If there is any car that could be classified as Mercedes-Benz’ most important reveal in the year 2016, it is without a doubt the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The executive business saloon, an all-time favorite amongst taxi companies, effectively closes the gap between the C-Class and S-Class. The car’s importance is highlighted through its impressive 13 million units sold throughout history, as well as the fact that the E-Class isn’t uncommon to serve as a true pioneer when it comes to introducing some of Mercedes-Benz’ major innovations and new technologies to the world.
A browsing session through the Mercedes-Benz E-Class history book shows us that ABS technology was first introduced on the E-Class back in the 1970’s. So was Mercedes-Benz’ BlueTEC technology for passenger cars back in 2006 and let’s not forget the very capable 9G-TRONIC transmission that was first introduced on the 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
We have now arrived at the 10th generation of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, an E-Class that once again marks the world premiere of a variety of technological advances and innovations. After having been up-close and personal with the executive saloon back in December 2015 during an exclusive interior design preview, it is now time to put all its technology to the test and see how it drives. I exchanged the grey and cold winter weather for the likes of a sunny and warm climate that is home to Portugal.
Engine, Chassis and Performance
Let’s start out with what we find under the hood powering the new generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. At launch, both the four-cylinder E 200 and the renewed four-cylinder E 220 d are available with further model variants to be launched later this year. Joining the diesel range in a later stage are the 3.0-liter V6 E 350 d and a new base model with 150 hp, probably badged E 200 d. The petrol range will be joined by the four-cylinder E 300 (180 kW / 245 hp), E 350 e (210 kW / 286 hp), E 400 4MATIC (245 kW / 333 hp) and of course the AMG performance models.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the E 400 4MATIC variant for now, currently the most potent E-Class in the lineup and the car that I mostly drove during the event in Portugal. It packs Mercedes-Benz’ well known 3.0-liter V6 petrol engine that produces 333 hp and 480 Nm of torque. That’s good for a 0-100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
People familiar with this particular engine will probably know it from the C450 AMG, the car where it made a name for itself arguably outperforming its bigger V8 sibling in certain situations. Despite the difference in power and cylinders, the lighter V6 often showed to improve the car’s handling capabilities in comparison to the brutal RWD V8.
Its sound might just be the best six-cylinder you’ll ever hear, with the tailpipes constantly spitting crackles and giving the car that extra sporty feel. What amazed me were the loud bangs from the exhaust that kicked in when letting go of the throttle between 3,000 and 4,000 RPM, where you’d have to push the C450 AMG well beyond 4,500 RPM to experience the same effect.
Paired with the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, the E 400 4MATIC is fit to be driven both efficiently and dynamically. In Sport + mode the competent 9-speed gearbox enables fast gear changes at high revs, while in Eco mode the transmission allows for low revs benefiting the car’s fuel economy. The 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission comes standard with every 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Comfort is key in this segment and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has had that nailed since the very beginning. The executive saloon comes with a steel suspension as standard, with three selective damping configurations available as options. The standard suspension setup includes a four-link front axle suspension with coil springs, gas-pressure shock absorbers and a stabilizer. At the rear axle there is a five-link multi-link suspension sharing the same features.
To the selective damping options belong the AGILITY CONTROL suspension with comfort tuning, AGILITY CONTROL suspension that is lowered by 15 millimeters (This comes with the Avantgarde exterior spec) and DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL sports suspension with adaptive damping. As an alternative customers are offered the AIR BODY CONTROL multi-chamber air suspension, a suspension setup that is reserved for just the E-Class in the executive saloon segment.
The multi-chamber air suspension features three different sized chambers in the spring struts of the rear axle and two chambers in the spring struts of the front axle, determining the stiffness of the suspension depending on the driving situation. This translates to soft and basic suspension at lower speeds and relaxed driving, and stiffer suspension increasing handling stability when driving dynamically or at higher speeds.
Controlling the ride height depending on speed, another advantage that comes with this suspension setup is the save of fuel. On the motorway the ride height will be automatically lowered, although a simple push of a button can increase ride height at any given moment. Similar to many other Mercedes-Benz models, DYNAMIC SELECT let’s drivers customize the suspension setup in “Individual” mode. Having tried a variety of driving modes using the DYNAMIC SELECT switch, driving comfort always remains right at the heart. Even with Sport + mode engaged, the hardened suspension does not detract from all-around driving comfort.
