BEHIND THE WHEEL
Mercedes is making 2017 a signpost to bring technology to its coddled masses. The new E-Class is a mainstream car that wants to do all of the thinking for you. So the real question is, can you still enjoy driving it?
The design of the new 2017 Mercedes E-Class signals its midpoint in the family lineup between the entry-level C-Class and flagship S-Class sedans. It borrows the sweeping bodylines of its little brother, but it wears the better-creased lines and the upright grille of its respectable bigger brother. In fact, the redesigned E-Class offers a bridge to make the Mercedes sedan trio into cohesive kinship.
Inside is where the best looking features of the E-Class hide. It borrows the sweeping wave design of the S-Class where the dashboard curves around the door, expands around the driver, and then mirrors this pattern for the passenger side. It is an artistic touch that makes this car worth the extra money. But more than just a looker, there is a huge brain in the E-Class, too.
It has a 12.3-inch central screen that works in conjunction with the center console touchpad to control nearly every aspect of the car. Everything from the radio operations to the trunk release height is programmed through this system. There is even cologne that can be deployed through the air conditioning vents using the central command setup. But the real reason why Mercedes added such a large screen with so many features was to contain all of its technology options.
A companion to the central screen is the available 12.3-inch unit that goes directly in front of the driver. This turns the speedometer into a 3D virtual world that also monitors how close other vehicles are. It also has programmable screens that are controlled by touchpads on the steering wheel. These allow drivers to access everything from entertainment, to navigation controls, to local gas prices with the same kind of swiping movements that are on today’s smartphones.
But where technophiles will be really impressed is with the semi-autonomous drive pilot system. With all of the car’s radar sensors activated and cruise control set, this Benz can basically chauffeur itself. Drivers have control over how closely they want the car to follow others in traffic, and they can even tell the car to change lanes (by manually engaging the turn signal.)
Daredevil owners will find out that this E-Class can go for up to a minute with no outside help. After that, it will ask for some engagement from the driver, and quite frankly, we are not ready to encourage anyone to use these features as anything more than a safety aid. It’s not yet the time to let go of the wheel, but this Mercedes is definitely trying to put us in the back seat.
Besides, there’s no need for self-piloting, as this E-Class is a fine driving machine. The company’s air body control system is one of the best luxury features we’ve tried in quite some time. When the car is in comfort mode, there’s no more avoiding that one overly rough road that we all wish were repaved. And when the selectable ride is set to sport, this is a true sure-footed German machine.
Our test car was the base rear-wheel drive E300 sedan. Mercedes is able to produce an impressive 241 horsepower from the 2.0-liter turbocharged motor. But more importantly, the power delivery is smooth. And while this is a heavy luxury sedan, the nine-speed transmission works to make sure it’s never out of breath when passing on the highway. For those who need more power, there is a hotter 400 hp AMG model, but the base car will likely serve most Mercedes buyers just fine.
And being a jack-of-all-trades is exactly what the E300 needs to be. The base price for the E-Class is $53,075. When all the big technology options are added, this sedan easily can climb to over $70k. That kind of money means it needs to be impressive beyond just the Mercedes-Benz tri-star on the grille, and the new E-Class does that for the right people.
Those who have resisted smartphones are not going to like this car. But if you’ve camped out in front of the Apple Store, Mercedes has your luxury treat already available today. ¦