By design, steering wheels are as simple as they come. All you need is the rim, the spokes, and maybe a few buttons here and there. But Mercedes-Benz has taken it up a notch by bringing it to the digital age. They believe that physical buttons are just, well, so 2010s.

Gone are the old buttons that occupied the spokes of the steering wheel, and those have been replaced by touch panels. It was first seen in the facelifted E-Class, and it even comes in two designs. With that, it has also allowed Mercedes-Benz a little more freedom when it comes to designing steering wheels.

But why replace the buttons in the first place? According to Mercedes-Benz, it's not just for aesthetic reasons. The automaker says it reduces the mechanical operating surfaces, which means there's no need to put a whole lot of buttons on the wheel. In turn, it also allows greater flexibility if there's the need to add more features. With more and more people using smartphones, Mercedes-Benz reckons that adapting to it will be easy.

Mercedes-Benz brings steering wheels to digital age image

Because of that, touches are recorded and evaluated via capacitive sensor technology, which enables intuitive operation via swiping gestures and pressing of familiar symbols. These sensors also allow the steering wheel to recognize where the finger is at any given moment. To use, drivers may simply put their finger on the desired function, just like a button, and they may also swipe in multiple directions to go to other menus and screens. Because of that, the driver no longer has to constantly look at the vehicle's infotainment system to change settings.

With the heavily updated E-Class paving the way for this technology, we're expecting it to be used in future Mercedes-Benz models. There's the upcoming, fully redesigned S-Class, for instance, along with the all-new C-Class, and EV models, all of which are coming within the next five years. If it catches on, we might even see it in more affordable cars down the line and within the decade.