Design and Interior
From a visual standpoint the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is unmistakably a true Benz. The design language hints at an evolution rather than a revolution, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The sharp lines that run from the front to the rear of the saloon make the car appear less bulky than its predecessor. Contributing to the latter is the car’s overall length that is increased by 43 millimeters, while the wheelbase length has grown by 65 millimeters. This results in more space for the rear seat passengers, but takes away 10 liters of luggage space in the boot.
The front is where the new E-Class truly maintained its character. The double eyebrow LEDs that characterized the previous generation E-Class remain in place and are complimented by Multi-beam LED technology. Depending on the selected exterior package, the car features its traditional star on top of the hood as standard and with the “Exclusive” package. The “Avantgarde” and “AMG line” packages carry the larger star in the front-grille, giving the car a slightly more aggressive look.
At the rear is where the E-Class’ design moved closer to its siblings, the C and S-Class. The taillights received the same design treatment and therefore it will be tough to differentiate the rear end of the E-Class from the aforementioned saloons. At night it will be easier to distinguish it from its siblings, the ones that pay close attention will see the “stardust” LED taillights have a different and fresher look to them.
The interior is where a real revolution took place. I reviewed the interior quite extensively late last year, be sure to check it out for more detail. Highlights of the new interior include a heavily redesigned instrument panel, dashboard, sound system, seats and all-around styling. The interior received so many upgrades and extra features, that you just want to take a seat for thirty minutes or so and check out the space you find yourself in.
Open the door and your eyes are immediately drawn to the large glass panel that covers two 12.3-inch screens that make up the car’s instrument panel and infotainment display. It’s optional, but if there’s one option box that I would check on the list it has to be this one. Customers that aren’t ready for this degree of digitization can stick with the standard instrument panel, saving €2200 in the process. The high-res screens are fully configurable in the car’s extensive menu, letting you determine the positioning and style of certain information.
Following the line along the dashboard, there is the optional implementation of high-end materials such as yachting wood, veneer and a variety of leather stitching. The mid-console features the well-known menu control button with implemented handwriting function. Moving slightly up to the center dashboard we find the four vents that were previously just reserved for the S-Class. Taking a look around the car’s high-end interior it seems like its not just the car’s rear end that moved closer to the likes of the S-Class.
If selected, the seat configuration buttons in the door are joined by the distinctive Burmester speakers. The 23-speaker 3D Burmester surround sound system is something special and first introduced on the 2017 E-Class. I quote a Burmester sound expert that was on-site during the exclusive interior design preview I attended last year: “The new Burmester 3D sound system is superior to that of both the current S-Class and Maybach models”. To go with the updated sound system is the 64-color ambient lighting scheme that accentuates all vital interior design lines, from the doors along the dashboard to the mid-console.
Among the highlights are also the finger touch-pads on the steering wheel, letting the driver browse through the menu and settings without having to take hands off the wheel and keeping eyes focused on the road ahead. Let’s not forget the seats, which are sculptured to comfort both driver and passengers for both long journeys and the occasional dynamic driving. Customers can choose between four different types of seats that optionally contain active side bolsters, seat air-conditioning and a three piece backrest.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has set the benchmark in the executive saloon segment in terms of interior quality and comfort for many years, but I think the Mercedes interior design team have really outdone themselves this time. It’s innovative, tasteful and elegant but at the same time not overdone, they really managed to perpetuate the car’s established interior design standard. I would therefore be very much surprised if any of the car’s competitors would come even close to matching the interior of the new E-Class.
Tech and Autonomous Driving
It only seems appropriate to devote a separate part of the review to the car’s technology, innovation and safety systems. “Next generation intelligent drive” is the phrase that the E-Class is marketed with, so let’s have a detailed look at the car’s autonomous driving features. To enhance safety, the E-Class is fitted with the latest autonomous braking technology as standard. It is able to warn the driver of impending collisions, provide interior support whilst engaging the emergency brakes and brake autonomously if needed.
Having seen this put to practice makes for an interesting experience. An instructor demonstrated the safety features on the Estoril track in Portugal, driving 90 km/h when a robotized car appeared out of nowhere, forcing the car to autonomously brake to a standstill without lifting his foot off the gas pedal. At the same time the active side bolsters squeeze your body together while the active seat belts restrain you even further, keeping passengers and driver in place in case of an accident.
Besides autonomously braking, the E-Class can also calculate based upon the other car’s speed whether the brakes should be engaged. This too, makes for interesting situations, where sometimes the car would brake minimally or not brake at all to avoid collision at both the front and rear-end of the car. Additional assistance systems that come standard are the “attention assist” with adjustable sensitivity, which will warn the driver in case of inattention or passivity. The third standard assistance system is the “Crosswind Assist”, which effectively reduces the impact of strong crosswinds and prevents the car from going off track.
