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Mercedes showed off its new infotainment interface at CES, the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX for short. Will owners call it M-bucks? Who knows? Regardless, it’s supposed to make life with your Benz all the better.

Mercedes calls it “an intelligent multimedia system.” Its features appear on the new high-resolution screen that is part of Benz’s “Widescreen Cockpit.” You can communicate with the MBUX several ways: There’s the touchscreen, a touch pad on the center console and touch-control buttons in the steering wheel. Or you can just talk to it and it’ll respond.

“Hey Mercedes” is one thing it’ll answer to, or “Hello Mercedes,” or just “Mercedes.” You can follow up with your request or, if you wait, it’ll ask what you want. We got a drive around the block at CES in Las Vegas to see the new interface in action. My German engineering hosts said to ask it a question.

“Will Bayern Munich take the cup this year?” I asked.

“You must ask it a driving-related question,” said one of my Mercedes hosts from the back seat. (Ha! So it does have limits!)

A-Class hatch in the streets of Vegas

We got a ride with MBUX in this A-Class hatch in the streets of Vegas, displayed here at CES during the system’s worldwide introduction.

My Mercedes driver then asked it, “Hey Mercedes, will I need an umbrella tomorrow?” This is something Mercedes engineers are particularly proud of with this new system — the fact that MBUX will respond to somewhat more vague colloquialisms. On the show stand the day before, a Mercedes exec asked MBUX, “Can I wear flip-flops tomorrow?” These particular questions result in a weather report update for the next day in Las Vegas.

“The language understands even if I say it indirectly,” my driver, Christoph, said proudly.

Subsequent questions usually resulted in an appropriate response from MBUX, though not every time. You have to learn to time things a little bit. But overall it seems promising.

The navigation system in our North American MBUXes will include every street in America and Canada, for instance, which Christoph demonstrated by asking for directions to the Vancouver Aquarium. MBUX replied by displaying the route in Mercedes’ “brilliant” 3-D maximum-resolution graphics.” Vancouver is a long way from Vegas.  

MBUX on the widescreen

MBUX on the widescreen

The widescreen displays information in three levels of information density. The first is the “Homescreen,” which shows the main apps like phone, nav and radio. From that, the “Basescreen” offers controls for specific applications, providing more detailed info on navigation or radio, for instance. Then the “Submenu” goes into even further detail. The system also offers gesture control for things like pinch/zoom of the navigation screen. You can even use handwriting on the screen if you want. The more you use it, the more it learns your favorite destinations and music preferences.

You can configure the screens -– including the instrument cluster — however you want. The screens’ 3-D renderings are highly detailed, thanks to a Nvidia chip previously used on gaming consoles. It’ll read your texts to you but you have to select which text by touching the screen. It won’t read your emails because that is considered “too distracting.” That previous point is still in discussion at MB. If they ever decide to let you read emails, for instance, an update could come via an OTA (over-the-air) upgrade.

“New technologies must focus on the people using them and make their life simpler,” board member Ola Kallenius had said the day before at the Mercedes show stand. “That’s why we combine intuitive and natural operation with intelligent and learning software in MBUX.”

“With MBUX, we have come another step closer to turning the vehicle into a mobile assistant,” said Sajjad Khan, vice president digital vehicle & mobility at Daimler. “The system’s ability to learn is spectacular and unique to date in the car industry. We are using artificial intelligence to give the user individual suggestions based on their habits. The algorithm we use for this is optimized for on-board use in the vehicle and exploits the opportunities afforded by the latest chip generation.”

MBUX debuts in Amsterdam next week in a production Euro-spec A-Class hatchback, which was the vehicle we got a ride in at CES. We in the U.S. will get MBUX in September in our own A-Class, a three-box sedan. We’ll try it out in more detail then.