2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Expert Review:Autoblog
Marketing does funny things. Recently the word "coupe" has been rendered null and void of meaning by crafty marketing types behind cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW X6 and Volkswagen CC, while the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo has sucked every last ounce of truth, honesty and passion from the term "Gran Turismo." It's now just advertising flim-flam. The BMW 8 Series was a grand tourer. The 535i Gran Turismo? We hear it's very practical...
We mention co-opting of the terms "coupe" and "Gran Turismo" because marketers pulled a similar stunt back in the early '70s with the phrase "Personal Luxury Car." Some cars did fit the definition well (roughly, a luxury coupe exists where practicality and efficiency are traded in favor of style, plush and image), others did not. For example, in the U.S. where we like our luxury by the yard, a 1971 Buick Riviera is a perfect example of a personal luxury car. An AMC Matador Brougham complete with Oleg Cassini interior isn't. Regardless of reality, by 1973 every car with two doors and faux-vinyl seats got tagged with the PLC label. As such, the phrase "personal luxury car" became meaningless.
Apropos of all that, Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to let us test its two-door version of its new W212 E-Class, the 2010 E350 Coupe. The new model marks the first time in three generations that Mercedes has offered a coupe version of what's generally considered to be its sauerbraten und spätzle. You'd have to go back to Bill Clinton's first term (that's pre-Lewinsky) to find the two-door W124 E-Class. Obviously, the B-pillarless two-door qualifies as a coupe, but a personal luxury car? Or, dare we say it, a GT?
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Interestingly, this two-door E-Class costs less than the four-door version ($550 less, $48,050 for the coupe versus $48,600 for the sedan). That's the complete opposite of a sacrifice and actually pretty rare. Looking at just Mercedes, the four-door S550 starts at $91,600 while the two-door CL550 goes for a cool $110,400 with no options. Additionally, even though prices have yet to be announced, you can be damn sure that Cadillac's new CTS Coupe will carry a premium over its four-door brethren. Why then is this new E350 Coupe less expensive than the sedan?
Because it's not actually an E-Class. Well, it is, but it isn't. Despite any history, the E-Class Coupe is actually replacing the CLK in Mercedes' lineup. And the CLK is built off of the C-Class chassis, not the E-Class. And the new E-Class Coupe is seven inches shorter, four inches narrower and three-and-a half inches lower than an E-Class Sedan. For its part, Mercedes hasn't admitted that the E-Class Coupe rides on a C-Class platform, but when asked point blank if the E-Sedan and E-Coupe rode on the same chassis, one PR official answered, "I wouldn't say that." Regardless, that's why two-doors costs less. But are you getting less car?
We'd answer no. And while we're aware that you're in fact getting 400 pounds or so less car, that's a good thing in this case. Mechanically, you get the same motor with the same tune – MB's 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at a wonderfully-wide 2,400–5,000 rpm. Suspension-wise, the two cars share the same three-link McPherson struts up front and five-point multi-link setup out back, along with Benz' Agility Control stroke-dependent damping (though part of an option pack on the Coupe, standard on the sedan). Again, the Coupe really just weighs less.
This fact pays big dividends on the road. We were instantly impressed (and remained so over the course of our testing) with the power supplied by the V6, especially considering the Coupe's curb weight is a considerable 3,683 pounds. While it certainly lacks the thrust of the more powerful E550's 382-hp V8, we were never left wanting for power – a neat trick, for sure. Are we saying that more power would be unwelcome, particularly from a 500+ hp E63 AMG Coupe? Absolutely not. But the simple fact is that E350 Coupe owners will have no trouble whatsoever attaining fast highway cruising speeds, and then some. The seven-speed slush box is further proof that Mercedes-Benz builds the best pure automatics in the business.
