2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Review

Liz Kim, Independent Expert | Dec 23, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

Since 1993, the E-Class name has identified the midsize car from Mercedes-Benz, providing the marque’s customers with a not-too-small, not-too-big, just-the-right-size solution. Symbolizing refined good taste and upper-class comfort, the E-Class range has always included a sedan and station wagon, with intermittent coupe and convertible appearances.

Station wagons are an increasingly rare breed, and for decades, the only one to truly enjoy success has been the Subaru Outback. That car’s combination of standard all-wheel drive, rugged design, and a lifted suspension make it a crossover SUV in the eyes of its devotees.

In the luxury wagon segment, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo are the only players for the 2021 model year. Mercedes is the only one that has historically resisted applying the Outback treatment to its E-Class estate. Audi has its A4 and A6 Allroad models, while Volvo sells the V60 and V90 Cross Country wagons.

Now, Mercedes adopts the Outback philosophy with the debut of the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain ($67,600, not including $1,050 destination). The All-Terrain is just one of the broad-stroke changes Mercedes makes to all four members of the E-Class lineup, and the treatment comes standard on the E-Class Wagon unless you get the downright insane AMG E 63 S ($112,450), which is every driving enthusiast’s utility dream car.

2021 Mercedes Benz E Class All Terrain Wagon Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an E 450 4Matic All-Terrain wagon equipped with nearly every option. The price came to $83,365, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it is helpful to understand who buys this upper premium midsize car and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 69% of Mercedes-Benz E-Class owners are male (vs. 74% for the segment), and the median age of an E-Class owner is 65 years (vs. 62).

Owners say their favorite things about the E-Class are (in descending order) the driving feel, exterior styling, feeling of safety, interior design, and powertrain. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the upper premium midsize car segment:

  • Operating vehicle remotely
  • Ability to hold personal items
  • Getting in and out of the third-row seat (wagon only)
  • Audio system sound quality
  • Attractiveness of screens and displays

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the E-Class are (in descending order) the driving comfort, setting up and starting, infotainment, getting in and out, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the upper premium midsize car segment:

  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Power of engine/motor
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Getting in and out of the second-row seat
  • Getting in and out of front seats

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the E-Class ranked 4th out of four upper premium midsize cars. Note that seven competitors in the segment did not produce enough sample size to rank.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides her perceptions about how the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

My kids were the first to notice the distinctive profile of the E-Class All-Terrain, commenting on how low and long the test vehicle was, compared to the legions of crossovers and SUVs that are a regular part of my car-testing diet. 

2021 Mercedes Benz E Class All Terrain Wagon Rear Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Indeed, the All-Terrain is low and long, and for 2021 it shares the subtle facelift Mercedes bestows upon all E-Class models, including updated head- and taillights. It’s hard to tell, though, given the All-Terrain’s new wardrobe, which strikes me as akin to donning clunky hiking boots with a St. John outfit. 

The test vehicle had the Night Package with some trendy gloss-black trim pieces, as well as extra-cost 20-inch AMG-designed wheels. It also had the LED Intelligent Light System that comes with the Exterior Lighting Package, banishing the darkness with a cool Ultra Wide Highbeam function that animatedly spreads from the center out to the edges of the road in a split second. 

Interior

Outfitted with the Macchiato Beige/Black Leather upholstery combination ($1,620), the test vehicle’s perforated, warm-toned upholstery contrasted prettily with the black of the upper dashboard. Swooping and curving lines and forms provide a backdrop for a cabin loaded with visual detail such as prominent round air vents and polished plating for many of the controls.

2021 Mercedes Benz E Class All Terrain Wagon Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw 

By day, a giant panoramic roof bathes the cabin in natural light. After dark, you can choose from a wide range of hues for an ambient lighting scheme extending throughout the cabin. 

It’s a sophisticated setup, drawing ooohs and aaahs from passengers when, for example, the lighting turns red on the door panels to warn occupants not to exit when traffic or a cyclist is approaching from behind, or turns blue on a portion of the dashboard when adjusting the climate control to a cooler temperature. 

It is delightful little features like these that continually remind you that you’re driving a luxury vehicle. 

Getting In and Out

Many people, especially those short of limb, find it easier to enter and exit a car than an SUV. This is very much the case with the E-Class All-Terrain wagon. The All-Terrain also has a rear-facing 2-person jump seat in the cargo hold. It is officially rated only for children under the age of six, a good thing given the lack of space and the need to scramble over the bumper and through the hatch to access them. 

