The new knob-driven Comand APS system is currently available in Mercedes-Benz C-Class and S-Class models. This review was conducted in a C220 CDI wagon.
While it may carry the same name as the Mercedes-Benz's old button happy system, the new Comand system, which first debuted in the S-Class limosuine, features a host of improvements. Key amongst these is the adoption of the German obsession with push, pull and press scroll-wheels. Finished in studded metal, the new Comand controller feels great in the hand and controls a new menu system via a LCD display in the centre of the dash.
As sampled in the C220 CDI, the Comand screen is divided into three sections: a strip up the top that allows you to switch between the main functions (navigation, audio, video, Bluetooth telephone and system settings). The main centre section contains the current selection's main function, like, say, the navigation map, or CD and track lists. Another menu strip sits at the bottom with more options for the current section, such as presets and sound stage settings for audio.
Swings and roundabouts
Counter-intuitive and roundabout are the first words that pop into our minds about the new Comand system. For instance, to switch to the radio using the scroll wheel requires you to click on Audio, nudge up to the main menu, click Audio again and then select Radio. Yes, there's a phalanx of shortcut buttons, but instead of being located next to controller they're on the dash, requiring a lean forward and a look away from the road.
It'd be nice to have all configuration options available in one place, but while some settings, such as the Bluetooth and Linguatronic voice recognition systems, are within the Comand system, others, like those for the mirrors, light timers and so forth, are set via the in-speedo display.
The voice recognition system throws up a handy context sensitive list of commands on the central LCD screen whenever it's activated. But there are a few quirks in the system; for example, many tasks, such as changing discs or tracks, or dialling contacts, can be done in any Comand screen, but you're forced to physically change to a Navigation screen before verbally entering a destination. Whole word recognition isn't available for destination entry, and numeral and letter recognition is iffy at best.
In the C220 CDI, there's a auxiliary jack that's located in the glovebox right next to a 12V outlet. Unforutnately there's no USB port anywhere to be found. MP3 collectors must do without their iPods and pop their tunes onto a disc and then into the six-stack disc changer. Alternatively music can also be played via a memory card, but, in a move we just can't fathom, it needs to be wrapped in a PCMCIA adapter before being inserted into the centre of the dash.
The Comand system's hard disk is primarily for storing sat nav maps, but there's 6GB set aside for music storage; CD ripping isn't on the menu, but MP3 files can be copied from disc or memory card. Although no TV antenna is included, DVD movies can viewed on the LCD screen.
Like most factory in-dash systems C-Class drivers will have to do without niceties that portable nav users take for granted, like text-to-speech and traffic messaging. On the plus-side the new 3D view is married to a large split-screen view of upcoming turns, spoken directions are only played on the driver's side speakers, and as the system's linked to the car's accelerator and gyroscope the sat nav keeps functioning even when it's out of view of GPS satellites.
Utilising a hard disk for storage means that point of interest and street name searches are much quicker than on the previous DVD-based system. Using either the scroll wheel or voice recognition, destination entry is on the wrong side of being cumbersome. Calculation times are quite quick, but routes are no better than average and the system is rather dogged in getting you back onto its preferred course should you miss a turn or two or three.
Compared with other systems that its up against, the Comand APS interface wants for simplicity and ease-of-use, with the interface demanding too many turns and presses to perform even simplest of tasks. The voice recognition doesn't fare much better with its rather idiosyncratic demands and the missing iPod support just caps off our disappointment.