The top-rung Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long been the testbed for the latest technology from the automaker; lately, semi-autonomous tech and all. Now Mercedes is trying something different—putting an array of new tech on the new midsize 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which will trickle up instead of down. But when it’s not trying to drive itself, the E300 is so aggressive you’ll have to double check that there are only four cylinders under the hood.
What do I mean new technology? The car makes crashes easier on your ears in the event of a crash. It warns other new E-Classes of wrecks and hazards on the road. The dashboard is mostly... screen. The steering wheel has tablet-like control. And that’s just to start.
(Full disclosure: Mercedes-Benz needed me to drive the new E-Class so badly that they flew me to California and back, though the flight home was a less-than-stellar time. They did put me up in a nice hotel where I had tasty red meat and strawberries from heaven. There were cocktails, but my responsible, underage self turned them down.)
The only version of the car I had available was the all-wheel-drive E300, which puts down 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine.
The car starts at $51,250, which is just under $1,000 cheaper than the old E-Class. Optional equipment—and boy, there is a lot of it—hasn’t been priced yet, so that marker can climb pretty quickly if you want all of the gadgets.
Even in an era of endless SUV proliferation, the E-Class is still one of Mercedes’ top-selling vehicles. That’s doubly true here, since the new generation of the E-Class introduces a set of technologies that’ll eventually be put on the rest of the manufacturer’s lineup. Some of those technologies were great, others—mainly, the semi-autonomous “assistance” ones—weren’t as consistent as expected.
But hey, there’s always room for improvement. Let’s talk about it.
On the outside, well, it looks like a Mercedes sedan. At one point on the drive, there was a C-Class driving behind our vehicle and we couldn’t tell whether it was a member of out E-Class fleet. That’s not to say the car is bad looking from the outside—it’s just another Mercedes sedan. It’s classy, it’s clean and it has nice lines, but it’s not shouty.
The design of the first-generation Mercedes CLS inspires the line stretching toward the back of the vehicle, and the car’s taillights will vary in intensity throughout the day to avoid blinding the person behind you when you hit the brakes.
While the car doesn’t look necessarily huge, it is a big vehicle. The car itself is two inches longer than the outgoing E-Class, and the wheelbase is three inches wider. Its size is kind of shocking when you first get behind the wheel, but the Mercedes folks told us that the car weighs a full 154 pounds less than the last model.
We’re fully in the era where cars can get bigger, but also have to get lighter.
The sport models, like this one, will have a flat Mercedes logo on the hood and the grille, while the luxury-line versions will forgo the grille emblem and have the classic standing star on the hood.
As for colors, the “Selenite Grey Magno” at the top of this post is perhaps the best looking. It’s a matte finish and it looks just plain sleek.
Though the outside isn’t necessarily a standout in the Mercedes lineup, the interior of the new E-Class is where the magic really happens.
The ambient purple lighting in the photo above is one of 64 colors that come standard with the car, and there’s a menu option that takes you to a little color bar to choose which one you want to light the cabin with. Other than looking cool, the main function is to adjust the dilation of your eyes at night so you’re better able to handle the light from oncoming traffic.
The problem is, that purple color above is the only one that is really noticeable in the daytime. So, if you’re looking to impress passengers with lime-green interior lighting, tough luck—you can’t really see it.
You’ll impress the heck out of people at night, though.
This car is all about the technology. That’s not an exaggeration. The new E-Class will usher in a whole new wave of tech for the manufacturer, and it will eventually be passed onto the rest of the Mercedes lineup.
That technology comes both inside of the vehicle and in its safety features, so let’s talk about the more flashy gadgetry in the interior first.
On the higher-end models, the dashboard has two 12.3-inch screens that work as the Mercedes’ updated COMAND infotainment system. The center screen shows navigation, radio, etc. while the one on the left has the option to show the speedometer and tachometer gauges. The car has three display options for the screens—Classic, Sport and Progressive—and the first two feature gauges.
Progressive will, instead, allow you to choose what’s on the screen and show things like how well you’re doing on fuel mileage, distance to cars in front of you, your speed and the limit, and information on the car’s semi-autonomous features when they’re turned on.
If you’re going with the double tablet screen, this is the best option—the fake speedometer and tachometer in the Classic and Sport modes just don’t feel right.
The steering wheel has touch-control buttons on both the left and right sides, and that’s new to the E-Class. The motions are meant to mimic smartphone swipes, but it can be a bit weird at first if you’re used to having buttons on the wheel.
It’s pretty simple when you think about it, though—the driver simply swipes up, down, left and right to see different menu options. Swipes with the left hand control displays for service, assistance, trip details and navigation. Right swipes control things like the radio, media and phone. Touch controls will be on future Mercedes models as well, so this isn’t something that’s going away soon.
On the topic of displays, the backup camera on the car is amazingly crisp. It has a view straight from the cameras on the car, and it also has an aerial view that makes a tight parking spot look a whole lot more friendly. The seats will give you a massage while you back up, too, if you want—or anytime.