You might also find it easier to load cargo into an All-Terrain than a higher-riding SUV, especially for heavier items. You’ll find 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 64 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. Mercedes locates power releases to fold the rear seats in the rear cargo hold, one of many of this car’s surprise-and-delight features.

Storage space for everyday items within the cabin is mediocre, and the center console bin under the split-armrest cover is relatively small. You’ll likely find the door panel bins most useful for the items you carry with you regularly.

Setting Up and Starting

Push the stylized engine start button, and two 12.3-inch side-by-side digital displays immediately stir to life, giving you the impression that the car is rarin’ to go – no momentary pause or hesitation here. 

The display immediately in front of the driver is for instrumentation and setting related to driving, while the one to the right above the center air vents is a touchscreen for infotainment and more in-depth vehicle settings. You can choose between several themes to personalize their appearance, and although there are seemingly endless menus and functions to consider as you go through the lengthy process of getting the E-Class set up just the way you want, clear instructions and an intuitive interface simplify the process.

The test car had the optional Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) Interior Assistant. It’s a predictive system that senses what the driver or passenger wants to do and then attempts to make the task easier. For example, at night, if you reach toward the glove compartment, the Interior Assistant will illuminate the cabin lighting on that side of the vehicle so that you can see what you’re doing. Reach for a menu icon on the infotainment screen, and it makes the icon larger and more prominent. These are subtle but appreciated enhancements to the car.

Infotainment System

When it comes to the MBUX infotainment system, Mercedes does its best to make the complex seem simple. You can interact with the system using the touchscreen, a touchpad and controls on the center console, touch-sensing controls on the steering wheel, or an outstanding “Hey Mercedes” natural voice recognition system.

Although locating a touchpad far away from the infotainment display is rarely ideal, the one in the E-Class is far easier to use than similar designs in other vehicles. Of all the ways to interact with the technology, the swipe-and-scroll steering wheel controls threw me off most. And while I may not be much of an audiophile, it’s easy to appreciate the glorious sound issued by the available Burmester speakers that come with the optional Premium Package. 

The test car also had the optional augmented video for navigation system, which shows a live video feed using the front camera, complete with next-turn directions superimposed on the imagery. If you’re in unfamiliar territory or you’re traveling after dark, this feature is especially helpful. 

Keeping You Safe

Like every Mercedes, the 2021 E-Class is chock-full of the latest in safety advancements. Choose the optional Driver Assistance Package ($1,950), and you’ll get 15 active safety technologies.

One of the standard safety equipment highlights is Pre Safe, which determines that an accident is unavoidable and prepares the cabin and passengers for impact. Pre Safe Sound is a Mercedes exclusive, designed to protect occupants’ hearing from a collision’s loud bang.

Every 2021 E-Class also has a Car-to-X communication capability, which “talks” to other Mercedes models about obstacles and dangers on your route ahead to warn the driver about hazards and prepare the car for conditions such as an upcoming icy patch on the road. Lifetime access to Emergency Call Service is also standard, along with a Parking Damage Detector that sends a notification to your Mercedes Me connected services smartphone app if another vehicle hits your E-Class while you’re away from it.

As you might expect, the Driver Assistance Package turns the E-Class All-Terrain into a semi-autonomous vehicle, and Mercedes has honed its systems to make this car as safe as it can be. 

Of the package’s lengthy list of features, one of my favorites is Active Emergency Stop Assist. With the adaptive cruise control turned on and the lane-centering assistance function active, this technology presumes, after a period of time, that a driver who isn’t holding the steering wheel and is failing to respond to warnings to retake control must be suffering a medical emergency of some kind. At this point, the car will slow down with the hazard lights on, come to a complete stop, and place an SOS emergency call to get first responders to the scene as soon as is possible.

Sometimes, though, the All-Terrain’s safety technology can be too effective. For example, when exiting a local freeway off-ramp, the lane-keeping assistance technology would suddenly activate the brakes and steer the All-Terrain back toward the official lane when I cut across the white lane marker. However, on a rural road without a paved shoulder, the same system prevented me from departing the road surface as I gazed too long at a spectacular sunset. So, you take the good with the bad.

