This is technically a mid-cycle refresh of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but the company is billing it as a new generation, because it is so distinct from last year's model. I'm inclined to agree. Not only has the interior been spruced up, but the odd four rhomboid-shaped headlights and their surroundings have been replaced by a thouroughly modern, and infinitely more attractive front end that oozes class and eschews unfortunate strings of LED christmas lights. The rest of the body has been streamlined as well, making for a much sleeker car than the E-Class of yesteryear.
The engine choice has also expanded; buyers now have the option of a 302hp 3.5L V6, a 402hp 4.6L twin-turbo V8, and a 195hp 2.1L BlueTEC Diesel I4. The V6 does its job nicely, the V8 is smooth, powerful, and extremely enjoyable to drive, and the diesel isn't nearly enough engine for this much car, but it returns 37 mpg, even when in the hands of some lunatics called automotive journalists. The upgrade to the V8 is absolutely worth it, if there's money to spare, and the diesel is only for the most frugal of luxury car buyers.
When on a press junket, one always learns a few interesting things that the company hosting the event didn't necessarily intend for. For me, it was the fact that the median age of member of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America is 63. That means about half of the people in the club are older than that. Yeah, if someone were to make an old-timey map of automotive cultures it would say "here be pensioners" in gothic script right over the MBCA.
Of course, it makes sense. The 2014 E-Class, which is more or less the middle of the Mercedes-Benz line, starts at $51,900. It takes some time to get to the point where one has enough money sitting around to buy a car that, after ticking a few option boxes, will surely cost at least $60,000. This, however, clued me in on why this lovely car is the way it is.
This market segment is defined not just by luxury, but also by technology and sport. Of course, these things are often at odds with each other. Tech can take away from the ease of luxury and can dilute the sporty experience; sportiness can cause an otherwise luxurious ride to be harsh and is best experienced mechanically, and luxury dulls the sensations of sport and doesn't want to be bothered by gadgets. The way each luxury brand balances these things determines not only their success but also their character.
That other German brand that starts with a B and ends with a W made its mark by tipping the balance of its car in favor of the sportiness. But we're not talking about them today. We're talking about Mercedes-Benz, which certainly puts luxury in the top spot of this trinity. As much as you usually hear us calling for stiffer suspension and more speed, we think this is what makes this car so great.
If you want stiff suspension and you want speed to come first, buy an AMG. The E-Class never loses its composure. This isn't to say it isn't fun, or that it isn't loaded with tech (more on that later), it's just that, even when driving a V8 convertible quickly through a tighly twisting mountain pass in Oregon, there's never a moment where the car tries to scare the driver, or wildly kick the rear end out. It's dignified.
Of course, this is exactly what the buyers want. People buy E-Classes because they are luxurious and dignified, and people buy V6 and V8 E-Classes because they are luxurious, dignified, fun, and fast. It's not going to offend the senses of the person who is no longer willing to put up with the noise and discomfort of a pure-bred sports car, but it is still willing to play.
Being a Benz, there's more to this car than just the usual car stuff, there's also tons and tons of cutting-edge technology. The most noteworthy system, or set of systems, rather, is all of the new collision avoidance tech. If the driver selects the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package, the car is outfitted with short, medium, and long-range radar in the front, a forward-facing stereoscopic camera that creates a 3D image using parallax just like human eyes, a forward-facing infrared camera, an array of short-range ultrasonic sensors, rear-facing medium range radar, short-range radar on each rear corner, and a rear-facing camera. The villains in your favorite '60s spy movie only wish they had this much tech.
What this does is make it really, really difficult to crash the car. The cruise control keeps a set distance from the car in front while monitoring the two cars in front of you to predict accidents. If a dog or child or moose jump out in front, the car will brake to a stop all by itself, using as much space as possible to reduce the likelihood of a collision form the rear. If there's someone in our blindspot, an orange triangle on the side mirrors lights up, and if you try to merge into said person you get a warning beep and some braking on one side of the car to prevent an accident.
In the dark the infrared camera scans the road ahead for heat signatures from various creatures the driver might not be able to see. All in all, the car will stay in its lane with little assistance, keep traveling a sane speed with a sane following distance, and keep an eye on just about every other car in the area for you. Amazingly, none of this is annoying or intrusive unless you don't use your turn signals, in which case you should know that there's a special place reserved in hell.
I tried to convince the PR staff to let all of the journalists try to have a demolition derby in the cars, to really test out the system, but for some reason they shot that idea down.
All in all, it's a brilliant ride; the E-Class will pamper you (just the way you deserve), will make you look like a boss, won't bore you, and will even step in to bail you out when you drive like an idiot.
If you can afford it, only one question remains: Which bodystyle should I get? The coupe certainly gets the least love of them all by the press, but with its missing B-pillars, optional panoramic roof, and surprisingly spacious interior, we actually preferred it to the convertible, which feels cramped with the top up, and sacrifices a ton of trunk space. If you're wanting to be practical, there's the wagon which comes with the expected tons of cargo room, and the unexpected-but-cool rear-facing jumper seats all the way in the back, just like the ones you fought for when you were a kid. Unfortunately, I don't quite fit anymore. If you don't want the practicality of the wagon or the style of the coupe and convertible, there's always the sedan.
E550 Coupe in Lunar Blue with the Blue/Almond Nappa Leather interior (Dat piping!).
E350 Wagon in Dolomite Brown with Silk Beige/Espress Brown Leather and Satin Finish Ash wood veneer.
Bottom Line: The new E-Class really is totally different from the last one, and it's a dignified ride that won't make you feel old.