Mercedes A-Class (2018) first drive: Hands on with Mercedes-Benz’s new infotainment system, MBUX
The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) was first showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It features an all-new, powerful 3D interface, a fully customisable cockpit and an intuitive touchscreen media display, available on new A-Class trims.
Our sister title, Auto Express, published its full review of the Mercedes A-Class earlier this year, but at Alphr we’re all about the tech and during the first-drive event in the UK, I got to go hands on with the MBUX software to put it through its paces.
Here are my first impressions and stay tuned for a full tech-centred review coming soon.
Mercedes A-Class: MBUX
Mercedes doesn’t hold back when shouting about the tech prowess of its 2018 A-Class and MBUX, claiming it’s more technologically advanced than its S-Class flagship. This is punchy, considering the latter starts at £72,000 – more than double the cost of the £25,800 A-Class.
The most noticeable feature is the system’s elongated display, which looks as if two large rectangular-shaped phones have been placed side-by-side. Here, a pair of 7in displays (cockpit and dashboard) come as standard, or you can pay extra to add one, or two, 10.25in screens.[gallery:11]
It should be noted here that a number of the infotainment features (namely the 3D rendering and customisation options) detailed below are only available if you upgrade the system to the Executive package, which adds £1,395 to the cost. There is also a Premium package, which costs £2,395, if you want to add the 10.25in cockpit display into the mix. The Executive package additionally comes with Active Parking Assist with Parktronic, heated front seats, and folding mirrors, while the Premium upgrade adds a 64-colour ambient lighting system, illuminated door sills, Keyless Go, a mid-range sound system, and rear armrests.[gallery:18]
Through the larger, Executive infotainment display, the intuitive 3D interface runs across different menus and its features are tailored depending on which menu you’re in. For example, on the navigation tab you can pinch to zoom and manipulate the 3D map to make it easier to see where you’re going. While in the settings menu, you can control the headlights by tapping on the relevant icon on a 3D model of your car and adjusting the settings accordingly. Not only does this look great, it’s simple to use and is a breath of fresh air; especially when you compare it to the multi-layered approach found on other cars.[gallery:14]
As for the Premium 10.25in cockpit display, it’s fully customisable. You can hide dials, replace them with a 3D map (provided by mapping experts at HERE Technologies) and even tailor what elements of the map appear. This has the added benefit of reducing the number of distractions and streamlines the controls.[gallery:22]
Elsewhere, thanks to Nuance’s voice recognition software, you can ask the platform’s AI assistant, called Christina, to give you directions, play music and even change the temperature. Plus it’s smarter than your average Siri or Alexa. By saying: ‘Hey Mercedes, I’m cold’, the AI assistant recognises the context around the command and increases the in-car temperature automatically.[gallery:23]
During my time with the MBUX, the dual-screen system suffered no noticeable lag, nor did it ever struggle to render 3D buildings in the map view. It’s as fluid as you’d expect from a desktop computer, and this is all made possible by the inclusion of Nvidia’s Tegra X2 chips. The 10.25in variant gets the faster CPU and GPU, while the smaller 7in variant runs a slower variant of the chip, and this explains why the latter doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of its larger, more expensive sibling.
Mercedes A-Class: Performance, style, and comfort
In the UK, the A-Class is available in three trims: SE, Sport, and AMG. All variants have air-conditioning, a DAB radio and alloys rims and the size of the rim depend on your desired spec – Sport comes with 17in wheels, for instance, while the AMG is a touch bigger at 18in. Of course, much like every new car on the market, there are various packages you can choose from to customise it to your needs.[gallery:3]
As far as hatchbacks go, the A-Class is among one of the more expensive offerings on the market, and it comes as no surprise to see a lot of attention in the car’s cabin. In every aspect, the interior design and level of comfort are premium: from the soft leather chairs, to the aeronautic-looking vent grilles on the dashboard.[gallery:12]
The diesel version of the A-Class is equipped with a diesel engine (A 180 d) and starts at £25,580. Alternatively, you can choose from two petrol (A 200 and A 250) variants which cost £27,500 and £30,240, respectively. In the UK, Mercedes is planning to launch a cheaper A 180 petrol variant in the Autumn, plus two more powerful diesel variants (A 200 d and A 220 d) by early 2019. All models have a seven-speed automatic gearbox. The manual models are due to come in late-2018.[gallery:4]
At the UK’s first-drive event, I drove the A 200 d AMG. I found the car to be comfortable around bends and easy to steer. It has a lightweight feel and is relatively nippy in and around the bendy roads of the Cotswolds. However, it’s not something that got my pulse racing when I put my foot down on the throttle – so if you’re a boy/girl racer, this won’t appeal to you.[gallery:7]
That said, the car isn’t trying to be sporty, far from it in fact. It’s designed as a comfortable ride that you’ll enjoy while you cruise down the motorway – for that, the new A-Class is among the very best on the market.
Mercedes A-Class: Early verdict
The MBUX interface is certainly an eye-catcher. It’s ultra-responsive, and I was impressed by Mercedes’ implementation. The overall fluidity is excellent.
It’s safe to say that my initial impressions of the car are positive. I particularly like what Mercedes has done with the dashboard and cockpit. Stay tuned for my full review in the upcoming weeks.