Call it three years ago: your writer stepped into the new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and the all-new interior of the big-dollar flagship spread widely around me – indicating a shift into next-generation territory more strongly than virtually any other element of the car.
If you’ve got a good supply of luxury-sedan dollars burning a hole through your pocket, the new E-Class is batting its eyelashes at you.
It was a glossy blend of tech and luxury and high-end materials, set off by gleaming displays and consoles, brought to life with a palette of contrasting materials and textures. Prominent, round climate-control vents and stylized aluminum speaker covers created a playfully elegant atmosphere, and one that flaunted more sculpting and shapes and color than the comparable Audi or BMW or Lexus. The cabin, at the time, was one of the most striking I’d ever seen, and it stacks up in top-three territory today.
The entry price to this sort of rolling luxury-lounge interior has just been slashed, courtesy of the new-for-2017 Mercedes E-Class. If you’ve got a good supply of luxury-sedan dollars burning a hole through your pocket, the new E-Class is batting its eyelashes at you.
Just launched in its latest generation, and not unlike the few-year-old S-Class, the new E-Class cabin is the ultimate expression of this car’s quest for recognition as a rolling achievement accessory. It’s just like a baby S-Class – same contours, same trimmings, same interfaces, same massive ultra-wide screen comprising the instrument cluster and centre display, and same attention to detail that rewards even lengthy inspection with the eyes and fingertips.
As evidenced in recent test drives of the Volvo S90 and Audi A4, luxury sedan cabins of all makes are stepping up their appeal and engaged in a battle to raise the bar, with particular focus on the “Biggest Display Screen” award. The E-Class is another example of the trend. Put one way: here’s a $70,000 (as tested) luxury car with a $100,000 cabin.
Compared to the simpler and more understated cabin in the Volvo S90, the E300 is busy with controls and consoles and knobs – many finished in textured chrome – all scattered throughout. It’s a more high-tech aesthetic, and will connect readily with the driver who wants to feel like they’re piloting a sci-fi spacecraft.
Mercedes’ eggs aren’t all in the on-board styling basket either. The E300’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine deals in solid, potent forward thrust that’s often noiseless enough to call electric motoring to mind. The nine-speed automatic pegs highway revs just above idle, while the car self-steers to keep centered within its lane, auto-adjusts its position in traffic to maintain a safe distance, and even changes lanes on its own – at the tap of the signal lever – after using radar to check its flanks.
Add in the mandatory smattering of camera- and radar-based advisory systems, and an eardrum-liquefying stereo system (which, ironically, in case of a collision, plays a “pink noise” signal designed to protect your hearing), and you’ve got a car that, not long ago, would have commanded a much higher price tag.
How’s she drive?
A sense of calm grabs you first. In “Comfort” mode, the steering is one-finger light, the engine and transmission collaborate to keep revs minimal, and the E300 glides through city traffic on a slab of low-rpm torque, barely making a peep.
Here’s a car so well tuned to be driven gently, it soothed your writer’s typically heavy foot. Wind and road noise present as little more than a distant roar at around-town speeds, with the suspension enabling a creamy and dense ride, while cracked pavement causes little more than a distant pitter-patter from the tires beneath.
The E300’s effective encouragement to drive gently helps effect maximum effectiveness from its fuel-saving systems, too. These include AutoStop, which works in near silence, and with near-total stealth, as it toggles the engine between idle and off.
On the highway at a good clip, the E300 feels dense, solid and locked on. Wind and road noise levels are about average for the segment; the Volvo S90 is a shade quieter and more serene, and more responsive in terms of transmission and throttle tuning. The Benz’s turbo four-cylinder engine’s low-end torque oozes it past slower traffic or up hills, sans upshift, and in virtual silence. In fact, the engine is all but inaudible until opened up, where the sound is smooth, if not overtly exciting.
And it feels like it weighs ten tons cruising along – solid, thick and heavy – though much of the weightiness fades when it’s asked to stop or accelerate. Further, the body undulates gently and gracefully over the wheels, even over hefty dips and bumps at speed.
The fancy technology works beautifully too. The adaptive cruise control never misses a beat, never startles, and demonstrates a good grasp of the world around it, even far ahead, where it picks up on goings-on far in the forward driving environment early, and makes adjustments to vehicle speed and positioning with calculated smoothness. Subtle steering corrections help magnetize the car to the center of its lane, and should you decide not to steer, the E300’s wheel lines itself up eerily with curves in the lane markings for you.
Should a brisk browse of a favourite backroad be desired, however, the E300 feels out of its element. It’s grippy, but not as planted or agile or pleased about being thrown around as some competitors. As a sports sedan fan – the E-Class isn’t a sports sedan – the soft shocks make things more roly-poly than I like, and the steering transmits minimal feel, if any at all, about the situation between the tires and the tarmac. It’s comfort first, sportiness second, after all. This is not a car built for having the bejesus driven out of it, or for performance nincompoopery and monkey business.
Funny though, the E300’s torque vectoring can be felt when the car is pushed hard, as it squirms, shifts and slides beneath you. This is entertaining in its own special way.
Ditto the engine, which often pulls harder than its 241 horsepower rating lets on. There’s a span between about 2,500 and 4,500 revs where full throttle application really plows you into your seat, though again, it’s most impressive when driven gently and at low revs. Brakes are sports-car precise, and pull the E300 down from speed in a jiff when required.
A note: the E300’s transmission doesn’t do ultra-fast gearshifts, but the tachometer pretends that it does. Click the paddle, and the digital tachometer needle sheds a thousand revs with a blink, though you can hear and feel the shift taking considerably longer.
I noted no issues with space at any seat, and no issues with entry or exit. Rear seats are firm but comfortable, deeply set within the cabin, and offer more than ample legroom for your 5'10" writer. I had about three inches of empty space above my noggin in the rear seat too, even with the panoramic sunroof fitted. Front seats are highly adjustable, soft and forgiving – nicely suited to lengthy cruising. The trunk coaxed a consistent “holy geez” from anyone who saw it, since it’s wide, deep and lengthy, and accessed via a generous aperture.
Other notes? Headlight performance is adequate, but not among the most impressive I’ve encountered in this segment. Fuel mileage on my watch landed at 8.1 L/100 km, measured by hand. The 316 horsepower Volvo S90 used a tad more fuel, averaging 8.9 L/100 km on a similar test drive.
Ultimately, where good fuel mileage, a lavish cabin, sci-fi-level technology and comfort-first, sport-second tuning of the ride and handling dynamics are a priority, the E300 ticks all the right boxes. Be sure to give the similarly priced and more powerful Volvo S90 a look as well though – it’s one of the E300’s biggest threats.
|Peak Horsepower||241 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||273 lb-ft @ 1,300–4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.5 L/100 km cmb|
|Cargo Space||540 L|
|Model Tested||2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic Sedan|
|Price as Tested||$72,395|
$8,600 – 18-inch AMG wheel $500; Premium Package $5,100; Intelligent Drive Package $3,000