Design

Tiller to command center: Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years perfecting steering wheels

The steering wheel has come a long way, and Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for more than a century.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

What makes a steering wheel perfect? It needs to be the right size, feel good in your hands, and connect with the vehicle delivering a level of responsiveness that makes the drive to be exactly what you want and expect. Some say the best steering wheels also have controls for the stereo system, crash avoidance features, and cruise control. Others would say that the best steering wheels have none of those controls - that a horn is all it needs.

Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for over a century, starting in the 1800s and through to this month's reveal of the next-generation E-Class, which features capacitive functionality for the first time.

Early years

Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years working to improve the steering wheel. But, the first Mercedes vehicle didn't have one. The year was 1886 and Carl Benz's first patent motor car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen (shown above), like that designed by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1889, did not have a wheel or steering crank. Back then, drivers were used to pulling on horse reins and operating carriages accordingly.

The first steering wheel

Erste Automobilwettfahrt, Paris-Rouen, 1894

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While Benz, Daimler, and Maybach were some of the first motor vehicle engineers out of the gate, it's Alfred Vacheron that is considered the inventor of the steering wheel. The story goes that during the world's first automobile race (pictured above) – from Paris to Rouen, France in July 1894 – Vacheron installed a a wheel instead of the traditional steering lever in his Panhard & Levassor (powered by a Daimler engine, natch), which allowed him to have better control resulting in Vacheron's ability to safely go faster. He ended up placing 11th but the wheel trend had begun.

The Mercedes Simplex

MULI 0208, Mercedes Simplex

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Automobile racing was again at the forefront of innovation in 1900 when Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft equipped its Phoenix racing car with a steering wheel. In this instance, the steering column was tilted (it had been stiffly upright in the Vacheron car), which proved a worthy innovation.

Further, steering evolved in 1902 when the Mercedes Simplex (pictured above) had levers added to its heel that regulated engine ignition timing and the air/fuel mixture.

The 1920s through 1940s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 680 Modell S, 26/120/180 PS, 1927

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While engine design grew in sophistication and was refined, so too was the functionality of the steering wheel. As automobiles became more popular they not only had to contend with horses, carriages, buggies, and wagons but also with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other autos. Cars needed a communication device. Enter: the horn.

The horn started as a bulb horn mounted on the steering wheel rim which quickly evolved into a klaxon horn button on the steering wheel hub. By the 1920s, a horn ring on the steering wheel spokes had become standard equipment.

In 1949, the horn ring earned double duty serving as a turn signal as well. To indicated whether the vehicle was turning left or right, the ring simple needed to be turned left or right. Then, an approximately 20-centimeter-long indicator arm swung sideways out of the body, and indicated the direction of travel

Soon, these indicators would be replaced by orange-yellow flashing lights though they still remained activated by the ring.

The 1950s

Mercedes-Benz 220 S \u201cPonton\u201d saloon of the model series W 180/W 128, 1954 to 1959), interior with dashboard

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

By the time the 1950s arrived, car designers had made the steering wheel a central interface between the driver and the car. More equipment was added including a gearshift on the steering column in 1951 in order to make the cabin more comfortable for the driver and passenger. By removing the shifter from the floor, the car's front bench seat could accommodate three people instead of the traditional two. This was first shown in the 300 "Adenauer-Mercedes" (W 186) and in the 220 (W 187) (shown above).

In 1955, Mercedes added a lever for headlamps. Power steering was introduced in 1958.

The 1960s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 220 Sb, Baureihe W 111

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While the 50s was all about function, the 1960s steering wheel was all about safety. The "Fintail" (W 111) (shown above) was the world's first vehicle to feature an integrated safety concept consisting of a stable passenger cell, crumple zones, a new safety steering wheel with a large, deformable baffle plate which reduced the risk of injury in the event of a collision, and a split steering column which was offset to the rear.

This innovation made is possible to avoid what was colloquially known as the "lance effect" during a crash, wherein the steering column and wheel would compress in the driver when the auto was crash head-on.

To further increase safety, Mercedes-Benz introduced a patented safety steering system with a telescopic steering column and impact absorber, which became standard on their entire passenger car range in 1967.

Indicator and headlight flasher functionality remained on the wheel. In 1963, the lever was extended to include the windshield wipers and windshield washer system functions. The windshield wiper was previously activated with a pull switch on top of the instrument panel.