By far the most exciting autonomous driving features are optional with the Driving Assistance package, making the E-Class the most intelligent saloon in its class. Drive pilot is the center of attention and a first on a Mercedes-Benz model. The system incorporates Mercedes’ DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive control as well as a steering pilot, making relaxed motorway driving easier than ever before.
What’s more is a speed limit pilot sub function that comes with the COMAND online package, actively recognizing speed limits and adjusting the drive pilot accordingly. Mix in the auto lane change feature, and the car could in theory operate without a driver if it weren’t for the frequent moments the driver needs to touch the steering wheel to let the car know that a human was present.
Another new feature is the remote parking pilot, enabling customers to summon the vehicle in and out of a parking spot or garage using a smartphone application. New steps have also been made in the process of Car-to-X communication, a network Mercedes-Benz first setup back in 2013. It comprises of mobile phone-supported exchange of information with other vehicles that are further up the road. Effectively the system will warn drivers to see around corners or through obstacles in advance, for example if a car just around a bend is broken down and poses imminent danger.
In addition to the driving assistance package, a driving assistance package PLUS is offered that includes pre-safe impulse side, a system that moves the driver or front passenger away from the danger zone when a lateral collision is imminent. This goes together with pre-safe sound, a system that is able to trigger a humans natural reflex using a signal and thus prepare the occupants’ ears for the expected sound of a collision. Last item on the tech list is the digital vehicle key, technology that allows drivers to unlock their car using a smartphone.
The setting of this event was the beautiful and sunny coastline of Portugal. The roads are quiet, of decent quality and allow for a fair share of dynamic driving. After my arrival in Lisbon and a short shuttle ride to the heart of Lisbon, a white Mercedes-Benz E 220 d was waiting for me. With the navigation set to the racing circuit of Estoril, West of Lisbon, a relaxed highway drive provided me with plenty of opportunity to test out the car’s autonomous drive pilot, one of the many features I was eager to put to the test.
Drive pilot is engaged by pulling the cruise control handle towards you twice, which is familiar to me having driven and tested the Tesla Model S with autopilot quite a few times. With engaging drive pilot, both DISTRONIC plus and steering pilot are employed and you can let go of the wheel. Going into the first bend the steering pilot did its thing and I quickly felt at ease letting the car drive on its own.
The next step was trying out the auto lane change feature. The many sensors and cameras have a full view of the car and its surroundings, making sure to check whether changing lanes is safely possible. Auto lane change is engaged when pulling down the indicator handle for over two seconds and it works fantastically. In the end I also got to experience the speed limit pilot at work, doing a fine job toggling between 120 and 100 km/h according to the signs along the motorway.
After my arrival at Circuito do Estoril and a quick briefing, I took the E 350 e plug-in hybrid for a spin. Mercedes-Benz laid out a specific “hybrid route” that took me along the coastline and some countryside hills. After having driven the 194 hp / 400 Nm E 220 d, it was time to experience the E-Class with a bit more power, gradually moving towards the current top-of-the-range E 400 4MATIC. With 30 kilometers of all-electric range thanks to its 88 hp electric motor, it is theoretically the most efficient model E-Class with an average fuel consumption of 2.1 liter / 100 kilometers. Combined the E 350 e produces 286 hp (210 kW) and 550 Nm of torque.
The white E 350 e was equipped with the smartphone digital key and a saddle-brown interior. I swiftly made my way towards the coast and put the hybrid to work. It’s quieter than the E 220 d, even when the combustion engine had to kick in when driving up the hills. Its silence, comfort and efficiency make it a fine cruiser for every environment. Even when I engaged sport + in the dynamic select menu, somewhat defeating the purpose of driving a hybrid, the car showed its teeth and had no issues being driven dynamically. The 550 Nm of torque, which is just 70 Nm short of what the powerful E 350 d has to offer, pulled the executive hybrid effortlessly through the twisty roads that are home to the Portuguese countryside.
Being fairly impressed by the driving characteristics of the E 350 e and having enjoyed a relaxed and scenic cruise, I was pleased with the news that an E 400 4MATIC became available to me upon return at the Estoril circuit. I was handed the keys to a “Selenite Grey” Mercedes-Benz E 400, which I had the opportunity to play around with for the remainder of the day. The Selenite Grey paint had a matte glance over it giving it a bespoke look and the mix of a dark brown leather interior with accents of grey in the dashboard suited the car’s exterior exceptionally well.
