The Future of Safety

Test driving the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-550 sedan, the world’s safest luxury car

By Harvey Schwartz

Photo By Harvey Schwartz


he new 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-550 luxury sedan breaks safety and design barriers to become one of the market’s best-engineered and smartest sedans, a definite trendsetter. Its design begins with a “cubist” treatment of the trademark M-B twin-headlight face. Two parallelogram white LED lights are recessed into the front fenders, bracketing the three-dimensional frame of the front grille. The overall body shape features a sophisticated interplay between line and surfaces. Taut lines help define large concave and convex surfaces—in particular, a graceful line follows each rear wheel-well and shapes the muscular contours of the rear fenders. This futuristic-looking Mercedes is the world’s most aerodynamic sedan, with a co-efficient of drag of just 0.25, leading to better fuel economy and less wind noise.

In addition to its sleek design, the 2010 E-Class comes with several features that make it perhaps the safest vehicle on the road. The latest is a system called “Attention Assist,” which can alert you to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor responsible for more than 100,000 accidents every year. A steering wheel sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning along with a “Time for a Rest?” message (with a coffee cup icon) that appears on the instrument cluster.

Other examples of trailblazing innovations include “Lane Keeping Assist,” which alerts you by simulating rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane with the turn signals on. At speeds above 37 mph, the system recognizes lane markings, thanks to a small camera in the windshield and a computer that analyzes the video images. There’s also “Adaptive Highbeam Assist,” which uses a small video camera to sense both headlights and taillights, then softly and automatically transitions between high and low beam lighting. “Night View Assist PLUS” now allows drivers to see pedestrians up to 300 feet closer than before. When the system recognizes pedestrians, they appear in the display with an outlined frame highlighting each person. In contrast to passive systems that rely on thermal imaging, this active system bathes the road ahead with invisible infrared light from two beams mounted in the Xenon high-intensity headlights. Extending your ability to see ahead to nearly 500 feet, Night View Assist PLUS uses an infrared camera in the windshield and displays the reflected images as highly detailed black-and-white video images in the instrument cluster.

The optional “DISTRONIC PLUS” system now includes “Blind Spot Assist,” which monitors both blind spots behind the vehicle. Whenever a turn signal is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot, you get a visual and audible warning. Braking innovations include “PRE-SAFE Brake,” which can automatically apply 100 percent braking in emergencies when your E-Class is equipped with the optional DISTRONIC PLUS system. When PRE-SAFE Brake senses an impending collision, the system sounds three warning tones. About 1.6 seconds before impact is likely, partial braking is automatically initiated and the PRE-SAFE occupant protection system is activated. If you still fail to react, full-power braking is initiated about 0.6 seconds before the collision, reducing the impact and effectively acting as an “electronic crumple zone.”

A number of futuristic safety features come standard on all E-Class models, including “basic” PRE-SAFE—the world’s first system that can sense and take protective measures before a crash, automatically tightening seatbelts if the car senses an impending collision. In addition, if the front passenger seat is overly reclined or forward, PRE-SAFE automatically moves it to a more favorable crash position. If the vehicle skids, often a precursor to a rollover, the system closes the sunroof and side windows. If a crash is averted, the electric belt tensioners automatically relax and are ready to deploy again.

In the all-new 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, drivers and passengers alike have the safest and smartest automobile on the road. It is a true tour de force of automotive safety.


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