The 1970s and 1980s

Mercedes-Benz type 350 SL of the 107 series (1971 \u2013 1989).

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Innovation continued at a rapid rate. The introduction of the 350 SL Roadster (shown above) in 1971 improved safety with a wide padded plate in the center of the steering wheel that was designed to absorb impact in the event of a crash.

The spokes served as supports for the rim. In the event of a crash, force was transferred to them in such a way as to ensure that the wheel would not break.

Buttons for the horn were moved to the center of the steering wheel while wiper, washer, headlamp, and indicator functionality remained.

In December 1975, the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 became one fo the first automobiles in the world to be equipped with a standard cruise control system. The world's first proximity cruise control system would be launched in the 1998 S-Class (220 series).

The first airbag was added to the steering wheel in 1981 in the S-Class (126 series), but the airbag's size was a recurring issue designers had to deal with. Eventually, the airbag would be able to be compacted more, allowing for more design freedom while delivering the same and better levels of safety. By 1992, a driver airbag was standard on all Mercedes models. Two years later a passenger airbag became standard equipment.

1998: The first multifunction steering wheel

Mercedes Benz S Class 220 model series (1998 to 2005)

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz steering wheels took a big leap forward in 1998 with the introduction of the multifunction steering wheel in the S-Class 220 (shown above). The driver was, for the first time, able to access their radio, car phone, and a driver's information display with eight menus from the steering wheel in addition to its traditional functionalities.

2005: The gearshift returns to the steering wheel

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 221 series Steering wheel and instrument cluster form the primary area of the newly developed operating concept of the S-Class.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

New M- and S-Class designs debuted in 2005 (S-Class 221 series shown above) and with them the automatic transmission gear shifter was moved to the steering column. Additionally, shift buttons were added to the selector making it easy for those wishing to choose their own gear to do so. Paddle shifters made their debut on 2008 on the SL Roadster.

Steering wheels were bulky due to the influx of airbag and infotainment functionality, which required cables, circuit boards, and sensors to be installed in the unit. Eventually, it would be able to be slimmed down as technology evolved.

2016: First touch-sensitive buttons

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W 213) 2016

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The 2016 E-Class became the first car I the world to feature touch-sensitive buttons on its steering wheel. The technology featured the ability to control the entire infotainment system by swiping a finger across a pad on the steering wheel rather than taking taking your hands off the wheel. In addition to the pads, the wheel also had four buttons to the left and right of center that allows for volume control, phone call initiation and other functions.

2020: Capacitive Steering Wheel

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W 213), 2020

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The next generation of Mercedes-Benz steering wheel has been unveiled in the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It features a two-zone sensor mat in the steering wheel rim that registers whether or not the wheel is being held. Unlike in systems by other manufacturers, no movement is required.

The Touch Control buttons have been integrated into the steering wheel spokes now also function capacitively. The panels are now flush and allow for swiping gestures as well as use in hot temperatures.

The new wheel is the same size as the one in the outgoing model.

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New electric luxury vehicles

Three new Mercedes-Benz EVs we can't wait to see

Mercedes showed off its electric future at the 2021 IAA Mobility show in Germany.

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz is going electric, and though it only recently announced its firm plans to do so, it already seems that the German automaker is moving quickly toward that goal. At the 2021 IAA Mobility show in Munich, Mercedes showed off some of its upcoming electrified products. We've seen the EQS, a flagship electric sedan, but three newcomers made an appearance at the show.


Mercedes-Benz EQB EQB will be Mercedes' electric family SUV.Mercedes-Benz


EQB

EQB is the brand's family-sized SUV, offering seating for up to seven people. A long wheelbase of 111.3 inches and adjustable second-row seating allows more interior space for people and gear. Mercedes says the EQB will offer two powertrain configurations: The EQB 300 4MATIC will get 225 horsepower and the EQB 350 4MATIC will sport 288 horsepower. A front-wheel drive configuration will go on sale later and a long-range model will follow.


Mercedes-Benz Concept EQG The EQG will eventually become the brand's electric off-roader.Mercedes-Benz


EQG

Concept EQG is a preview of the eventual electrification of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, its boxy, upper-crust off-roader. This concept is far closer to a design exercise than something we'll actually see in production, but it's an interesting demonstration, nonetheless. With 22-inch wheels, wild exterior lighting touches, and what the automaker says will be legendary off-road abilities, the EQG will be an exciting vehicle when it does make an appearance.