First order of business behind the wheel of the powerful E 400 was switching dynamic select into sport + and give the throttle a good stab. I immediately noticed how this car is in a completely different league when it comes to dynamic driving, the 3.0-liter V6 gives that extra dose of performance accompanied by the occasional bangs and crackles leaving the car’s substantial exhaust tips. The suspension noticeably stiffens up and there is plenty of feedback when steering the E 400 into tight bends at higher speeds. The E 400 shows a slightly different character to that of the more modest E-Class variants and with the confidence of the AWD 4MATIC drivetrain, it even allows for pushing the rapid saloon outside its comfort zone albeit at the risk of minor oversteer.
As the sun started to make way for the moon and the sky turned orange, I was offered to take a certain night route back to Lisbon with the aim of experiencing the E 400’s multi-beam LED headlights technology. I obviously didn’t mind some extra time behind the wheel of this feisty E-Class and took it for another spin before calling it a day. The multi-beam headlights do provide drivers with excellent vision indeed, it is an interesting spectacle watching the light beams move across the road ahead trying to work out what spaces to illuminate.
On the final day I was once again given the keys to a selenite grey E 400 4MATIC, left with the choice of taking it for a few laps onto Circuito do Estoril or go for a three-hour scenic drive South of Lisbon. I went with the second option, thinking the likes of a race track are better reserved for the upcoming E63 and E43 AMG’s. The three-hour trip gave me plenty of opportunity to try out different things and took us by some of the most photogenic locations along the way.
What to spec and competition
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is priced from €45,303.30 (E 200) and included are a bunch of features as standard. With that being said, the base price of the E 200 is just slightly higher than that of its predecessor. The difference is however minimal, as per example of the E 220 d (€47,124.00) which is just short of €200 more than the previous generation E 220 d, a bargain given the technological advances on the new E-Class. When it comes to choosing options for the new E-Class, you could go as far as to spec the car until its price comes in range of six figures and still have boxes unchecked on the extensive options list.
As far as essentials go, I definitely recommend the digital cockpit that goes for about €2,200. Additionally, what is a car with all these innovations and capabilities if you don’t make use of it? The driving assistance package is all you need to make your E-Class the most intelligent executive saloon currently on the market. You might also consider the Command online package, which connects your E-Class to the web and improves functionality of driving assistance systems such as the drive pilot.
If you have some extra cash laying around and you feel like turning your car into a second living room, I would suggest opting for one of the premium interior packages giving the E-Class a luxurious leather trim combined with both heated and air-conditioned designo seats. While you’re at it, you might as well go for the Burmester 3D surround sound speaker system and chip in a few extra bucks for the multi-chamber air suspension making the E-Class as comfortable as it can be.
Competition in this segment has always been quite fierce between the big three, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series and Audi A6. Both main competitors are still in the development stage of their new generations so it’s tough to say what they’ll ultimately come up with. I would however be surprised if BMW or Audi could match the E-Class’ comfort and autonomous driving standards.
We should also take into account Jaguar that launched their new generation XF last year, that is priced substantially lower than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. There are furthermore the Asian brands that take a chunk of market share, think of Lexus, Acura and the recently launched brand Genesis.
Last but not least is the Tesla Model S, that despite having an all-electric drivetrain matches the description of an executive saloon. It compares exceptionally well with the new E-Class in the field of autonomous driving, although there are a few advantages the E-Class has over the Model S. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class enjoys the groundwork of a car-to-x communication network, more innovative safety features, a drive pilot that adjusts speed according to speed limit signs and you don’t have to stop to charge every other 300 kilometers. The E-Class is also fitted with heated sensors, giving the E-Class more autonomous driving capabilities than any other car during winter conditions.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is said to be the most intelligent executive saloon once it hits the market in April 2016. Having put the car’s abundance of technological features to the test, I feel there is no reason to doubt that statement in any way. Having set the benchmark in the executive saloon segment for years when it comes to both comfort and interior styling, Mercedes-Benz have managed to raise the bar even higher this time.
All the innovations and devotion to driving comfort make the new E-Class an elegant cruiser, while also offering the instant performance when needed, that is what captures the essence of this executive saloon in a nutshell. Overwhelmed by the interior styling, superb driving comfort and even joyful character when pushed hard, this might just be the best saloon I have driven during my time with GTspirit so far.