New Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a mostly excellent and state-of-the-art drive
By Jim Bray
Mercedes-Benz' new E-Class is a bit of a revelation, not only about what a current mid-size luxury sedan can be, but also about where the market as a whole is going. And, like the E-Class, it should be an interesting ride.
I expected to like the E-Class, but after a week in Mercedes-Benz Canada's sample E 300 4MATIC (all-wheel drive) I came away wishing I didn't have to take it back.
As if that's never happened to me before…
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The new E-Class shows that Mercedes-Benz continues to be on a roll, both as far as styling and driver engagement are concerned. As the for tech stuff, well, you may find it a "love it or hate it" scenario. I certainly loved some of its toys and tools, and was amazed by some - but others would be real deal breakers, though fortunately, the ones I hated most (lane departure warning/assist) can be turned off.
As far as its new styling is concerned, however, this new E Class is a home run. It's handsome and classy, easily the best-looking E-Class I can remember. It's a beautiful, elegant and modern-looking car.
The new E 300 4MATIC is powered by Mercedes-Benz' two litre turbocharged four cylinder engine, the same one that was in the C Class Coupe I drove a couple of months ago. And it's a peach. While I'm more of a V6 kind of guy, I really can't complain about the power or torque of this engine - and its smaller displacement and fewer cylinders mean it could save you money at the gas pump, all other things (driving style, weather, traffic, etc.) being equal.
The engine puts out 241 horses and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, which may not seem like a lot these days - especially for a car of this size - but it works fine; I never had trouble keeping up with traffic and there's plenty of poop for passing, etc.
The engine is coupled to a terrific, nine speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; shifts are very smooth and quick and since the tranny is controlled via a little lever on the right side of the steering column, it clears up the centre console for other things. Unfortunately, one of those other things is a trackpad mounted atop the COMAND knob; I hate trackpads whether they're in cars or on computers, but Mercedes-Benz has been thoughtful enough that you can shut it off.
Alas, the German carmaker has also seen fit to add two little trackpads to the steering wheel, where most others use buttons or little thumb wheels. I can see the logic to it, but it's kind of finicky and requires you to put more attention into using it than I liked because it forces you to take your eyes off the road too much.
Using the car's Dynamic Select feature lets you configure the E for Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual modes, and depending on how you configure it the shifts, steering effort and other drive train components can tighten up the car's responses beautifully, making it (in the Sport modes) a quite captivating vehicle to drive, much nicer than you might expect from what's basically a luxury cruiser.
Heck, even the Comfort mode is pretty good. Eco, as it usually is (and this isn't particular a Mercedes thing) is like throwing out an anchor. It may save some gas - and the entire planet - but it sucks the fun out of the driving experience almost as much as a typical hybrid. But it's there if you want it.
As is the current trend in the marketplace, the E 300 comes not only with standard LED daytime running lamps and fibre-optic LED taillights, it also has LED headlights as standard equipment, and they work very well indeed. You can enhance them with Multibeam LED headlights with Adaptive high beam assist and active curve illumination that turn the lights to help light up your path on curves.
Inside, the E 300 4MATIC boasts a beautifully designed and laid out (mostly) cabin that's comfortable and efficient (mostly). The seats are marvellously comfortable (the sample had memory and power and the driver's seat had heating and cooling) and there's decent room in the back seat.
The car is amazingly configurable, right down to the interior ambient lighting that highlights the dashboard and doors. More practical is the big LCD that replaces a conventional instrument panel. You can configure it three ways - two of which are pretty conventional and one that gives you a big central tachometer with a digital speedometer inside - much like Porsche's configuration. That was my favourite because all the info you really need while you're driving (speed, rpm) is right in front of you and can be taken in at a quick glance.
Mercedes-Benz has seen fit to tweak its COMAND interface, which is how you interact with the car's audio and other systems, going from a "radio dial" look to one that uses icons arranged along the right side of the big, central LCD. It seems like a step backward to me - I liked the old system a lot - and though it'll probably be fine once you're used to it, it seems unnecessarily complex.
The review car also came with Mercedes' optional "Intelligent Drive" Package, which adds three grand to the basic list price of $61,200 CAD. It has some handy stuff, such as adaptive cruise control (which will even stop the car if the oaf ahead of you makes it necessary). There's also a Steering Pilot feature that, when you're in cruise control, helps keep you centred in the lane - even if you take your hands off the steering wheel. It sure feels weird to be driving along the highway like that, though - but it's also a look at what we can expect with automated cars in the not-too-distant future. You're prompted to put your hands on the wheel every minute or so, perhaps so the car's electronic brain is reassured that you haven't fallen asleep or jumped out.
The package also inflicts an awfully obtrusive Active Lane Keeping feature, a rear view camera, Blind Spot detection, cross-traffic assist and Pedestrian Recognition (so you know exactly who you've just run over?). The lane keeping feature jams on the brakes and fights you if you dare cross a line; I hated that, but you can turn it off.
I wish car companies would offer these features a la carte instead of forcing entire packages on you, but as usual no one consulted me (probably for good reason, eh?).
One other complaint I have is that the outside mirrors are mounted too high if you sit low in the car - which is exactly how I was taught to put the seat when I attended the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy a couple of months back. Sit like that and it's easy to hit any pedestrians that may be in the big blind spot the mirrors create.
Fortunately, thanks to Pedestrian Recognition, you'll know who to visit in the hospital…
To be fair, my wife likes sitting higher in the driver's seat (she listens to me as much as the car companies do!) and she didn't have this issue at all.
As also might be expected, the new E Class is stuffed to the gills with features. Here's just a quick list of a few that found their way onto the review sample:
…and lots, lots more. All for the as-tested (sans additional flesh) of $71,400 Canadian dollars. Not chicken feed by any means but competitive in a segment that includes such great competitors as the BMW 5 series, Audi A6, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, etc. Stiff competition, indeed.
Besides the reasonably intelligent drive package, the test car came with the $5100 premium package, $1,600 worth of designo Diamond White Metallic paint and the handsome $500 18 inch AMG 5-Spoke Wheels. The premium package includes the EASY-PACK Power Trunk Closer, Hands-free Access, 12.3 inch Instrument Cluster Display, Silver Shift Paddles, Heated Steering Wheel, Parking Assist with Parking Pilot, KEYLESS-GO Package, Panoramic Sunroof, Burmester Surround Sound, Rear View Camera.
The perpendicular parking feature worked the best of any I've tried (it's only the third, though). First, it steers you in forwards instead of backing you in like the others did. I prefer that because, well, I didn't trust the car to do it, and I preferred to have the better view out front than using the rear view camera and hoping for the best. It's also the way I park usually anyway, which makes it a better test.
And be darned if it didn't do it, and more easily than the ones from Ford and Range Rover. It parked a tad short and a smidgen off centre but all things considered it was very impressive.
Just like the rest of the car.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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