- Any body you want
- Fab cabin
- ...with lots of room
- All-wheel drive, even on coupe
- Hybrid or diesel, your choice
- Busy angularity works on coupe, less so on sedan
- COMAND's futzy interface
- Some button clutter on the console
- Base sedan wears vinyl upholstery
Better handling and interiors put the Mercedes-Benz E-Class back in benchmark status; a passel of new engines brings fuel economy to new heights.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class family of cars has long been a benchmark for luxury vehicles--whether we're talking about the sedan and wagon, or the short-wheelbase coupe and convertible spin-offs, or the torrid E63 AMG variants. It hasn't always been the athletic rival for BMW or Audi in the segment, but with this generation, the E-Class' road manners have grown more attentive to the driver's needs.
The E-Class is styled with unmistakable German presence, but in this case, the two-doors get more out of the bargain. The tough, angular details faired into otherwise conventional silhouettes are the direct opposite of the softly rounded, goggle-eyed look of the prior generation of E-Class. It's a flip-flop meant to restore some masculine appeal, and it probably does just that--but it leaves the sedans in particular with too many flourishes, cuts, and crests stamped into their sides. (It's ironed out almost entirely for the 2014 model year, if you find this version just too busy.) The E-Class' cabin fared better, especially after a recent refashioning, and the fine materials and trims we've come to associate with Mercedes are in full effect, as is the solidly constructed feel of most of the controls. It takes to expressive use of trim very well: the standard vinyl and wood can be upgraded to supple leather, aluminum or carbon-look trim, or furniture-grade wood.
A huge range in drivetrain offerings almost guarantees there's an E-Class for any point on the economy/performance curve. Three of the drivetrains are new in the past two model years. The basic E350 gasoline engine now has direct injection and makes 302 horsepower, while the 4.6-liter twin-turbo V-8 in the E550 throbs with 402 horsepower. At the top of the line, performance-oriented E63 AMG models get a 518-hp, 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 built by in-house tuner AMG. Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive is also optional on much of the Sedan range (standard on U.S.-market E550 models), and it's offered in Coupes for the first time. Any version accelerates to 60 mph in under 7 seconds--with the AMG versions throttling the pavement into submission into as few as 4.1 seconds.
Two green options confront conscientious buyers, too: we've only sampled the new E400 Hybrid by proxy in the S400 Hybrid, but we've rolled up hundreds of miles in the E350 BlueTEC diesel, testing its 600-mile-plus range. The choice between the two should factor mostly on whether you post more city or highway miles, respectively.
Regardless of the model or engine chosen, however, the E-Class range rewards the driver with adjustable suspension settings, a responsive seven-speed automatic, and improved, yet still comfortable, driving dynamics. The E63 AMG kicks the whole show up a notch, with 518 horsepower from its twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 (up to 550 hp with the optional performance package), and reworked AMG-tuned suspension.
Interior space was improved with the latest E-Class redesign, a couple of years ago, with better back-seat space than before. Wagon models have even more versatility, with fold-down seats, an open cargo space, and two temporary-duty, rear-facing third-row seats. Wagons also get a new power tailgate. Across the line, build quality is tight, materials selection is mostly excellent, and quietness is a strength.
The E Class family offers an impressive number of above-and-beyond active-safety features--many of them optional--to detect driver drowsiness, monitor blind spots, control high beams automatically, maintain a set following distance, and help keep you in your lane. And two of the body styles have earned Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS.
Sedans are offered in Luxury or Sport guise--a matter of appearance and taste, really. Luxury upgrades include voice-controlled navigation; Sirius and HD Radio; rearview camera; heated seats; numerous electronic safety assists; massaging seats; Bluetooth; an upgraded, 610-watt audio system; and much more.