Next time you see a Mercedes overtaking you on the motorway, you might want to check who is actually driving it.
The German car giant’s hi-tech new E-Class can pass other vehicles and steer around bends all by itself.
It is even capable of performing such feats at speeds well above the UK’s maximum 70mph limit – although it can also be programmed to slam on the brakes if there is a risk of exceeding the speed limit.
If the driver takes their hands off the wheel for an extended period and fails to respond to repeated warning prompts, the car can automatically bring itself safely to a standstill while warning vehicles behind by switching on its hazard lights.
Mercedes-Benz claims the car is the world’s ‘most intelligent executive saloon’ and ‘the next step on the road to autonomous driving’.
First deliveries to UK customers of the new E-Class – which is priced between £35,935 and £47,425 – begin next month.
But British buyers will have to wait for a change in the law before they can try out some of the more radical features, such as automatic overtaking.
It is already legal for a car to overtake autonomously in Germany, where the E-Class is allowed to pass other vehicles on derestricted autobahns at speeds of between 50 and 111mph without the driver’s input.
The new Mercedes’ ‘active lane-change assist’ system – which aims to help prevent collisions and improve passenger comfort – comes on when the turn indicator is activated for more than two seconds.
It uses the car’s in-built camera and radar to systems scan a prescribed ‘safety zone’ in the road ahead and behind
The on-board computer checks it is safe to overtake, then steers the car automatically to pull out into the next lane and overtake the vehicle in front.
WILL IT FIT IN MY GARAGE?
New Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Price: from £35,935 to £47,425
Width: 5ft 11in (without mirrors)
Width: 6ft7in (with mirrors)
Height: 4ft 9in
Engine: 2.0 litre diesel
Top speed: 149mph
0-62mph acceleration: 7.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: Average: 72.4mpg, Urban: 65.7mpg, Cruising: 78.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 102g/km
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
E350d AMG-line model
Engine: 3.0 litre diesel
Top speed: 155mph (governed)
0-62mph acceleration: 5.9 seconds
Fuel consumption: Average: 54.3mpg, Urban: 44.1mpg, Cruising: 61.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 144g/km
Wheels: 20 inch alloy
The driver can resume control at any time by taking a firm grip on the wheel or hitting the brakes.
A Mercedes-Benz spokesman said: ‘Lane change and overtaking will be initially de-activated on cars sold in the UK.
‘But the technology is already inside, it is just dormant for the moment. It’s so advanced that we are waiting for the law to catch up with it. We just need the law makers in Britain to give their blessing.’
He added: ‘We are hoping the law to be changed in Britain in the first half of this year. It will do it on multi-lane roads. It is already legal in Germany. So you could pick up a car in Germany and drive it to the UK.
‘Currently it will only do autonomous driving only for short bursts. After a few seconds it requires you to put your hands back on the wheel.
‘A warning flashes up on the screen telling you to put your hands back on the wheel. But it could drive itself the whole time if the law allowed it.’
Other advanced technology on the new E-Class includes a feature to follow the car in front at a set distance at speeds of up to 130mph.
It can brake to avoid the tail-end of a looming traffic jam, pedestrians or crossing traffic at junctions.
The new Mercedes can also warn drivers of other cars fitted with the same technology of an accident or congestion ahead, and can park itself via your mobile phone.
Among the safety features are a warning system that ‘nudges’ a driver or passenger away from the door and towards the centre of the vehicle if a side-impact crash is imminent.
Last year Mercedes-Benz sold 27,000 executive E-Class models, about one in five of all the brand’s 144,000 sales in the UK.
The E-Class 220d’s new diesel engine linked to a 9-speed automatic gear-box delivers fuel economy of up to 72.4miles to the gallon, with a top speed of 149mph and acceleration from rest to 62mph in 7.3 seconds.