Pros: Powerful engines; excellent ride and handling; variety of body styles; abundance of luxury features; high-level of safety; roomy cabin

Cons: Pricey next to competitors; finicky COMAND electronic interface

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the brand's premier mid-size offering. It aptly bridges the wide chasm between the entry-level C-Class and the executive-caliber S-Class. Aside from its expectedly high level of comfort, performance and style, the E-Class has one of the most diverse upscale model lineups from any automaker. It is available in five-passenger sedan, four-passenger coupe, four-passenger cabriolet and seven-passenger wagon body styles with multiple powertrain options. An advanced clean diesel offering, the E350 Bluetec, and a potent AMG model, the E63, round out the E-Class lineup.

For 2012, all models tout greater power and efficiency than in 2011. There are also a handful of engineering upgrades in all-wheel-drive and steering systems and start/stop technology.

The sophisticated modern design carries across the lineup. The sedan has a well-sculpted profile and a substantial presence, while its coupe counterpart takes on a sleeker and more stylish personality, due in part to the absence of a B-pillar. The cabriolet shares many exterior cues and styling elements with the coupe. Its soft fabric roof gives the car a classic look in both top-up and top-down positions. And the wagon smartly blends E-Class elegance with the shape of a more practical family mover.

The E63 gets AMG body and wheel upgrades for a more aggressive exterior appearance than the rest of the E-Class lineup. It is available in sedan and wagon form.

For those looking for a well-balanced mix of drivability, luxury, technology and build quality, the E is steadfast on virtually all fronts.

Comfort & Utility

The E-Class's interior is finely appointed and meticulously designed, with a spacious and comfortable cabin loaded with amenities. All models offer well-contoured seats, superior ergonomics and the high level of craftsmanship that is to be expected from Mercedes-Benz.

Each model in the wide variety of body styles and trims is fitted differently with its own roster of standard and optional equipment. Some notable higher-end features include leather upholstery, wood trim, power front seats with heat and memory functions, automatic dual-zone climate control, a rear power sunshade and keyless ignition. The E63 AMG livens up the E-Class interior with unique elements such as sport seats, an AMG gauge cluster and carbon fiber trim.

There are three passenger configurations for the E-Class: four seats for the coupe and cabriolet, five for the sedan and seven for the wagon. While front head and leg room are in abundance across all E-Class models, the rear seat of the coupe and cabriolet can be a little tight for taller adults, with suboptimal entry and exit comfort. The sedan and wagon are quite the opposite for rear-seat occupants, offering plenty of shoulder, hip and elbow room. And the wagon's two-seat rear-facing third row is very usable for children and shorter adults (under 5'4").

Technology

Mercedes's COMAND interface is the central point from which most of the E-Class's interior electronic features can be managed. However, COMAND takes some getting used to, and some find it to be overly complicated if not overwhelming.

Other advanced electronics available in the E-Class include navigation, a backup camera system, rear DVD, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB interface.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The mid-size luxury segment is certainly populated with sportier offerings than the 2012 Mercedes E-Class. This Benz is neither the fastest nor the most powerful among its competitors. That said, the E-Class benefits from one of the most varied engine lineups on the market. For 2012, every E-Class model is more powerful and more efficient than its counterpart from the prior model year.

The rear-wheel-drive E350 Bluetec is propelled by a clean-burning 3.0-liter turbo-diesel producing 210 horsepower and a stout 400 lb-ft of torque. It yields impressive fuel economy of 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway, permitting an interstate cruising range of more than 600 miles.

The E350 series comes equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 good for 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Available in rear- or all-wheel-drive (4Matic) versions, its fuel economy ranges from 16/23 mpg to 17/26 mpg, depending on drivetrain and body configuration.

The rear- or all-wheel-drive E550 gets a smaller but more robust 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8. Output is 402 hp and 443 lb-ft. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16/24 mpg.

The powerful E63 AMG sedan and wagon are also outfitted with a smaller powerplant. For 2012, this rear-wheel-drive Benz utilizes a mammoth 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 pumping out 518 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Energy is channeled through an AMG seven-speed automatic gearbox. To promote efficiency, the E63 benefits from new engine start/stop technology. Fuel economy is 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway for the sedan and 14/21 mpg for the wagon.

Safety

Safety-related content and technologies include a barrage of front and rear airbags, Lane Keep Assist and radar-based Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control with a Pre-Safe Brake system that will slow the car down when an unavoidable collision is sensed.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes standard with ABS, stability and traction control, front side airbags, front pelvic airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Also standard are the Mercedes-Benz mbrace emergency telematics service, Attention Assist (a driver drowsiness and inattention warning system) and Pre-Safe (it anticipates an imminent crash and automatically takes measures to better secure occupants). The Cabriolet features automatic rollover hoops.

The Lane Tracking package adds a blind spot warning system and a lane departure warning/keeping system. The Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control and more advanced versions of the Lane Tracking items that can take evasive action should the driver fail to do so. Rear side airbags are a stand-alone option.

Driving Impressions

The E-Class is a smooth roadgoing vessel that alters its composure based on the manner in which it is driven. The car firms up nicely during faster maneuvering and quick directional changes, exhibiting an impressive degree of balance and tenacity. In highway cruising, the E-Class feels as substantial and refined as many larger luxury sedans, making it ideal for long-distance travel. This is especially true for the sedan and wagon variants.

The coupe and cabriolet models drive smaller than the other E-Class cars, with sportier manners through tight turns and sharp switchbacks. The cabriolet is an excellent choice for sun worshippers who yearn for an enjoyable top-down ride on clear days but require a quiet and contained cabin for when the top is up.

All-wheel drive models have a new electromechanical steering system for higher precision and control in corners.

For a seriously hard-hitting approach to luxury, the E63 AMG sedan and wagon live on the performance edge of the E-Class experience. The significantly uprated engine, AMG gearbox and performance-tuned suspension make the AMG remarkable in both acceleration and handling.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 5 Series - More of a driver's car than the Mercedes. But the E-Class delivers a plusher ride.   

Audi A6 - From a design standpoint, the Audi is more youthful and modern. The E-Class may carry an "old luxury" stigma, but it still offers more innovation and technology.

Infiniti M - Less of a status symbol than the E-Class. But for the price, it offers plenty of luxury amenities and an excellent driving experience.

AutoTrader Recommends

All of the E-Class models are superb, but we are especially impressed with the E350 Bluetec. This clean-burning turbo-diesel is impressive on multiple fronts. It is efficient (33 mpg highway), very eco-friendly and delivers plenty of performance and acceleration thanks to its massive 400 lb-ft of torque. And, of course, the E350 Bluetec enjoys all the amenities and creature comforts of the E-Class model line.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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