IT’S GOOD TO TALK

Price as tested:

ALEX INWOOD

MERCEDES-BENZ A250 4MATIC

Price as tested: $76,790

This month: 603km @ 7.8L/100km

BE HONEST here – how often do you use voice recognition software? Rarely, would be my guess, for beyond asking Siri to explain the meaning of life and how to dispose of a dead body (just kidding, though I’m sure I’m now on some kind of ASIO watch list), I’ve found that voice recognition tends to fall into the same box as tech like Google Glass and virtual reality headsets: clever, but also kind of useless.

Happily, this isn’t the case with the A250. Armed with Merc’s ‘Mercedes-Benz User Experience’ infotainment software (dubbed MBUX), I find myself talking to the A250 so regularly that “Hey Mercedes!” is now firmly entrenched in my lexicon.

It handles all of the regular commands (“Take me home”, “Call the wife”, “How do you dispose of a…”) with ease, though what elevates it beyond Siri or Alexa is its ability to control the car’s functions. “Close the sunroof blind”, “I’m cold/ hot”, and “turn on the heated seats”, are commands I use more than I expected.

That’s not to say it’s all been smooth sailing, mind. The hype that “MBUX can accept natural language so you can ask it anything!” is only partly true, and it has an annoying habit of cutting me off mid-command to say “I’m sorry, how may I help you?” Still, the system has ‘learning software’ so these foibles might improve with time (Merc suggests it takes six weeks for it to recognise habits and patterns), and anyway, voice recognition is just one facet of MBUX.The twin, highly configurable 10.25-inch touchscreens are a masterstroke thanks to easy-to-navigate menus, glossy high-resolution graphics and snappy response times. And they don’t cast reflections into the cabin or act like giant mirrors.

What can be a little daunting is how configurable the system is. In fact, the A250’s tech can become so all-consuming that it’s easy to overlook how the car actually drives. But before I could do much of that this month, something started to squeak and chirp intermittently from the engine bay. Sometimes it even rattled a little, though it wasn’t until a fellow Wheels staffer asked, “Is your A-Class a diesel?”, that I thought I should probably get it checked. So back to Benz went the A250 for a quick look over. I’ll report the findings next issue.

ALEX INWOOD