Furthermore, the ride and handling balance is excellent. Put simply, the E-Coupe just feels right. Put a little bit more laboriously, the car's road manners are exemplary, owing in large part to its "proper" front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Not a corner carver by any means, the E350 Coupe does follow in the aforementioned European tradition of a GT – a car that's able to enthusiastically soak up mile after mile while providing the driver with a sporting amount of feedback, feel and fun. Put up against an Audi A5, there really is no comparison. The Mercedes is a driver's car, whereas the Audi lacks some directness in the steering and gets rather tiresome during long drives.
As much as we enjoyed driving the E350 Coupe, we actually enjoyed just being inside more. The past decade or so has seen an explosion of entry-level luxury rides, and it was refreshing to experience some actual luxury. Just situating yourself inside the E is an event, as a smart extending guide hands you your seatbelt. The chairs themselves are superlative; many-way adjustable and the driver's seat feature four controls to inflate/deflate various air bladders that provide all sorts of bolstering and support. The passenger seat has three and the quality of leather is without peer for the price point.
The gauges are beautiful, especially the oversized speedo with its trick floating dial. An unnecessary bit of bunting perhaps, but it made us smile. The heated steering wheel features intelligently grouped buttons, as well as the thickness and heft that all vehicles with sporting pretensions should and therefor must have. We were particularly enamored with the simplicity and usefulness of the HVAC controls, specifically the little bars used to raise and lower the cabin's temperature. It's the little things that we came to appreciate, and on a long journey, the driver's ability to remain comfortable might just be the most luxurious thing of all.
As far as the exterior design is concerned, it's simply good. To take that a step further, as far as Mercedes' contemporary designs go, it's this writer's favorite. Pulling back a bit, the E-Class line comprises the best-looking cars in Mercedes' stable. The S-Class, while stately, remains rather goofy, what with those swollen arches and Hooydonked butt. Meanwhile, the C-Class – admittedly quite similar to the E-Class – looks a little shrunken, especially when viewed in profile. The E-Class then, is the Goldilocks of the bunch: not too tiny, not too outlandish. We're suckers for pillarless anything, and in our estimation, this raises the Coupe's good looks up over the four-door's. Pity about the Coupe's chunky rear fender, the lone misstep.
Surely no car's perfect, particularly at this price point. Going over our notes, we found a few minor niggles. For instance, getting into the rear seat is more of a chore than it should be. When you flip either front seatback forward, a motor smoothly moves the entire seat towards the dash – a small thrill to experience the first time or two, bothersome and slow (it takes about eight seconds) each time thereafter. And the rear accommodations are snug, one of the sacrifices made because the Coupe doesn't share the same (large) chassis as the sedan. In fairness, the trunk is mammoth for any car.
Then there's the matter of price. As no one actually purchases (and no dealer actually stocks) base models of any Benz, our car's $48,050 sticker swelled to $59,945 with just two option packs and a few additional add-ons. Could we have done without the $6,350 Premium Package (COMAND interface, Sirius, rear-window sunshade, LED daytime running lights, keyless start) and the $1,950 Appearance Package (18-inch AMG wheels, MB logo front brake calipers, gearshift paddles)? Maybe, but we somehow doubt we'd be as pleased. And while we were impressed by the V6, we'd be derelict in our journalist duties not mention that the E550 Coupe starts life at $56,300. We have it on good authority that the V8 is much better, and just to restate the obvious, the E-Class Coupe with the 518-hp AMG miracle motor would land on any top 10 list you could think of.
That said, we didn't like it when Mercedes took their coupe back. Not only was it a willing and likable companion on two out-of-town road trips, it proved itself to be worthy of the title "personal luxury car." Getting back to our initial point, the E350 Coupe can be thought of as a 1971 Buick Riviera when compared to competing rear-wheel-drive V6 coupes that find themselves playing the role of Chevrolet Monte Carlos, Ford Thunderbirds and gaudily decked out Matadors. They're good, sure, but the Benz is better. Good enough to be called a GT? Not quite (real, real close), but there's always the E550...
