The 2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: An expensive taste of nearly autonomous driving

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: An expensive taste of nearly autonomous driving

We borrowed a $US163,000 car to try out the tech. Right. Well, it does have amazingly proactive cruise control.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG is a full-size, high-end luxury sedan with all of the trimmings, plus the AMG sports package for spirited, track-ready driving. It costs $US163,835.

But we're not here because of the soft pillow in the headrest that cocoons your head, protecting you from the cruel world. Oh no. Though it did come in handy during recent test of the adaptive technology used for the cruise control, steering, and suspension. These amazingly adjustable features show you how autonomous driving will look in the not-so-distant future, when you just might be able to nap on the way home from work.

Many newer sedans have adaptive cruise control that slows the car down automatically based on the speed of the vehicle in front of you. With the S63, it can slow all the way down to zero.

The sensors and cameras--including one that flips open in the grille--are unusually sensitive--in a good way. The car adjusts its speed with light braking, so no sudden slowdowns or speed-ups. (We wouldn't want that freshly brewed espresso spilling on the fine leather upholstery now, would we?).

An animation appears in the all-digital gauge above the steering wheel. It's more detailed than the ones you'll see in other luxury cars, and also much bigger--about the size of your palm.

You see a crisp, colorful graphic of the car's hood (with the Mercedes star emblem), a few distance markers, and another graphic of the car in front of you. As you get closer to another car, its icon also moves closer to you. Neat. It's like watching a mini Pixar movie each time you hit the cruise control lever.

Another perk: the S63 resumes from a full stop when you lightly press the accelerator. That's more intuitive than the Acura RLX, which forces you to hit a resume button when it stops.

The S63 uses Distronic Plus steering to keep the car centered in the lane automatically. While it can't quite match the lane-keeping prowess of the Infiniti Q50 we tested recently, the S63 doesn't bump you around like the 2015 Chrysler 200,or older Infiniti and Acura models.

Around corners, an adaptive suspension feels like the S63 has leaned over on yet another pillow to cushion any force you might feel. It's so smooth, you barely notice the curves, even at high speeds.

Mercedes is paving the way for autonomous driving that will not feel like a computer that makes abrupt decisions. Instead, it's more like you have an engineer named Rudolf driving for you--easing off on the brakes, slowly moving you back in the lane, sliding you gently around corners. All Rudolf needs to do is brew up that espresso.

Of course, the S63 is not quite ready for full autonomous driving. The lane-keeping measures only work for a minute or so and can't handle long stretches of driving, or poorly marked road markings, or really tight corners (especially on city roads). But we're getting there.

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