Adaptive cruise control, night-vision system, and radar-assisted braking are just a few of the features included on Mercedes' technological marvel, the 2007 S-Class -- an uber luxury vehicle brimming with high-tech features designed to improve driver comfort and safety. Also new on the ninth-generation 2007 S-Class is a completely re-designed GPS navigation system.
This week I take a look at Mercedes' flagship sedan, the $180,000 S65 AMG, and see how the redesigned navigation system (COMAND) measures up.
Figure 1: Mercedes Benz S65 AMG, Rear
We'll be examining the navigation system (Mercedes calls it's integrated navi system "Command") on a 2007 S65 with the AMG package.
Figure 2: V12 BiTurbo
The Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG is powered by a whopping 612 hp engine that delivers 738 lb-ft of torque. That kind of power gets you from 0-60 in just over four seconds, and a top speed that's electronically limited to 155-mph.
Figure 3: 20-Inch Shoes
Twenty-inch wheels, composite brakes with twin calipers, and a bespoke body kit come with the S65's AMG package.
Figure 4: Dual Sunroof
The S65 has an innovative dual front/rear sunroof design that gives rear passengers their own sunroof independent from the front sunroof.
Figure 5: Interior
The ninth-generation 2007 S-Class has a richly luxurious interior that's finished in leather and wood. The vault-like construction of the S-Class is apparent when you sit in this beast and enjoy the silence.
Figure 6: The 2007 S-Class' Dashboard
Mercedes' dashboard includes two large LCD display panels, used for the virtual analog speedometer as well as the COMAND navigation system. More on this later.
Figure 7: IWC Clock
Another unique AMG addition to the 2007 S-Class: the standard dashboard clock is replaced by an ICW clock emblazoned with the AMG logo and a useless digital lap timer.
Figure 8: Driver Dashboard
The temperature, gas, and engine RPM gauges are all analog. The main display area of the driver's side dashboard is a high resolution, aircraft grade 8-inch LCD panel.
Figure 9: Multi-Function 8-Inch LCD Display
Normally the 8-inch LCD panel displays a realistic-looking analog speedometer. However, the driver can cycle through various other types of information to be displayed on the screen, as shown above in figure 9. When navigating to a destination, the next maneuver can also be displayed in the center of the speedometer.
When backing up, the center display automatically activates the rearview-monitor system and taps into the rear-mounted night vision enabled camera.
Figure 10: COMAND Display
A second 8-inch LCD, located just slightly to the right of the steering wheel, serves as the COMAND display. COMAND is Mercedes multi-function control system, used to control virtually all features in the car, including the navigation system (which will be the focus of this review).
An especially nifty feature is the ability to electronically rotate this screen so it can be angled toward the driver or passenger. The 16:9 format wide screen display can be adjusted approximately 20 degrees in all directions.
The COMAND LCD display uses the same high quality 8-inch display used for the speedometer, and can be easily read even in bright direct sunlight.
Figure 11: COMAND and Control
Mercedes' COMAND system is controlled via the single-knob iDrive-style joystick located in the center console. The knob can be rotated left and right, pushed down, and used as an 8-way joystick.
COMAND's joystick controller is connected to a force feedback system that limits the ability to turn the knob, depending on the contextual menu being displayed. For example, when navigating a long list of street names, the knob can be scrolled as you browse the list, and you feel a virtual "click" in the knob as you scroll down each line in the list.
However, once you reach the end of the list, the magnetic controls kick in and the knob cannot be rotated any further. This type of physical feedback makes navigating menus and lists must easier, as you can feel each notch when turning the knob, and the feedback mechanism only allows you to rotate the controller when the screen options allow it.
Unlike previous Mercedes GPS systems that relied on costly, slow DVD discs, Mercedes-Benz's 2007 GPS navigation system uses an internal 20GB hard drive for map storage. I found the 2007 COMAND system noticeable faster than previous models.
Figure 12: Navigating with COMAND
Virtually all electronic functions are controlled via Mercedes' COMAND system, including the integrated GPS navigation system.
Figure 13: Accessing the NAVI System
Like most functions on the '07 S-Class, the NAVI system can be invoked via the i-Drive-esque joystick, or by pressing the TEL/NAVI shortcut button, as shown above in figure 13.
Figure 14: NAVI Main Menu
Pressing the NAV button on the console brings up the main navigation screen, shown above.
From here, you can route to a saved destination from your address book (From Memory), enter a new destination address using a street address (Address Entry), route to a previous destination (From Last Destinations), search the Points of Interest database (From POIs), or select a destination using the cursor on the map (Via Map).
