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PowerSteering: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Review

By Christian Wardlaw, February 15, 2017

Introduction
Mercedes-Benz sells three core sedan models. The C-Class is the little one. The S-Class is the big one. The E-Class is the just-right one. Goldilocks would love it, if she were making about $200,000 per year instead of crashing on the beds of bears she didn’t know.

As iconic within its vehicle segment as the Jeep Wrangler is among SUVs, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan is, in many respects, the benchmark against which all premium midsize cars are measured. Redesigned for 2017, it is a genuinely impressive automobile, a technological tour de force that deserves your consideration.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan front quarter left photoFor this review, our expert evaluated a 2017 E300 with 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD), metallic paint, Sport Wheel package, Premium 3 package, ventilated front seats, a 12.3-in. wide-screen digital instrument panel, and an Air Body Control suspension. The price came to $73,015, including the $925 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this midsize premium car and what they liked most and least about it.

According to J.D. Power research, compared with the Midsize Premium Car segment, a higher proportion of women choose the E-Class (28% vs. 25% segment average). E-Class buyers also make slightly less money in terms of median household income ($195,000 vs. $196,282), and just 21% of E-Class buyers are members of Gen X (those born 1965-1976) or Gen Y (1977-1994), as opposed to 27% for the segment.

E-Class buyers are not looking for performance. A lower percentage identify themselves as performance buyers (46% vs. 53%), fewer strongly agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (61% vs. 68%), and fewer agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (67% vs. 71%).

Instead, E-Class buyers seek reliability, with 61% strongly agreeing that this is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle, compared with 54% for the segment.

E-Class buyers are also less concerned about buying a car from a domestic company, with 74% disagreeing that this is important to them (vs. 67%). They are also less concerned about avoiding high maintenance costs (28% vs. 23%) and less concerned about obtaining a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (34% vs. 31%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the E-Class are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, and visibility/safety. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the E-Class are (in descending order) seats, storage and space, the climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2017 E-Class performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Technologically, it is easy to see where your money goes when you buy a 2017 Mercedes E-Class. Stylistically, this isn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong; this is an attractive car. The styling is, however, on the bland side for a vehicle that frequently serves as a status symbol. J.D. Power data does, however, show that E-Class buyers are slightly more conservative than those across the Midsize Premium Car segment, so perhaps this design ethos is firmly rooted in customer research.

Interior
Once you get behind the wheel of a well-appointed E-Class, it is clearer as to what your money is buying. Take a look at the dashboard, for example. Slipping into the driver’s seat of the E-Class is like getting behind the wheel of a sophisticated driving simulator, or a cutting-edge video game. From their lush graphics to their almost instantaneous response to input, the dual 12.3-in. display screens are the most sophisticated of their kind. And I didn’t need to crack open the owner’s manual in order to figure out how to use any of it.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class interior photoUnfortunately, even at this price, it is clear that Mercedes has compromised with regard to materials in order to deliver the technology at a price within the realm of reasonable. Some of the cabin’s bits and pieces do feel rather flimsy, such as the sunglasses holder and the plastic within the cupholders.

Seats
Thanks to my test car’s massaging multicontour front seats, Air Balance air-purification and perfuming system, and standard LED ambient lighting with 64 different colors from which to choose, it was easy to custom tailor the car’s cabin to my preferences.

The front seats are mightily impressive, with a range of massage options and active bolsters that inflate when you go around a corner in order to hold you in place. Rapid seat heating, available heated armrests and upper door panels, and a heated steering wheel make the E-Class a foul-weather oasis of warmth.

However, the interior is somewhat cramped. Granted, as the years have gone by I’ve gotten bigger, but it also seems like the E-Class shrinks with each redesign.

Take the back seat, for example. While the seat itself is very comfortable, Mercedes needs to dramatically sculpt the front seatbacks in order to create decent space for an adult’s legs. The result is a mere 1-in. gain over the smaller Mercedes C-Class in terms of rear-seat legroom.

Despite the shrink-wrapped cabin, though, the new E-Class is soothing and sophisticated. You’re unlikely to be unhappy climbing into this car after a long day at the office.

Climate Control System
Elegantly arrayed in a horizontal strip at the top of the center console where it meets the dashboard, the E-Class’ climate control system offers speedy access to commonly used functions.

The system itself had no trouble keeping up with temperate winter weather in California, and the Air Balance fragrance system kept the E-Class smelling fresh and clean inside. For more extreme temperatures, seat heating and ventilation is ready to heat and cool occupants, and the 2017 E-Class also offers heating for the armrests and steering wheel.

Infotainment System
Once you’ve got the E-Class set up to your preferences, it is fairly easy to operate the controls and the infotainment system, despite what appears to be a daunting interface.

In particular, I liked scrolling through my favorite radio stations using the slick Touch Control thumb pad on the steering wheel, but it definitely is not as accurate as simply calling up the radio menu and spinning the Comand controller. However, the controller is located beneath a touch-sensitive pod occasionally responsible for inadvertent directives.

Also worth noting, the car’s natural voice recognition technology makes programming a destination and cancelling route guidance super simple. In my opinion, the E-Class is equipped with one of the best voice recognition systems I’ve ever used.

My test car had the entry-level Burmeister surround-sound system, which includes classy speaker grilles on the door. It sounds decent, but not likely as good as the optional high-end version packing 23 speakers and promising a thunderous audio experience.

Storage and Space
Mercedes supplies a modicum of storage space inside the E-Class. In addition to the glove box, a covered tray sits forward of the Comand controller, a center console box with a split armrest lid separates the front seats, and large door panel bins offer spots in which you can stash your stuff.

