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With all the forward-reaching technology in the Mercedes S-Class, one is stuck in reverse

Mazda, Mitsubishi, and others trump key safety system in our S550

Published: December 06, 2013 03:00 PM

The technological wizardry in our 2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 and S550 sedans are nothing short of amazing, with features only dreamed about a decade ago.

The "lower-level" E250 (at $62,980) we bought includes the $875 Lane Tracking Package, which will vibrate the steering wheel if you cross over a lane divider in addition to warning the driver of a vehicle hiding in his/her blind spot.

Our S550 features even more advanced safety features in the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package: Active Blind Spot Assist, which warns the driver of a vehicle in the blind spot and can even brake the car to avoid an accident; Active Lane Keeping Assist, which can apply the brakes to keep the car in the proper lane, and the BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, which uses cameras and radar to help prevent front and rear collisions. Impressive stuff, indeed. But for some reason, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t let their cars do a simple thing.

Shifting into reverse doesn’t turn on the backup camera display if the infotainment system is off. As you can see in the image, the vehicle is in reverse yet the screen is not on. (No, I did not turn the screen off after shifting into reverse.) Cheaper—far cheaper—cars have no problem doing this. And Mercedes told us in 2012, during a visit to our editorial offices, that they were aware of this and it would be addressed.

So, why should someone spend $40,000, $60,000, or even $100,000 on a car when it can’t perform a simple safety function that can be found in a Mazda3 and Mitsubishi Outlander, let alone our $88,000 Land Rover Range Rover? In all of these vehicles, shifting into reverse with the multimedia screen off results in an immediate activation of the screen showing the backup camera’s view.

In late November, I followed up with Mercedes to see if this was going to be addressed, and they sent the following response.

“There is no substitute for an alert, safe, and aware driver that uses a combination of mirrors, eyesight, and sometimes camera devices to aid in the safe operation of a motor vehicle—regardless of whether the movement is forward- or rear-facing.  There are several redundant buttons in the car that can be used to mute the radio, located on both the steering wheel’s right side controls and on the center console, if the driver does not wish to turn off the radio/backup screen and backup camera completely.  However, the function does in fact exist to turn off the radio/backup camera screen altogether, even when the car is in the reverse gear, so that the customer can customize their driving experience.”

In my experiences with these and other M-B vehicles, I have had times where I want the screen dark rather than just the radio muted. Keeping the car dark for sleeping kids is one reason; the reflections on windows at night are another. I’ve parked the vehicle in my garage at night with the screen darkened, only to back out the next morning with that screen still dark; the camera not displaying anything.

Come on Mercedes-Benz. For all of the technology in your cars—such as the $350 Air Balance Package with a "fragrance atomizer" in the S500—it’s about time you make this safety feature work correctly.

Jon Linkov


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