Autopilot Showdown: Tesla P85D vs Mercedes E63S Wagon

Posted by: Bernard Winkelmann onOctober 20th, 2015

Mitch hadn’t driven his car for a few weeks and so we decided that we would start with my car, a 2014 Mercedes Benz E63S Estate. I’ve used the system pretty extensively in stop and go traffic and on the highway for long distance travel. I was also aware of the limitations of the system, whereas Mitch was still reading through the manual.


Setting the speed

Both cars use the same supplier for switch gear. The turn signals, the window controls, and most importantly, the cruise control stalk are the same. Exactly the same. They also function in similar ways. While driving, you move the lever up or down to set the speed. Pushing up slightly increments the set speed of both cars by 1 km/h. Pushing it further gives you a 5 km/h increase in the Tesla and 10 km/h in the Mercedes. The Mercedes system assumes that if you set Distronic Plus, you also want steer assist, although in newer model Mercedes there is a separate master switch to enable steer assist. As soon as the appropriate data of the surroundings is acquired, the car will begin driving itself and the white steering wheel icon in the display changes to green.

Tesla, like the newer Mercedes, keeps the functions separate. Setting the speed is the same, however in order to engage the steering and self awareness you have to pull the lever back towards you twice once you have a grey steering wheel in the cluster. It turns blue when active. Another difference is that the Mercedes system allows you to set the speed of Distronic Plus at any time whether moving or not. Tesla’s system requires you to be moving at 30 km/h or more before it will engage. It will, however, also engage from a stop, but only if there is a vehicle in front of you. Further, on the Mercedes, Distronic Plus functions up to 200 km/h whereas Tesla’s Autopilot is only good to 145 km/h. Both cars require you to “resume” after you have stopped for 3 seconds or more when the car in front of you stops.

Follow the leader

On the Mercedes, the system follows the car in front of you from 0 km/h to 60 km/h. Above that speed, it uses the stereoscopic cameras to follow the lane markings or curbs depending on the type of road you are driving on. During our test, in stop and go traffic, it felt like we were a drunk drivers. The vehicle ahead of us was either in a real hurry or on his phone and was weaving all over the lane crossing lines on both sides. The Mercedes followed him, as it should based on how the programming works. When a normal driver was in front of us, the Mercedes would meander from one side of the lane to the other like a pinball. If there was a crown in the road, the car would pull to the same side until it reached the road marking, correct and then meander to the same side again. I can’t say it is confidence building. The Tesla on the other hand stuck to the center of the lane. No pin balling back and forth at all, even with a distracted driver ahead of us swerving between the lane markings, remaining relatively in the center without the pinball effect against the lane markings at lower speeds. Both the Mercedes and Tesla systems need improvements when faced with poor drivers, such as when a car cuts you off. Both need immediate manual intervention, although the Tesla gets back into the groove a little quicker.

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