Mercedes A200: Drive Kit Plus uncovered

  • We try the Drive Kit Plus smartphone connection
  • Allows access to social media and internet radio
  • Only available for iPhone 4, 4S and 5 owners

Such is the extent of the world’s love affair with the smartphone that research by a major mobile network suggests the average owner spends more than two hours a day on their phone. According to an internet trends report published earlier this year, most smartphone owners check their phones roughly 150 times a day.

Inevitably, that means there’s an increasing desire to continue all that web browsing, social networking and music streaming while you’re in the car and the majority of mainstream car makers have begun introducing systems that allow you to use your smartphone’s key functions via the car’s own multimedia system while you’re on the move.

Mercedes is no exception, and A-Class owners can now control much of their phone’s content and all manner of apps from the driver’s seat thanks to a system called ‘Drive Kit Plus’.

At least, they can if they own an iPhone; the system was co-developed with Apple and is currently available for the iPhone 4, 4S and 5 only.

Available as an optional extra across the majority of Mercedes models, it needs to be fitted by a Mercedes dealer once you’ve purchased it.

It just so happens that our long-term test A-Class was fitted with the Drive Kit Plus system, so we decided to give it a whirl.

Mercedes Digital DriveStyle iPhone

You connect your iPhone via a dealer-fitted cable adapter in the glovebox

First off you need to download Mercedes’ ‘Digital DriveStyle’ app (free and easy to find via the phone’s App Store function). You then connect your iPhone (in this case a 4S) via a cable in the glovebox and the display on the A-Class’s colour screen is magically transformed into a new display with three menu options: Social, Media and Places.

If you’re us there’s a slight interval in between where you prod buttons in frustration and wonder why it’s not working; until you remember you have to put the car’s audio system in ‘aux’ mode before it will pick up the iPhone.

All functions are controlled via the car’s rotary control near the gear lever. The Social functions include access to Facebook, with a simplified version of your main news feed. You can also have the system read recent messages from friends out loud, in the interests of helping to keep your eyes on the road.

Similarly, you can view or have read out the most recent tweets from people you follow on Twitter and re-tweet them while you’re driving. When the car’s stationary, you can also compose new tweets or view video and images.

Switching to Media allows access to your phone’s music library and thousands of internet stations from around the world can be listened to via the system too.

The third category, Places, includes a navigation system with Google Street View. However, given that our A-Class’s Comand system features sat-nav anyway it’s somewhat redundant.

Mercedes iPhone connection

A huge number of obscure internet radio stations can be streamed via the system

Away from the car, the DriveStyle app can tell you how much fuel is in the car and how many miles are on the odometer, based on when it was last connected.

So if you truly can’t bear to be away from your iPhone for the length of a car journey, the A-Class has it covered.

Arguably the system is yet another distraction competing with the road ahead for drivers’ attention but with a significant proportion of drivers admitting to using a smartphone while driving it’s perhaps better that it’s controlled via the Comand system than furtively on a handset.

The Drive Kit Plus package is priced between £700 and £750 from Mercedes-Benz dealers with no annual subscription fee.

You can find out more about the system here.