2007 S-Class NAVI
2006 SL55 NAVI
It's worth mentioning how significantly improved the '07's NAVI display and UI is over previous COMAND systems. Take a look at figure 15 above, and notice the S-Class' improved LCD display quality, resolution, colors, and use of contextual menus versus the '06 SL55's dated interface and dimmer screen.
In this example, I'm going to be entering the destination address of 135 Central Park West in New York City, so I'll choose "Address Entry" using the joystick to continue.
Figure 16: Choosing the State
By default the Mercedes' NAVI system defaults to use the State you are currently located in. To enter a destination address in a different State, you have to scroll over to "State / Prov" and press down on the joystick.
Figure 17: State Selection Menu
Clicking, or pressing down on the joystick, on the "State / Prov" brings up the State selection menu, shown above in Figure 17.
From here you can choose to use a previously used State (Last States / Providence), enter a new State (States), or if you're in Canada you can choose a province.
I'll be entering an address in New York State, so I'll scroll down to "States" and press down on the joystick to move on.
Figure: 18: Spelling The State Name
Using the joystick, you scroll around the on-screen keyboard, spelling out the State name one letter at a time. Notice how the Mercedes only allows you to select letters that would spell a valid city name - a nice time-saving feature that both speeds data entry and reduces the likelihood of misspellings.
Figure 19: State Name Results List
Once enough letters have been entered that only a few (or only a single) possible matching names could be found, NAVI displays the matching name or names in the menu shown in figure 19. The desired State can then be selected using the joystick.
I'll be navigating to an address in New York State, so I'll choose "New York" from the list and continue on to the next step.
Figure 20: Entering the Street Name
Now that the State has been entered, NAVI needs to know the street and city we'll be navigating to. A nice feature on the COMAND's NAVI system is that you can enter the three elements of an address (State, City, Street) in any order you like. So if you're not sure what city an address is in, but know the street and State, you can enter the address in that order and the system will search for all cities within that state that have street names matching your entry.
To begin entering an address, scroll over to the "Street" icon (as shown above in figure 20) and tap down on the joystick to select it.
Figure 21: Entering the Street Name
Spelling out the street name is identical to the process for entering in the State name. Only letter than spell valid street names (within the selected State) can be chosen. Note in figure 21 above how only the black letters can be selected, while the grayed out letter cannot.
Figure 22: Choosing the Street Name from the Results List
Once enough of the street name has been entered that NAVI can reduce the list of matching street names to just a few, the Mercedes presents a list of possible street names that match the letters you entered. In this case I'm trying to input 135 Central Park West as the street address, so I'll scroll down to "CENTRAL PARK W" and press down on the joystick to continue.
Figure 23: Entering the House Number
With the street name and State already entered into the GPS, only the house/building number remains.
One annoyance with the Mercedes NAVI system is that it doesn't automatically step through each of the required address input fields. Instead, you have to manually scroll over to each item (State, Street, House no.) using the joystick.
Figure 24: Valid House Number Range
Entering the house or building number is a simple matter. Notice how Mercedes displays the valid range of possible house numbers along the chosen street name (1 to 499 in this case). I enter 135 as our desired house number and tap ok to continue.
Figure 25: Choosing the City
In this example we entered the State and Street name first. We could have entered the city name first, however. If you enter a street name before a city name, as we're doing in this example, the NAVI system will display all cities that have matching street names. Looks like Mercedes allows either Manhattan or New York City as acceptable city names. I'll choose Manhattan using the joystick on the armrest.
Figure 26: Address Entry is Complete
Now that we've entered the city name, street name, and house number (sort of), the navigation system has all the information it needs to start routing us to our destination address, and displays the screen shown above. I'll choose Start to begin navigating to our destination address.
Figure 27: NAVI's Minimalist Display
This is map view displayed when navigating to a destination. Unlike most handheld GPS units, Mercedes' GPS lacks a 3-D map view, it is 2-D only. NAVI's map view is so sparse (the only information overlayed on the map is the scale, shown in the lower-left corner) that I found myself wishing I could turn on a few key pieces of information. Given the large, sharp color LCD display, it's a curious decision that none of the following are displayed on the map:
There are ways to briefly see this information, but there's no way to have it automatically appear on the map when navigating.
Figure 28: Accessing the Menu While Navigating
By default virtually nothing is displayed on the map screen when navigating to a destination: the map itself, vehicle icon, and planned route and that's about it.
