Whether pressed into service as an ambulance or luxury coach, tow truck or cargo van, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a venerable Swiss Army Knife in the commercial vehicle space. And with its myriad drivetrain options, roof heights, wheelbase lengths and seating arrangements, the brand-new 2019 Sprinter will be available in no less than 1,700 different configurations around the globe. It’s van-tastic.
But beyond its inherent versatility, the 2019 Sprinter gets a host of upgrades that make it much easier to use day-to-day. Premium accoutrements add comfort and convenience, while a new front wheel-drive option offers better driveline packaging. But the biggest improvement comes on the technology front: the Sprinter will be one of the first vehicles to launch with Mercedes’ next-generation MBUX infotainment system. And with commercial vehicle-specific functions and a high-res touchscreen, MBUX ensures the 2019 Sprinter will outsmart just about anything else in its class.
Mercedes finally gives us a touchscreen interface with its MBUX infotainment system.
Mercedes-Benz ‘Hey Mercedes…’
Just as “Hey Siri” and “OK Google” are setting the pace for natural-speech recognition in smart devices, Mercedes is looking to achieve a similar level of simplicity with its MBUX interface. Rather than working through traditional voice commands, MBUX allows you to simply say “Hey Mercedes” or “Hi Mercedes,” and then tell the virtual assistant what you want, or how you feel, and have it respond accordingly. Say “I’m cold,” and it’ll turn up the heat. Tell the system “I’m hungry,” and it’ll pull up a list of nearby restaurants. Ask “do I need an umbrella tomorrow?” and you’ll get a weather report.
In theory, anyway. Driving a 2019 Sprinter through The Netherlands, MBUX is only recognizing about half of my commands. It responds to requests for nearby points of interest without issue, and has no trouble inputting a specific destination. But when I tell the car I’m cold, it asks me to try again. When I ask it to open the web browser, nothing happens. On top of that, the system seems hypersensitive to uses of the word “Mercedes,” interrupting to ask how it can help when I’m simply telling my passenger about the awesome Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon I recently drove. MBUX doesn’t do it all the time, but if you frequently have conversations with your friend Mercedes about how you left your Hey Mercedes CD in her Mercedes-Maybach S650, you’ll probably get its attention.
After the A-Class, the Sprinter will be the second Mercedes vehicle to launch with MBUX in the US.
Of course, these kinds of trip-ups are to be expected with natural-speech commands that don’t require the push of a button (if I had a dollar for every time I accidentally activated Siri on my iPhone…). Mercedes is still making minor tweaks to MBUX’s voice recognition software, and hopes to have these issues sorted before the system officially goes on sale in the United States. MBUX will initially launch with the new A-Class sedan, followed by the Sprinter, sometime before you hang the 2019 calendar on your wall.
But don’t forget, these simplified voice commands are only one part of the MBUX package. Unlike the company’s outgoing COMAND system, which uses rotary knobs and touchpads for interaction, MBUX lets you get up close and personal, finally bringing touchscreen capability into Mercedes’ vehicles. Yes, get ready to touch, pinch and swipe your way through the various MBUX screens in the Sprinter’s 10.25-inch display, with super-quick response times, bright colors, crisp fonts and intuitive interaction. The Sprinter doesn’t get the full-width, double-screen layout that’ll be offered in Mercedes’ passenger cars, but it’s still leaps and bounds better than anything else