- Handsome clean-sheet design
- Striking interior
- Slew of new safety features
- Cutting-edge autonomous-ish driving
- So far, only turbo fours
- Looks aren't exclusive to the E-Class
- Powertrain noise
With the 2017 E-Class, Mercedes-Benz is pushing the boundaries of its autonomous driving technology, and backing it up with S-Class style.
Mercedes-Benz has long laid claim to some of the most technologically advanced vehicles on the road. With the new E-Class, it says it's outdone itself: the new 2017 E-Class is even more flush with technology than its nearly new S-Class.
In its initial form, the E-Class will be sold as the Mercedes-Benz E300. That model earns an overall score of 7.8 on our refreshed ratings scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
New for the 2017 model year, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the German automaker's mid-size four-door sedan. While other body styles carry over on the previous architecture—for now—the sedan is has been completely revamped, with a larger body, a style shared with the S- and C-Class cars, and features that make it the most "intelligent" sedan from the brand, according to Mercedes.
It remains a benchmark among luxury cars, among mid-size cars, and among four-door sedans. It's more beautiful than it's been in a generation. It's more substantial. More efficient.
What has happened is radical enough. In this generation, Mercedes says it's outdone itself, by baking in more autonomous-driving, safety, and infotainment hardware in the new E-Class than it offers even in its sensuous, stalwart S-Class.
The E-Class now can drive almost entirely by itself at autobahn speeds, and can sense the road ahead at U.S. highway speeds when the road itself is in poor repair. We're a long, long way from mere cruise control here.
On that front, it's a magnitude ahead of rivals like the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, and Cadillac CTS. It's now locked in a headline war with the American-made Tesla Model S for the smartest car on the road.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class styling
The themes introduced on the latest S-Class and C-Class cars give the new E-Class sedan a balanced, classically handsome look. It's a long-hood, short-trunklid profile that lays out over a longer wheelbase, giving it a more relaxed look than the compact C-Class.
Status-seekers enjoy a big Benz grille in two flavors: Luxury models get the hood-mounted star; while Sport models wear the three-pointed logo inside the grille (and presumably, get LED illumination as an after-factory accessory). A deep shoulder line tapers slightly toward the rear wheels, where LED-ribbed taillights frame an abbreviated trunk lid.
The E-Class cabin adopts the effusive looks of the S-Class. The hallmark is a wide sweep of metallic trim from door to door, studded by circular air vents. The dash is capped in stitched leather and warmed by ambient lighting on some models, and dominated by twin display screens that replace the gauges and serve as output for the car's ancillary systems.
The navigation and infotainment display is a 12.3-inch high-resolution screen that caps a center stack that houses thin rows of climate-control switches and, in place of a shift lever, a touch-sensitive control puck for the COMAND infotainment interface.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class performance
For much of this first year on sale, the E-Class sedan will come with just a single drivetrain. It pairs a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 with 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque to a 9-speed automatic, with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive.
The turbo-4 has strong acceleration, with a 0-60 mph time pegged at 6.2 seconds, and a top speed set at 130 mph. It's a convincing 6-cylinder replacement, but it's gruff under hard acceleration, even more so that Benz's outgoing V-6 engines.
The E-Class also offers a choice in suspensions, between a steel multi-link setup with adaptive dampers (in base or sport tune) and an air suspension with adaptive dampers. Wheel and tire sizes range from 17 to 20 inches.
Any of the systems with adaptive controls--suspension, steering, transmission, and throttle--can be toggled through a set of drive modes, from comfort to economy, sport, and Sport+.
Depending on how it's configured, the E-Class' ride and handling run the gamut from old-school ease to twisty-road breeze. A sport-tune steel suspension has a mildly firm setup, but the air suspension and driving modes give the most elaborate E-Class breathtaking versatility. It can cruise with lots of suspension travel, slow and smooth shifts and light-touch steering in Comfort mode, or approach AMG levels of heft and stiffness when set in Sport+ mode.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class comfort, utility, and quality
The new E-Class has more high-strength steel in its body and more lighter-weight aluminum panels on its body, which helps it toe the line at about 4,000 pounds in all.
The new body pays dividends in cabin space: compared with the outgoing car, the new E-Class is 1.7 inches longer, at 193.8 inches long, and has a wheelbase 2.6 inches longer, at 115.7 inches long.
In practical terms, there's a bit more front-seat space—and a pair of multi-adjustable chairs with lots of lumbar and optional massaging. The rear seat didn't lack for space, but there's more of it, despite a roofline that could have given up an inch were it not for a repackaged, reshaped bench.
In front, the new E-Class has a new package of fittings for driver and passenger that warms the armrests and center console, as well as the steering wheel. The rear seats have a middle-section split that offers a storage armrest with its own cupholders, and can be fitted with a tablet holder.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class safety and autonomous driving
Undoubtedly, it's the safety and autonomous driving features baked into the new E-Class that will draw buyers even away from an S-Class. The claim of world's most advanced sedan? There's something to it, what with all the new technology that advances some of the E-Class' features.
Standard equipment includes the coffee-cup warnings of Attention Assist; a new Pre-Safe Sound that emits a distinct frequency if the car senses an imminent accident; forward-collision warnings with automatic braking; and a rearview camera.
It's the Driver Assistance suite of features that sets the new E-Class further down the path to autonomous driving. Adaptive cruise control can now follow, stop, and accelerate to follow a car ahead at speeds of up to 130 mph; the so-called Drive Pilot is claimed to do a better job of following the road ahead even when lanes aren't clearly market, at speeds of up to 81 mph. The E-Class will also change lanes for the driver once the turn signal has been activated for two seconds.
The automatic-braking and steering features of the E-Class have been expanded to operate at higher speeds, or even to apply the brakes if the driver doesn't recognize the approach of cross-traffic. And finally, the car will add torque to the steering system when it detects a driver making evasive maneuvers.
In our experience, the systems work well enough to consider them a net benefit. They demand the driver play an active role by gripping the wheel every 20 to 30 seconds, unlike similar systems. They're not flawless, not yet: in at least two instances, the system either couldn't detect a faded white stripe or couldn't detect anything at all, and stopped engaging its adaptive cruise control.
Other new functions spun off of this technology include the ability to park the car, and move it out of a parking space, solely through a smartphone app; hardware that emits and receives data about nearby vehicles and obstacles and could one day help to avoid accidents; and a trigger for the front seats to inflate a seat bolster, shoving the passenger almost 3 inches farther away from a potential point of impact.
Among its other technology and luxury features, the E-Class adopts a new infotainment look and feel, with high-resolution animation. The cabin's ambient lighting can vary between 64 colors, and the lighting can be turned on or off at certain features—at the speakers but not at the center console, for example.
Finally, the new E-Class comes with a choice of high-end Burmester sound systems, both of which use some structural members of the body as passive speakers. The more expensive sound system has 23 speakers and 3-D sound staging.
What is it, mostly? The E300 feels more like a closing statement in the case that Mercedes is making—that it deserves the tech mantle, more than the arrivistes.