One of the things the E300 didn’t have at the time of the drive is the ability to communicate with other E-Class cars through the Car-to-X system, which the Mercedes reps said should come about month after its launch this summer. So, if there’s construction ahead—which is unfortunate on any road, but incredibly unfortunate when attempting to hoon on the winding Californian hills—one E-Class can warn all of the others about it.
The same goes for icy conditions or anything else. The system can be updated over the air, so no worries about it going out of date. Connected cars are coming, people. Right now, we have a new E-Class that can only talk to other new E-Classes, but that’s just the start.
If you end up crashing this car, Mercedes put a few things in place to make it easier on you with “Pre-Safe” systems. When expecting a collision, the car will let out a sound that will kick in the stapedius muscle—don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either—and make the sounds of the crash less damaging to the ear.
The seat bolsters and air bladders will also push the front passengers three inches closer to the center of the car before the impact, and put the body in motion to lessen the effects of the wreck.
A lot of the technology that will be integrated into new Mercedes cars comes in on the driving side of it, though, so let’s talk about that now.
We Let The Damn Thing Drive Us, Kind Of
I drove it, and it sometimes drove for me—but not as smoothly as would be expected in an era that promotes autonomy as right around the corner.
The car has more semi-autonomous capabilities than have ever been on the Mercedes lineup, with pilot systems for braking, accelerating, steering, cruise-control speed adjustments, lane changing, stopping and parking.
But don’t pick your book up, because the car can’t do everything. If the driver isn’t paying attention, there are some things it’ll miss—things that could end in a fender bender.
With the Mercedes DISTRONIC system and steering pilot, the car does a great job in straight-line traffic. It’ll accelerate and brake all on its own, and adjust the wheel in order to keep in its lane. But watch out if someone wants to merge.
Each time I had a slow, merging car approach the E300, the car didn’t see it—at that point, the driver had to take control and accommodate for another car entering the lane.
The lack of sensory for merging cars was a problem throughout the camp, and myself and the other journalists were told that “it’s still an assistance system and you’re still in charge” as the driver. When another car merges, the driver needs to be in control.
When using cruise control, turning on the new speed-limit pilot will adjust the car’s speed to the posted limit. The problem, as with many navigation systems, is that the “posted speed” isn’t always correct. There were a couple of instances in which the car thought the limit was around 5 mph over or under actual one.
There are assists for lane changing and braking, and the car will bring itself back into the lines if it strays too far out of its lane. But, as with the other semi-autonomous systems, the reroute back into the lane didn’t kick in every time—even when putting the wheels glaringly far outside of the lines.
The parking pilot on the car didn’t pick up spaces 100 percent of the time when used, perhaps because the spaces were too small for an autonomous maneuver. (That’s just a guess. I didn’t get a real answer on why it didn’t at least “see” the spaces.) When it does sense spaces, it can park both perpendicularly and in lots.
There are evasive-steering assists, which will add steering torque automatically when the car senses you’re trying to avoid something. Don’t worry about them kicking in if you take a wild turn, though—the car needs input of an obstacle in order to help you out.
As an added safety feature, the car is supposed to slow down and put on hazards if a driver hasn’t tapped the wheel after 30 seconds to a minute. After several tries, I couldn’t get this feature to enact for myself. It’s a good thing I wasn’t depending on it.
We Actually Drove The Damn Thing
But enough about autonomy. As for how the car actually drove, it was fantastic.
The E-Class has four driving modes—Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, which is the only one you can set yourself. The different modes change the suspension noticeably, and Sport Plus is pavement-eating aggressive. Sport is aggressive enough, but not overly anxious on the street.
With the nine-speed transmission, it was hard to believe this car only had four cylinders. The acceleration was unbelievably smooth, and the handling was a blast on the crazy roads that run through the California mountains. In traffic, the start-stop system to save fuel got pretty annoying. I turned it off.
Other than the handling of Sport mode, one of the reasons why the car was so fun to drive in the mountains was its growl at the press of the gas—a strong one for such a little engine. Turns out, that growl isn’t really the engine on the car. It’s an E-Class engine, but it’s a pre-recorded one that comes through the speakers upon acceleration.
You might groan at this, but Mercedes has their reasons—the noise-dampening systems on luxury cars. Some cars pipe the sound from the engine compartment in through tubes in the floorboard. Others, well, fake it. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the drive since being able to hear the engine makes it more fun, but it is sort of sad to realize that it’s some other E-Class making that noise.
Overall, the new Mercedes-Benz E300 is a great car. It’s not a vanilla sedan, and it sure can tackle some wild roads in its different driving modes. It’s also a good reminder that the industry isn’t there yet when it comes to full autonomy, but even an “assist” system makes heavy traffic easier to handle.
While the full pricing isn’t available yet, a base model of the car is certainly worth its base $51,250 price. And all of the wonderful gizmos I tried on this review—price “$TBD”—will likely raise that price significantly.
If you have a bit extra money to spend and are willing to wait around for the other Mercedes cars and their AMG versions to get this same technology—and perhaps more, depending on how high they fall in the lineup—no one will fault you for that either.
The systems on this E-Class are going to be pretty commonplace at Mercedes soon, and with similar versions on other vehicles too. For now, consider this your glimpse into the immediate future of cars.