Mercedes-Benz has always been synonymous with luxury, but it seems the auto maker sees innovation as being part of that identity as well. That includes the rush among manufacturers to create intuitive infotainment systems, but where does the current iteration of Mercedes’ COMAND integrated interface sit compared to others?
One unique element of how COMAND works is the rotary wheel just in front of the armrest on the middle console. Despite the voice-recognition built into COMAND, you’ll find that navigating the menus on the screen takes a combination of both. As nice as the system can be for certain features, the combination does come off as a bit disjointed at times.
Aesthetically, the screen doesn’t look as polished as what you might find with Ford’s SYNC or Audi’s system, but it does offer plenty. In a practical sense, COMAND integrates your phone’s contacts, plays back music from it or an MP3 player and offers turn-by-turn navigation. It can access terrestrial and satellite radio, play back DVDs (when the car is in park) and more.
This can all be handled by using your voice, much like other similar systems. Press the voice button and issue a command. When it works, COMAND is flawless in its execution, but unfortunately it’s just not consistent enough in doing so.
For example, stating an address for navigation is hit or miss. It recognized some street names easily, but needed four or five tries to understand others. Drivers with accents will have a tougher time getting the message across. And unfortunately, this can happen with commands for phone contacts and the radio as well. While I could tell it what FM station I wanted, I couldn’t do the same for satellite radio channels. Telling COMAND what song I wanted to play from my iPhone only served to confuse the system, which thought I wanted to make a call. Moreover, since my iPhone was connected via Bluetooth, I could tell it to go to “Bluetooth Audio” but couldn’t get it to play music from the phone.
In fairness, some of these issues plague other voice-activated systems from competitors, too. The key thing that Mercedes-Benz should’ve implemented is stringing commands like, for example, “Navigation-Street Address-(Blank) Avenue”. COMAND can’t register direction this way, so you end up with a step-by-step back and forth that can last for more than 60 seconds before anything is actually achieved. Another omission is the lack of temperature control through COMAND. Adjusting heating and AC is all done manually, whereas other auto makers have incorporated that into their integrated system.
Navigating with the rotary wheel can save time when scrolling through stations or songs, but even then, you’ll find that a combination works better. Scrolling through satellite radio stations is fine, but you can order COMAND to switch to the next category of stations by voice first. Or you can start a playlist with the wheel, and then switch to the next or previous track by voice.
This is why I used the term ‘disjointed’ earlier. The system, as good as it performs in some instances, feels like it’s missing one or two extra steps to make it more convenient. Then again, not everything Mercedes-Benz offers in COMAND is necessarily available in the Canadian market, and since the auto maker announced a year ago that its integrated system was a decade-long strategy that was just beginning, seeing some improvement and innovation would be great in the near-term.
With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the big auto shows coming up, it’s likely that some announcement will be made in that regard.
COMAND was tested on a 2012 Mercedes ML350