If you’re searching for crash-test ratings, you’ll find the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2020 E-Class Wagon a 5-star overall rating. As this review was published, this rating had not carried over for 2021. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offers no ratings for the E-Class Wagon.

Powertrain

For 2021, the E 450 models get a new electrified EQ Boost powertrain. It employs a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine with EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology, including an integrated starter-generator that eliminates all accessory belts from the engine while also providing some extra power when desirable. A 48-volt electrical system is also aboard to help reduce the engine’s workload and save fuel. This technology works seamlessly and is invisible to the driver; you won’t even realize anything is different.

With 362 horsepower available from 5,500 rpm to 6,100 rpm and 369 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,600 rpm and 4,500 rpm, there is plenty of buttery power delivered across the rev range and instantly available thrust no matter if you’re poking around the city or passing cars on the open road. Putting the All-Terrain into its Sport and Sport+ driving modes gives you an even quicker response, but even in Eco and Comfort modes, you might not feel that you need the extra oomph. 

A flawless 9-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to the E-Class Wagon’s standard 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Activate the Off-Road driving mode, and the standard air suspension raises for extra ground clearance while the powertrain adjusts for low-speed driving over uneven terrain. During a short jaunt on a well-traveled trail, the car performed well as long as I kept speeds down and picked a careful path to prevent damage to the pricey upgraded wheels.

Fuel Economy

The EPA expects about 24 mpg from the E-Class All-Terrain when driving in various conditions. I got almost precisely that, coming in at 23.3 mpg on my testing loop while primarily using the Sport powertrain mode. 

Premium gas is required, but with the car’s massive 21.1-gallon tank, you can travel for more than 490 miles before needing a fuel-up. However, since you’re not going to run the tank dry, figure the car is good for 450 miles between stops.

Driving Comfort

With their multitude of power adjustments, it’s nigh impossible to be uncomfortable in the All-Terrain’s optional multi-contour front seats, which include massage functions. Additionally, the test car had ventilated front seats and the Warmth and Comfort Package with rapid heating for the front seats, heated armrests, and a heated steering wheel. 

Rear seat passengers don’t fare poorly, either, although legroom is lacking. Also, because tinted rear glass isn’t legal on cars in some U.S. states, the All-Terrain doesn’t come with dark-tinted privacy glass. If you want manual rear window shades, Mercedes will vacuum an extra $380 from your bank account. You can also pay $50 extra for a couple of USB charging ports in the back and $760 for a separate third automatic climate zone.

Due to their novelty, my pre-teen kids rode in the rear-facing jump seats for a short tour of our neighborhood. Officially, they’re designated for riders aged six or less. Their verdict? “That was weird!”

The test car also had the optional Air Balance air purification and cabin fragrance upgrade. It keeps the All-Terrain’s interior smelling great thanks to regular delivery intervals of rarefied, fragranced air.

Driving Feel

Mercedes includes its Air Body Control suspension on the E-Class All-Terrain, which features adaptive damping, load-leveling to maintain equilibrium, and adjustable ride height. The automaker’s Direct Steer technology quickens low-speed responsiveness while improving higher speed stability, and Dynamic Cornering Assist uses a brake-induced torque-vectoring effect at the rear wheels to enhance handling. 

The result is an agile, athletic utility vehicle that can hustle its way down seriously sinuous roads when you’ve switched into one of the Sport driving modes. Keep the car in Comfort or Eco mode, or set up the Individual setting for softer suspension tuning, and this luxury wagon provides a plush and posh ride, almost gliding along in a relaxed manner to your destination. 

Depending on the selected driving mode, the E-Class All-Terrain exhibits multiple personalities. No matter the setting, though, this Mercedes could do a better job of isolating impact harshness from the cabin.

Final Impressions - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

Mercedes introduced the current-generation E-Class for the 2017 model year, making the car half a decade old. But you wouldn’t realize it by the sheer number of technological innovations that help you stay comfortable, safe, entertained, and informed. You just need to be willing to pay a premium for it. And while sedans and wagons may be an endangered species, with some automakers like Lincoln dropping cars from their lineups, the timelessly classic Mercedes-Benz E-Class will undoubtedly survive the SUV craze.

Liz Kim has been writing about cars for two decades, involved in road testing, analyzing, marketing, and pondering everything automotive. But what she enjoys most is poking around the various corners of Southern California in different test vehicles with her family, in the way cars are meant to be used.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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