six-speed manual shift as standard. However, most taxi customers will allow themselves the choice of the optional nine-speed automatic gearbox with a standard consumption of nearly four litres of diesel. “There will be no threecylinder engine”, says testing director Hubert Schneider, “as it would not provide any advantage in terms of consumption.” The majority of the engine range will be made available gradually as 4matic all-wheel drive. More powerful versions (E 250, E 300, E 400) will follow by the end of 2016 with a performance ranging from 211 to 333 HP. Until the Mercedes S-class finally receives new engines and a competitive, performance-enhancing six-cylinder diesel during model maintenance in 2017, the aging V6 diesel engine (internal reference OM 642, with a capacity of three litres and around 260 HP) will remain at the top. New Mercedes E-class plug-in hybrids for petrol and diesel are also planned. They will be joined by another variant with promising 48-volt technology. “We absolutely wanted to build a small S-class model”, explains Kelz, “We are setting new standards with the new models. But it is not easy because we have expanded the E-class to the maximum. There has to be something for everyone, from the basic taxi version to the new high-end AMG model.” ALSO AVAILABLE AS T-MODEL In addition to the initial saloon, which is up to 70 kilograms lighter, the W 213 E-class generation will also be available as a T-model, coupé, CLS and convertible as before. There will be a version with a long wheelbase again for China in 2017. The 213 has grown slightly compared to its predecessor. “It is the front axle that has moved forward, while the boot has mainly stayed the same”, says testing director Schneider, while racking up valuable test kilometres between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with his E-300 prototype. Driver assistance systems are not the only thing being tested on the highways today. There are also engines, transmissions and chassis. Exiting the highway, the undercover E-class shines with an impressive low noise level and reduced rolling noise. As before, it features a steel spring chassis. Air suspension is available as an option as with the C and GLC-classes. Apart from the fact that the navigation system, LED headlamps and animated instruments cost extra, the price list is not all bad news. The successor should not be more expensive compared to the E-class currently in production. sg 22 JANUARY / 2016 TAXI JANUARY / 2016 TAXI 23

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