Inside the rim of the wheel is a two-zone sensor mat which detects whether or not your hands are grasping the wheel. This means that drivers will no longer need to actively engage with the wheel in order for the assistance systems to know who’s in control.
The goal is to make semi-autonomous driving in the E-Class more seamless, while also marking yet another step towards fully autonomous driving. Moreover, this new steering wheel will also make its way to the next-gen S-Class – which is why it may already look familiar.
The sensor mat is positioned directly under the leather or wooden cover, and has two sensor surfaces. Touching the steering wheel automatically causes a change in capacitance, which is converted into a digital signal by a control unit. Meanwhile, the sensors can also detect different types of touches, like a full grab or a partial touch.
“In the E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet, the new steering wheel is available in two versions with a leather rim. With the standard multifunction steering wheel, the three spokes form a chalice in high-gloss black inspired by elegant Callas flowers, which is framed by a rim finished in Silver Shadow. The control surfaces are located on the chalice leaves. In the “Supersport” version with AMG Line, the control surfaces sit on two double-decker spokes reminiscent of the wheel wing nuts of sports cars. They are also finished in high-gloss black and have a Silver Shadow finish on the rim, giving it a high-tech appearance.”
As for the operating surfaces for the instrument cluster and media display (flush with the spokes), they are designed to withstand temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).
All the touches are recorded and evaluated by capacitive sensors, which then enables what the carmaker calls “intuitive operation” via swiping gestures or pressing the symbols.