So if you want to view additional information about the planned trip, or access any of the other navigation features, you'll need to bring up the menu. Pressing down on the joystick activates a menu displayed across the bottom of the screen, as shown above in figure 28.
Figure 29: Route Info Menu
If you want to know how long it's going to take to arrive at your destination, you'll have to navigate over to the "Route Info" menu, as shown above.
It's a curious design decision that Mercedes has buried such basic information 2 menu layers deep rather than displaying it on the map screen. In almost every case the driver will want to know how long the trip will be, and what the estimated arrival time will be. Most, if not all, other GPS systems display this information clearly on the map view rather than requiring additional menu clicks.
Additionally, it is very useful to see the remaining distance and arrival time throughout the trip, so that the impact of traffic or taking alternate routes can immediately be reflected in the arrival time. Mercedes-Benz would do well to re-think their strategy of showing only the most simple map when navigating.
Figure 30: Route Info
Selecting the "Route Info" menu option displays the route summary screen, shown above in figure 30. The route summary screen displays the destination address, remaining distance to destination, time, and remaining drive time.
There's a lot of unused screen space here and not much information displayed. For example, it would be interesting to see a text-list of remaining turns, any potential traffic issues along the route, etc. Or, given the large display, why not have this menu display the map in the lower half so that you can continue to see any upcoming maneuvers?
Figure 31: Route Browser
Mercedes' Route Browser allows you to browse the remaining turns along your planned route. Each leg of the trip is highlighted in blue on the map, and each turn can be viewed in greater detail by clicking on the magnifying glass in the lower right.
Unfortunately, there's no way to get a list of all maneuvers at once, displayed as text. A text-list of turns can be a handy way to verify the route the GPS has plotted out, and confirm you are taking the "best" route. It's also a nice way to get a quick overview of the whole trip.
Nevertheless, Mercedes' map display is crisp and easy to view.
Figure 32: Upcoming Turn Split Screen
When approaching a turn, the map screen automatically changes into a split-screen mode, as shown above in figure 32.
The left side of the screen displays the 2-D map view while the right side of the screen displays a close-up 2-D view of the pending turn, along with a countdown bar displayed vertically along the right side of the screen. Audio prompts also accompany the split-screen, notifying you of the next turn in a computer-generated female voice.
Figure 33: Lane Indicator
A useful feature not found on many other GPS units is the lane of travel indicator. When traveling along a multi-lane roadway, such as a highway, Mercedes' NAVI system displays the desired lane of travel, as shown in the red circled area above in figure 33.
Knowing the correct lane you should be driving in is extremely handy for complex highway interchanges.
Figure 34: Detour
Every now and then you'll want/need to detour around problem areas along a planned route, such as traffic jams, accidents, and road closings. Mercedes' Detour function allows you to do just that.
Figure 35: Detour Menu
Selecting Detour from the map menu brings up the Detour Browser screen, shown above. This map screen allows you to view the planned route, and select how much of the planned route you want to avoid. Clicking on "More" lengthens the distance, "Less" reduces the number of miles you'll avoid the planned route.
Figure 36: Position Menu
Saving your current location is possible via the "Position" menu, shown above.
Figure 37: Saving Your Current Position
The Position menu has three options:
Figure 38: Canceling the Current Route
The Route Menu, shown above, is home to the following options:
Figure 39: Accessing the Route Preferences
Mercedes' navigation system provides four different routing preferences to choose from. Depending on your particular trip and preferences, you may want to adjust the default routing and set additional avoidances (such as avoid highways). To view or change the current settings, activate the on-screen menu and click on "Navi", as shown above.
Figure 40: Mode Menu
The routing preferences are hidden within the cryptically named "Mode" option.
Figure 41: Setting Route Preferences
There are four routing preferences to choose from:
Note that settings any of these avoidance preferences is a persistent setting that will remain in place until it is removed.
Figure 42: Choosing "From POIs" from the Map Menu
Like most other GPS units, Mercedes' integrated NAVI system comes pre-loaded with millions of POIs, or Points of Interest. In GPS speak, a "Point of Interest", is a business address saved on the GPS.
Think of the POI database as a pre-loaded yellow pages. Most modern GPS devices come pre-loaded with a Points of Interest database, allowing you to find nearby businesses, such as restaurants, gas stations, hotels, parking garages, and more.
Figure 43: Setting the POI Search Scope
After choosing "From POIs" in the previous menu, the GPS needs to know where we want to search. Three options are available:
In this example I'll be searching for a restaurant near my current location, so I'll choose "Current Position" and continue.