If you’ve got luggage to carry, be warned that the trunk measures 13.1 cu. ft., which is small for a midsize car. In fact, it’s just half a cubic foot more than what the C-Class provides.

Visibility and Safety
In addition to the impressive infotainment tech, the new E-Class is packed with semi-autonomous driving systems, all tucked into an option called Drive Pilot. It’s even wired with something called “Car-to-X” technology, a requirement for self-driving cars that allows the E-Class to communicate with other vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure.

Right now, this standard system is designed to work with other new E-Class vehicles, but eventually the idea is that this technology will be able to convey and receive information in order to “learn” about other vehicles, current surroundings, and the planned route. Collectively, this shared learning will, in theory, facilitate safe, fully automated driving. In the meantime, you’re going to need to drive the E-Class yourself, which is not a bad thing.

Even if you’ve opted for Drive Pilot, Mercedes insists that you remain alert and keep your hands on the steering wheel. Fully autonomous driving is not here yet, and likely won’t be for quite some time considering that on several occasions the E-Class’ technology proved that it wasn’t quite ready to safely assume all driving duties.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan rear quarter left photoWhat the new E-Class does offer, right now, today, and as standard equipment, is something called Pre-Safe Sound. Sensors can tell when an impact is about to occur, and then the stereo system emits a specific tone with a tuned frequency that causes a natural reflex within your ear canal that in turn shuts out loud noises. That’s the level of detail that has gone into this car.

Additionally, a new option called Pre-Safe Impulse Side activates right before another car T-bones the E-Class. Air chambers within the seat will rapidly inflate, effectively shoving the driver or front-seat passenger away from the door and toward the center of the car to help limit injury to the greatest extent possible.

Evasive Steering Assist also debuts on the latest E-Class. Included with Drive Pilot, it helps to give the driver the right amount of steering necessary to avoid a pedestrian or collision and to get the E-Class under control after the emergency maneuver. The idea here is to avoid the loss of vehicle control that often accompanies sudden steering inputs.

Mercedes is also offering inflatable rear-seat “belt bags” for the new E-Class, but Ford and Lincoln have had those for years, so they’re not that big a deal.

Engine/Transmission
Mercedes equips the E300 with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 241 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 273 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,300 rpm to 4,000 rpm. That does not sound worthy of a midsize luxury sedan priced higher than $70,000, but it absolutely is.

Honestly, I don’t know how Mercedes makes this little engine sound and feel like a muscular V-6, but that’s the case. The company says the E300 accelerates to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and I believe it. The only time I wished for more power was on fast-flowing freeways, and then only when punching the gas to take advantage of openings in adjacent lanes.

Switch the car into Sport or Sport+ mode and it is genuinely quick and fun to drive. Plus, the 9-speed automatic transmission almost always behaves itself, a rarity when you’re talking about so many gears. Occasionally, it produces an unseemly clunk or seems indecisive about what gear to select, but otherwise goes about its work without drawing undue attention to its operation.

Similarly, the 4Matic AWD system operates transparently. You’d never know this car had AWD until you drove it during a snowstorm.

Fuel Economy
Official EPA fuel-economy estimates indicate that a 2017 E300 4Matic should get 24 mpg in combined driving. On my test loop, I achieved no better than 22.6 mpg. However, keep in mind that I spent most of my time driving the car with Sport mode engaged, surfing a relentlessly thrilling wave of torque.

Driving Dynamics
Overall, I’m impressed with the E300 4Matic’s dynamic qualities. Do, however, consider that my opinion of the car’s ride and handling pertains specifically to a vehicle outfitted just like my test car.

When equipped with the Sport Wheel package, for example, the E-Class gets perforated brake discs for improved stopping capability. My test car also had summer performance tires, Direct Steer adaptive variable electric steering, and an Air Body Control suspension. This combination of upgrades proved absolutely magical.

The air suspension is pure brilliance, doing an excellent job of managing squat, pitch, dive, and roll without ruining the ride quality, and my test car’s upgraded wheel-and-tire package delivered impressive grip. Shortly after stepping into the car for the first time, I took a familiar freeway off-ramp at a high rate of speed, pitching the car left onto a wide boulevard at the end of the ramp. My camera, sitting on the front passenger’s seat, barely moved, and the inflatable seat bolsters kept me firmly planted behind the steering wheel.

Additionally, the adaptive variable steering is fast and accurate, and the turning circle is tight, making this car a delight to drive on mountain roads and in parking garages alike. The brakes worked beautifully, too, no matter the driving conditions.

Buyers looking for a more traditional and plush driving experience will want the no-cost Luxury package option, which equips the E-Class with a comfort suspension, smaller 17-in. wheels with all-season tires, and a traditional grille with a stand-up hood ornament.


Final Impressions
Am I impressed with the redesigned 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class? Yes I am.

Undeniably, this is an expensive car, one that sadly does not look the part. In my opinion, a Mazda 6 has more style than this Benz, and at half the price. Plus, a loaded Genesis G80 costs the same as a basic E300 equipped without so much as leather upholstery or a reversing camera.

Clearly, style and value are not this car’s strengths.

Otherwise—and especially if you’ve got a pile of cash and can afford to upgrade this Mercedes with all of its high-tech bells and whistles—I’d say the 2017 E-Class is the new bearer of standards in the Midsize Premium Car segment.

Mercedes-Benz USA supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 E-Class review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.


Additional Research:


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