The 2019 Mercedes CLA gets a major tech upgrade to make it the ‘ultimate wearable’

Mercedes-Benz has often reserved its best tech for its highest-class models — the S Class being the first vehicle to get the latest and greatest. Now Mercedes is bringing more tech, namely its new MBUX infotainment system, to other vehicles in its portfolio.

Enter the new CLA Class. Mercedes-Benz unveiled Monday the new CLA at CES 2019 — a slightly bigger, sleeker, sportier and techier car than its predecessor in a direct appeal to a younger American customer.

The exterior of the new CLA hasn’t changed too much. The rear license plate has been moved down, and it has a bit more aerodynamic and sportier look, with a long stretched bonnet featuring powerdomes. It’s sportier and sharper looking.

The more exciting stuff is what’s inside the vehicle. Inside the CLA Class, Mercedes has put its new MBUX system, which debuted in the new A Class. The GLE-Class SUV also has the new MBUX system.

This system is a major upgrade from its old COMAND interface. It’s loaded with features such as augmented reality for navigation, the ability to understand indirect voice commands and operational gestures from the users. The new Interior Assistant, as Mercedes calls it, includes a robust gesture control system. 

In the dark, a reading lamp can be switched on and off by briefly extending a hand toward the rear-view mirror, for example. If the driver reaches over toward the unoccupied front passenger seat in the dark, it will be illuminated automatically, Mercedes said. The interior assistant includes a personal favorites function, which is accessed by holding a hand over the center console with the index and middle finger spread in a V-shape. A favorite command could be “‘navigate me home.” The driver and front passenger can even assign different favorites to the same hand position.

And then there’s the voice assistant, which can handle complex questions.

Ola Källenius, Daimler AG board member responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, demonstrated the voice assistant at CES. “Drivers can speak even more naturally,” he said, adding that the days of yelling at your voice assistant in the car are over. “It’s the ultimate wearable.”

The driver or passenger just needs to say “Hey Mercedes,” to engage the voice assistant. From there, they could ask for something as complicated as asking “Find child-friendly Asian restaurants nearby with 4-star rating which are neither Chinese nor Japanese,” an example Källenius gave during the demo.

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Finally, there’s the “Energizing Coach.” This service is based on an intelligent algorithm. If a user is wearing the new Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3 Smartwatch, which had its world première at CES, or another compatible Garmin wearable is worn, personal stats will be provided, such as stress level or quality of sleep. The user’s pulse rate supplied by the integrated Garmin wearable is also shown on the media display.

The CLA is an important vehicle for Mercedes in the U.S. market. Mercedes first launched the compact four-door coupe in 2013 as its smallest and least-expensive vehicle in its portfolio that customers could buy in the United States.

Automotive at CES 2019 - TechCrunchIt was the first compact Mercedes-Benz on the American market. And while it wasn’t viewed as the best vehicle by some critics, it proved to be popular with U.S. customers.

“With the first CLA we celebrated a huge success by selling some 750,000 vehicles and created a totally new segment with a four-door coupé,” adds Britta Seeger, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Marketing & Sales.

The automaker has recognized the need to give this vehicle a boost of tech, especially considering that on average CLA customers in the U.S. are around 10 years younger than the typical Mercedes-Benz customer.

And it has. As Mercedes puts it, all elements of the interior are arranged according to the “overarching design themes of ‘high tech’ and ‘youthful avant-garde.'”

Translated, this means designers ditched the cowl above the driver cockpit, giving the dashboard a grander look that continues uninterrupted. A widescreen display is completely free-standing. The youngs like screens.

The lower section is visually separated from the main body of the instrument cluster by a “trench,” and it appears to float in front of the instrument cluster. The ambient lighting enhances this effect. The air vents in a sporty turbine-look are another highlight.

The new CLA will be manufactured at the Kecskemét plant in Hungary and comes onto the market in May 2019.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch