Like it or not, how we interact with a car nowadays is increasingly defined not just by the behind-the-wheel experience but also by how we work with its electronic and infotainment systems. Having already gone in-depth on what it’s like to drive our long-term 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic in previous updates, I’m going to dedicate this one to what it’s like working with the Benz’s COMAND infotainment system and the various other electronics our GLC has.
I really like our GLC’s COMAND infotainment system, even if it isn’t perfect. Part of our tester’s multimedia package, COMAND-equipped GLC’s get a larger 8.4-inch screen mounted on top of the center stack, a touchpad controller mounted above the traditional knob control in the center console, and features such as navigation with real-time traffic alerts, satellite radio, and voice control. You’ll notice Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing from the equation—those features were added for the 2018 model year as part of the $350 smartphone integration package—nevertheless, our GLC makes do with Siri Eyes Free functionality.
Despite lacking borderline-essential CarPlay integration, the COMAND experience is a good one. All of the various menus, from the owners’ manual to your phonebook, are easy to find and, equally important, easy to navigate. The graphics are crisp and easy to read at a glance while driving down the road.
With the edition of the touchpad controller—that weird palm-rest-looking thing you see in pictures of the GLC’s center console—there are effectively two ways to navigate Mercedes’ COMAND system, the touchpad, or the knob. More often than not I find myself using the knob, which spins left and right, clicks north, south, east, and west, as well as clicks down, to navigate the GLC’s various infotainment functions. I prefer the tactile feedback of the knob, versus the touchpad, especially while on the move. The feature I’ve found myself using most on the touchpad is its swipe feature to quickly change songs.
Instrument Cluster Display
I also appreciate how easy it is to navigate Mercedes’ instrument cluster display. All controlled at the tip of your left thumb on the left-hand side of the wheel, Mercedes makes it easy to quickly check the GLC’s fuel economy, range to empty, service needs, and even the last time you took a break. It’s the latter system, dubbed Attention Assist, which I like least.
The system, which has been around on various Mercedes models since 2010, uses a variety of onboard sensors to determine a driver’s style and then monitors steering movement and speed, how long you’ve been driving for, and your usage of the instrument cluster display and COMAND system to determine if you’re too tired to keep driving. If it thinks you are tired, it’ll set off a loud chime and display a coffee cup on the instrument cluster display.
I love this system in theory. Studies have shown the risks of drowsy driving are as high as drunk driving, but in practice it leaves a bit to be desired. On a recent multiday road trip, the system seemed inconsistent at best. For example, after around five hours of straight driving on California’s charmless I-5 in the middle of a sunny afternoon, I found myself really struggling to stay alert. I checked the GLC’s Attention Level monitor on the instrument cluster, and it showed I was highly alert. Compare this to a few days later, when in a well-rested (and highly-caffeinated) state, I hit the road around 3 a.m. to catch a flight. Within an hour and a half of driving, the system had gone off twice, even though I didn’t feel I was experiencing any symptoms of drowsiness.
It might sound like I’m nitpicking—and to a certain extent, I am—but the single most important factor for any vehicle safety system is that it’s consistent. A driver must be able to rely on safety systems, whether it’s Attention Assist or forward collision alert, because any doubt could wind up being the difference between life and death.
I haven’t had any other issues with Attention Assist, but as our loan winds to a close I’ll be paying special attention to it and our GLC300’s other safety systems.