Mercedes-Benz EQE EQE will follow the EQS as a smaller, sportier electric sedan in 2022.Mercedes-Benz


EQE

EQE is the second car to use Mercedes' EVA2 electric architecture, following the EQS sedan. The car is currently scheduled for a staggered release in mid-2022 and will feature a more compact and sportier design than its predecessor. Mercedes says that the car will be available with either 19- or 21-inch wheels, and notes that its size is comparable to the current CLS coupe-sedan. The car offers an impressive range of up to 410 miles on a single charge from its 90kWh battery and special charging capabilities through the Mercedes me Charge network.

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Electric vehicles

Three new EVs we can't wait to see

The F-150 Lightning is just one of several new EVs we'll see soon.

Ford

With all the crazy news coming out of the auto industry this year, it'd be easy to believe that the rollout of new models is slowing to a snail's pace. The pandemic and ongoing microchip shortage have slowed vehicle production, to be sure, but they haven't put the brakes on automakers' push to roll out exciting new electric vehicles. In the next few months alone, we'll see several new electric trucks, cars, and SUVs hit the market, some of which will break new ground and help define their segments. We're on board with this trend 100 percent, and to help you get excited, we've rounded up a few of our favorites.

Here are the three upcoming electric vehicles we're most excited to see.

Ford F-150 Lightning

One of the world's best-selling and most popular vehicles is going electric. The Ford F-150 Lightning is set to arrive in 2022 with a fully electric powertrain, forward-looking technology, and a familiar style that will make any truck lover feel at home. We don't have full details on the truck, but Ford has shared some awe-inspiring performance numbers. The Lightning will offer around 563 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, which should push the truck to 60 mph from a standstill in just four seconds. Payload capacity comes in at up to 2,000 pounds, and towing will reach 10,000 pounds for specific configurations.


Ford F-150 Lightning The Lightning will offer impressive capability in a familiar package.Ford


The Lightning's starting price will come in under $40,000, but don't get your hopes up about actually buying one for that amount. Ford says the entry-level Lightning is a commercial truck that will be a stripped-down work-ready vehicle, which likely means features like vinyl seats and far fewer of the desirable tech goodies that you'll want. To get the truck you and your family will want to drive, you'll need to spring for the XLT model, which starts just shy of $53,000. That's quite a bit more, but it is still a somewhat reasonable price to pay for what will surely be a capable electric pickup.

Mercedes-Benz EQS

The S-Class is a unique model in Mercedes-Benz's lineup. The car typically showcases the automaker's latest technologies and design techniques and offers a glimpse of the features that eventually trickle down to the rest of Mercedes' vehicles. Soon, we'll see the EQS, a fully electric flagship sedan that paves the way for the brand's other electrified offerings. The car will have a range of well over 400 miles on a charge, up to 516 horsepower, rear-axle steering, and breathtaking technology.


Mercedes-Benz EQS The EQS will usher in a new electric era at Mercedes.Mercedes-Benz


The EQS is expected to land sometime late in 2021 and will carry a price tag that matches its premium brand name and top-notch feature set. Pricing for the "entry-level" EQS 450+ will come in at around $100,000, while the top EQS 580 4MATIC will land well north of that number. Remember, though, that Mercedes offers a long list of ultra-desirable options for its cars, so you'll likely shell out more than the base price to get the features you want.

Hyundai Ioniq 5

The Hyundai Ioniq name is nothing new, but the way it will be seen in the automaker's lineup will change significantly going forward. Rather than being a model name within the Hyundai catalog, Ioniq will split off and become its own sub-brand, covering a line of electric vehicles of all types. The Ioniq 5 is the first such vehicle and will be offered in single- or dual-motor configurations that generate 225 or 320 horsepower. The car's futuristic design is attractive and features a pixelated look for the front-end, lighting features, and rear. Inside, the vehicle is clean but comforting and offers the features buyers expect in a family crossover.


Hyundai Ioniq 5 The Ioniq 5 is the first in what will be an entire line of new EVs from Hyundai.Hyundai


The Ioniq 5 should go on sale in late 2021 and is expected to cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

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