Pros: Tried and true E-Class platform receives new safety features for added peace of mind; sensual styling cues are a welcome relief from previous hard-edged design; a wider array of powertrain options offers something for everyone
Cons: Options packages quickly inflate MSRPs; revamped styling is polarizing for some; despite the face-lift, bits of traditional Mercedes-Benz stodginess remain
What's New: The E-Class model's mid-cycle face-lift adds softer and curvier bodywork, a slew of new safety assistance features, a 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine (which hits showrooms in July 2013) and subtle improvements to interior trim. The E63 AMG model enjoys a power boost and, for the first time in any AMG sedan, standard all-wheel drive. A new S model replaces the previous Performance Package, offering even more horsepower and torque than the standard issue E63. In the fall of 2014, the V8-powered E550 will be replaced by the E400, which is powered by a twin-turbocharged V6.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class has been an unqualified success for the German manufacturer, having sold more than 74 million sedans and coupes since its introduction. How have they improved the ubiquitous luxury car? For the first time, the 2014 E-Class is now available with a choice of two faces. A standard Luxury model features a traditional 3-pointed-star hood ornament, while a Sport version receives a more aggressive front with a big, imposing star logo integrated into the grille. The Sport offering also incorporates faster steering and stiffer suspension settings.
When the 2014 lineup hits showrooms, E-Class sedans and wagons will be available with a choice of six engines in a total of 10 configurations, in addition to their coupe offerings. Powertrain options include a new 2.1 liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel (E250), a 3.5-liter V6 (E350), a 3.5 liter V6 hybrid (E400 Hybrid), a 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (E550) and two updated AMG engine options (E63 and E63 S), paired with mandatory all-wheel drive.
The E-Class also gains safety features that will debut on the next-gen S-Class. The move reflects a departure from tradition for Mercedes-Benz, since those technologies usually appear on their flagship before trickling down to more affordable models.
Comfort & Utility
While equipment lists vary across the E-Class model's diverse product lineup, all models incorporate the COMAND multimedia system as a centerpiece of the instrument panel, which incorporates a color screen navigated by a palm-sized wheel on the transmission tunnel. But navigation is not always a standard feature. In several models, the feature is bundled with a Premium 1 package, which includes a rearview camera, SiriusXM satellite radio, a power rear window sunshade and heated/cooled seats. Other conveniences such as keyless start and a power-operated trunk are available as options.
For the 2014 model update, Mercedes-Benz has focused much of its technological efforts on the safety features outlined below. But one key innovation that interfaces with those bells and whistles is a direct steer system, which uses an electromechanical steering arrangement that allows the car's on-board computer to turn the wheel independently when necessary. Not only does the system enable Active Park Assist, which self-parks the car when sensors determine a spot is big enough, but it also communicates with safety systems that can take control of steering to help avoid head-on collisions.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The E-Class model's six powertrains offer a dramatically wide range of performance and fuel economy. Though official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers have not yet been released for most E-Class models, the efficiency spectrum spans from the E400, which is rated at 24 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway, to the E63 AMG S, which is still awaiting official EPA numbers but promises to be significantly lower than the economy-minded diesel. At least the E63 incorporates an active stop/start system to save fuel when idling at stoplights. Power ranges from a piddling 190 hp in the E250 BlueTEC model to a thundering 577 hp with the E63 AMG S. The gap between those two extremes is filled by a range of powertrains and available all-wheel-drive systems that Mercedes refers to as 4Matic.
The new E-Class boasts no fewer than 11 new safety systems, which Mercedes-Benz brands as Intelligent Drive. By incorporating the aforementioned Direct Steer feature, sensors and stereoscopic cameras enable the car to be automatically steered away from oncoming traffic and keep the car centered in its lane -- though Mercedes engineers are keen to emphasize that all computer-guided intervention systems are designed to be easily overridden by the driver if he or she chooses.
Updates to the Pre-Safe system enable E-Class models to detect pedestrians before triggering autonomous braking. And a new BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist can now detect vehicles and pedestrians moving perpendicularly to your car, boosting braking action to help avoid collision.
A new surround-view camera stitches together a 360-degree view around the car to help during tricky parking situations. Other safety features include an update to the Mercedes-Benz adaptive high-beam system, which can now permanently mask the E-Class model's cone of light so it doesn't blind oncoming traffic.
What's it like to drive a 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class? The answer depends hugely on which model you choose to pilot. For instance, the E250 BlueTEC model's turbodiesel produces a stout 369 lb-ft of torque but a modest 190 hp, which makes for decent off-the-line acceleration but not much top-end grunt. At the other end of the lineup, the E63 AMG S features a snorting twin-turbocharged V8 that punches its way to 60 mph in only 3.5 seconds, and can reach a top speed of 186 mph.
All E-Class models feature suspension refinements that aid handling and steering feel. Sport models sit 15 millimeters lower and offer crisper steering. The AMG S model adds a new understeer-reducing feature in sport-handling mode, which helps turn the car and reduce plowing by braking the inside wheels.
Despite the disparity in the E-Class model's absolute performance capabilities, the common thread among all versions is that each one feels like a sedate, rational Mercedes-Benz when they're driven calmly. However, it's when you punch the right pedal and yank the steering wheel that these cars' unique personalities come out.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A6: The midsize luxury sedan from Ingolstadt has been steadily improved over the years, offering serious competition against the E-Class and BMW 5-series. Audi deserves kudos for its MMI system, which intuitively manages the car's complex multimedia interface. The A6 also garners the attention of design-savvy buyers with its contemporary cabin treatment, though exterior styling isn't quite as cutting edge as we'd like.
BMW 5-Series: Once the paradigm of sedan driving dynamics, the BMW 5-series has shifted its focus toward a cushier, Lexus-like ride -- which is especially curious, since the redesigned Lexus GS is sportier than ever. Nonetheless, at least the 5-series still manages to feel like a BMW when you're not lead-footing it, though we wonder if the following generation might attempt to recapture the car's sporty soul.
Lexus GS: The Japanese manufacturer has made strides toward redefining its midsize luxury offering, and the GS makes excellent headway in forging a compelling case for itself against the German establishment. Thanks to a stiffer body and more aggressive suspension tuning, the Lexus offers a surprisingly rewarding driver experience while maintaining much of its signature smooth ride. As Mercedes will soon be doing, Lexus has ditched its V8 in favor of a V6, and the GS also comes in a hybrid variant with surprisingly spunky performance.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has long been a blue-chip offering in the midsize luxury sedan segment, offering reliable (if somewhat staid) transportation for prestige-minded shoppers. The 2014 update stirs a bit more desire with its muscular styling and heightened handling feedback, while the E63 AMG model's addition of all-wheel drive significantly ups its already high performance envelope. The final verdict on value won't come until Mercedes-Benz announces pricing for the updated models, but based on their current status in the market, we expect the next generation of E-Class to uphold its status as one of the most trustworthy premium offerings in this slice of the sedan market.