Figure 44: Choosing a POI Category
The Mercedes system ships with 40 POI categories to choose from, ranging from monuments to gas stations to pharmacies. I'm searching for a restaurant, so I'll scroll down and choose "Restaurant".
Figure 45: Choosing a POI Sub-Category
Some POI types have sub-categories available. For example, when searching for a restaurant, you have the additional option of specifying a cuisine type.
For this test, I want to see a list of all the restaurants near my current location, regardless of cuisine type, so I'll choose "ALL" from the restaurant type sub-category and continue.
Figure 46: Viewing the POI Search Results List
Unfortunately the Mercedes NAVI system displays the POI search results listed alphabetically rather than sorted by distance. So there's virtually no way to see which restaurants are closest to your current location.
Figure 47: Searching for a POI Within the Results List
If you know the name of the restaurant you're looking for, you can filter the results list by typing out the restaurant name. Once enough letters have been input that only a few possible matching restaurants are found, the GPS produces a list of names to choose from, as shown above in figure 47.
Figure 48: Start Navigating to the POI
After choosing the desired restaurant from the POI search results list, NAVI displays the restaurant name, city, and State. We can start navigating to the restaurant by clicking on "Start" in the above menu screen.
One obvious omission from Mercedes-Benz's POI database is the telephone numbers of POIs. For example, if we wanted to call the restaurant and make a reservation, or ask if they're open for business, seeing the restaurant's phone number and being able to dial it using the car's built-in cell phone (or Bluetooth connected phone) would have been a nice touch. This feature is available on most stand-alone GPS devices that support Bluetooth.
Figure 49: Accessing the Voice Menu
Mercedes' 2007 S-Class certainly isn't the first GPS system to boast voice recognition, but it's definitely the best one I've used to date.
The voice menu is accessed by clicking on the ear icon from the map menu, shown above in figure 49.
Figure 50: Voice Menu
Clicking on the ear icon (shown in figure 49) activated the voice menu, shown above. One the voice menu is activated, the car begins "listening" for your command.
In order to test the voice recognition system, I'll enter a new address using only my voice. Note that when using the voice recognition, the system automatically lowers the stereo volume if any music is playing.
Figure 51: Speaking a Street Name
Entering a destination using voice recognition is identical to non-voice entered addresses, except you spell the words one letter at a time. As you speak each letter, the GPS displays the letter it heard so you can visually confirm it is hearing you correctly.
Figure 52: Using Voice Recognition To Choose A Street
Once enough letters have been spoken that the GPS can narrow the results to a short list, a list of matching street names is automatically produced.
Notice that each street name is numbered; speaking the corresponding number selects that street. For example, in the figure above, speaking the word "six" will select "Central Square" as the desired street name.
Figure 53: Inputting Numbers with VR
Entering the house number with voice recognition is simple and works well.
Figure 54: Saving an Address
Once an address has been fully entered, you can begin navigating to the entered address by saying "Yes", or save the destination into the address book by saying "Save destination".
For Mercedes-Benz fans, there is much to rejoice about in Mercedes' 9th generation (2007) S-Class. The car itself is an engineering masterpiece worthy of being called Mercedes' top model. This new model packs more electronics than any previous S-Class, and integrating all those systems into the new COMAND system was surely no easy task for MB engineers.
The GPS (NAVI) system itself is by far the nicest Mercedes has produced to date. A beautiful, bright 8-inch LCD panel is easy to see in even the brightest sunlight. The dated "soft keys" and "pushbutton switch" found on previous S-Class models have been replaced by the unified iDrive-like joystick. Although not popular with everyone, I actually found the new system considerably easier to use than previous systems. Menus are more intuitively named, and overall system performance is significantly improved thanks to a faster CPU and hard disk based storage instead of DVD-ROM discs used in the past.
The new NAVI system includes some welcome enhancements over previous versions, including multi-stop routing, hard drive based map storage, and voice recognition (that actually works) for operating the GPS hands-free.
The S-Class has lots going for it. Yet the GPS (NAVI) system lacks some basic features found on even the most inexpensive portable GPS units. For example, the map view is 2-D only. There is no 3-D aspect view. The POI database includes a paltry 1.7 million entries. Garmin's nuvi units, on the other hand, come pre-loaded with over 6 million POIs. There's also no way to tell the NAVI system if you prefer shortest distance, shortest time, least use of highway, or most use of highway when calculating the route the GPS will take. Real-time traffic information is also notably absent.
The 2007 S-Class is Mercedes' best NAVI GPS system to date, and a considerable update from previous models. However, in terms of ease of use and features, a portable GPS still comes out on top.