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2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Mark Elias June 2016

Twenty years ago, deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, Mercedes-Benz became the first automotive manufacturer to open a Research & Development facility for future innovation development. Jumping forward, it would almost seem natural to debut what the brand is calling the world's most intelligent automobile, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

A Masterpiece of Intelligence

As the Sunnyvale, California-based Mercedes-Benz Research & Development, North America (MBRDNA) office is the birthplace of many of the systems found in current Mercedes-Benz automobiles, including 30 apps in 28 different languages, it was logical to display the latest innovation in the fleet. In the case of the new 10th generation of E-Class sedan, this tour de force is being touted as the most advanced vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz product portfolio.

If getting into a regular Mercedes vehicle is an event in its own right, then imagine what it's like if this event on wheels is an actual step closer to the concept of the autonomous automobile. To that end, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 includes features and safeties such as the Drive Pilot suite, which includes Distance Pilot DISTRONIC, that can follow a vehicle at a pre-selected distance at speeds up to 130 mph, Steering Pilot, which guides the car through gently sweeping turns and actively intervenes even if road lines are unclear, and Active Lane-Change Assist which is a radar-and-camera-based system that assists with steering into an adjacent lane if it's empty.

Other advances include Pre-Safe Sound that in addition to Mercedes's already proven Pre-Safe system, emits a short alert if a collision is imminent, triggering a protective reflex in the inner ear known as the "stapedius effect" to help reduce hearing loss from an accident. Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic functionality pre-charges the brakes for quick stops. Evasive Steering Assist adds steering torque when a driver performs an evasive maneuver like avoiding a bicyclist or pedestrian stepping off a curb. There's even sensors looking at you that will cause the car to slow to a complete stop if it doesn't record head or hand movement within a prescribed period.

And that's just for head-on stuff. Pre-Safe Impulse Side is a new technology that senses a lateral impact and causes side airbags built into the seat bolsters to move front seat occupants 2.75 inches away from the impact zone, effectively reducing the force of impact up to 33 percent. Later this year, Mercedes will introduce Car to X communications that can make other similarly equipped vehicles aware of hazards that your car may have just encountered.

Smaller Is the New Big

Mercedes engineers giveth, and taketh away. Having a curb weight that is 154 pounds lighter than the previous model means a smaller engine can accomplish tasks formerly performed by a larger one. In this case, the E300 sports a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, which matches the torque of the V6 engine found in the outgoing model.

Using this same engine as found in the GLC SUV, it is mated to a 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic transmission with paddle shift levers. While we don't know how the Environmental Protection Agency ratings will stand, we do know that 0-to-60 mph comes on in 6.2 seconds.

Pricing for the E300 starts at $52,150. Drivers located in Snowbelt areas can take advantage of Mercedes-Benz's available and well-sorted 4Matic all-wheel drive, which starts at $54,650. Options and package prices are still to be determined but actual selling prices do not include the destination and delivery charge of $925.

Honey, I've Shrunk the S-Class

Following recent Mercedes "Sensual Purity" design cues, the E-Class appears like a ¾-scale version of the brand's S-Class flagship. This new 5-passenger sedan includes the long nose, short rear deck, coupelike roofline and "feature line" that all lend themselves to what the brand calls a new emotional design that is 1.7 inches longer, and frees up an additional 2.6-inch stretch in the wheelbase. The net result is more rear seat legroom and a larger presence overall.

As with previous models, there are two distinct styles: The luxury version of the E300 features the Mercedes-Benz standing Star at the front of the hood and the Sport version will feature a larger Mercedes Star in the center of the trademark grille opening. Both versions get a new stardust effect LED tail lamp system that varies the intensity according to ambient lighting conditions. Those who think the Sport version is not sporty enough will just have to wait for the upcoming E43 AMG Sedan, powered by a 396 hp twin-turbo V6 engine.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class battles in a segment that includes Audi's A6, BMW's 5-Series, the Cadillac CTS and the Lexus GS.

Interior Design

Our extremely quiet E300 sample included an available dual-screen instrument display, which features two 12.3-in screens across the dashboard. The Mercedes-Benz COMAND system's central screen offers access to all the car's operations from navigation, audio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, climate and systems controls. The secondary (and optional) Driver's Display package allows users to configure several gauge displays and arrangements, to tailor the dash according to a driver's preference or the car's control. Drivers can select from three different themes including Classic, Sport and Progressive.

Input for the COMAND system operates through a controller that falls directly under the driver's right hand. From there, the driver controls all dash functions for the central screen, and can spell out an address or radio channel with their fingertips on the central touchpad.

A special steering wheel with Touch Control buttons ($800) is also available. Located on either side of steering wheel, the left control operates the driver gauges, while the right control operates the COMAND screen.

We sampled two levels of interior trim, one that trended towards the sporting side of the equation, while the other veered off in a decidedly luxurious direction. The sporting model included piano black wood veneers with silver inlay stripes throughout, while the luxed-out E300 featured natural grain ash wood veneers that looked as though they just washed ashore on some sexy, exclusive Caribbean beach.

A Burmester Audio system is now part of the mix and utilizes M-B Frontbass floorboard-based hollow chambers for added bass response. This in turn has allowed the Subwoofers that were previously mounted in the doors, to move further forward to provide more storage room in the car's side pockets. Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are included. NFC Wireless charging for Android is also part of that particular platform. E-Class sedans can also be outfitted with a 4G-LTE hotspot.

Driving Impressions

Our E300 was powered by a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder that somehow thinks it's a V6. Also seen in the GLC, it delivers a power-dense 120.5 hp per liter. Turbocharging helped this 4-banger punch above its weight class and managed to do so with a minimal amount of turbo lag in the process. We were able to remap drive controls by clicking through stages ranging from ECO, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or Dynamic select that changes according to what it thinks is an optimal setting.

Steering was very responsive from the speed-sensitive electro-mechanically boosted rack and pinion kit. Braking was well-modulated using M-B's Distronic cruise control, while cruising on California 101 at a steady state until sensors felt a slowing of the cars in front of us. Sometimes bringing us to a full stop, the system started up again with a gentle tap of the accelerator. The E300's 4Matic drivetrain offered sure-footed grip through the course of the day on roads that ranged from long straights to tight twisties with nearly everything in between.

Mercedes-Benz's Pre-Safe feature earned its keep during a cruise up the lollygagger-filled Pacific Coast Highway during our test drive. Able to sense a stopped car two vehicles in front of us, it caused our seats to instantly sit upright, and cinched the seat and shoulder belts even before the car directly in front of us hit their brakes. It's nice to know the car is capable. It's even more impressive to see it in practice.

Typically a buyer of a luxury car enjoys the thrill of a big, powerful engine displaying its brawn and grunt from the chromed tailpipes. Sadly, with more stringent emissions controls coming into play by 2025, huge powerplants might be relegated to a driver's memory. In the case of our 2.0-liter 4-pot engine, MB has artificially enhanced the engine's roar with a digital audio track that adds a low-pitched grunt to the in-car audio system. Just think of the possibilities: We think it's only a matter of time before someone figures how to add the high-pitched scream of an F/A-18 Fighter Jet, or the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 powerplant. It maintains the emotional, visceral feel and at the same time, makes the buyers think they're getting their money's worth.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class: First Drive Review - Autotrader