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
A November Nor'Easter had chewed its way up to New England, delivering a cataclysmic combination of rain and wind as we headed out on a late-night errand. Normally, such a prospect requires a potent blend of Italian roast and Krank20 to stay hyper alert. Instead, behind the helm of the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, the going was serene and confident. In a word: Wow.
These moments of vehicular astonishment have thinned out in the last two decades. Just look around at the automotive landscape. Even more modest conveyances are kitted out like luxury cars of yore, packing tons of tech and safety features that were once the exclusive purview of the world's well-to-do. Can anything be impressive anymore? As a matter of fact, yes. The E350, as it strafed along the pavement, solid as granite and ready for anything, made us feel like true kaisers of the strasse. Horsepower-addicted auto reviewers have complained that the 3.5-liter V6 needs more spinach. Fine. You want speed, spring for the AMG E63 and shut up. But for the above-average family man, the E350 manages to transcend its asthmatic lungs, soft-spoken tiller and supple feet to foment serious respect, if not outright desire.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
The new E-Class styling is crisp and classic, making the outgoing sedan look as dated as a cassette Walkman. Clapping eyes on the first pictures of the 2010 models showed a rear quarter panel distinctly reminiscent of a Chevrolet Impala – an obvious cause for alarm. Thankfully, the design translates more handsomely in person. No, that isn't the same milksop capitulation surrounding the Honda Crosstour. Scout's honor, the E350 is a great looking car. With its larger dimensions, the sedan resolves the styling in a classier way than the C-Class sedan and its two-door platform sibling, the E coupe.
Conservatively styled for traditional tastes, there's more surface work in the new body. Ovoid headlamps are now squared-up (one could almost use Ford's non-word "squircles") and the rear lamps swash across the tail more expressively than before. Mercedes-Benz hasn't gone off the Bangled deep-end with its latest E. No, this new idiom is sharper and more modern, with finely-tailored looks that have a certain amount of speed drawn in. There's motion in them thar lines and the details exude an air of automotive finery. Simply put, the E-Class will age well.
And classic styling is what's going on inside, too. The quintessential Mercedes cabin is a swell place to spend time, with the shape of the dashboard reminiscent of the panel in old W124s. But the interior design isn't as dated as that comparison might suggest, as the new E features a large LCD and spiffy gauges in the panel. Drawing a clear line back to its predecessors and packing the kind of high-tech firepower buyers in this class demand, the new E masterfully balances old and new. Although our tester's black ash trim brought the gloom and ash leather upholstery was already showing signs of being doomed to a life of clean-ishness, the pleating on the seats says "1987 300E" and what's wrong with invoking such a modern legend?
The materials, along with fit and finish, seem appropriately rich. There are touches of S-Class here and a dash of C-Class there, but the Mercedes parts bin is populated with good stock, so it feels familial instead of frugal. Lexus may be most recently identified with such fastidiousness, but the E350 displays an obsession with perfection. Even the headlight switch toggles with precision-machined feel, lending an air of importance to even the simplest task. There's virtually no slop in any of the ancillary controls, reiterating that the E-Class is one impeccably crafted automobile.
Around the interior, the expected high points are realized in good form. The optional Drive Dynamic seats act counter to cornering forces and offer a massage feature for those seeking a more intimate relationship with their chariot. The seats are all-day comfortable, but one of the first things we did was disable the groping functionality (we're fine with keeping this liaison platonic). Going with the standard power seats will keep $650 in your pocket, though the massagers are a boon to alertness on long slogs. If bladder-busting drives are your thing, perhaps the only thing better than groping seats and mechanical rollers would be integrated restrooms.
The rest of the technology in the E350 is surprisingly benign. COMAND isn't the epic agita-fest we expected, though the system needs fewer sub-menu steps and can be an outright distraction when delving deep into the structure. It's a good thing the Distronic Plus radar-based speed control is so amazingly good. Intervention is finely modulated, and the car even slowed itself to a momentary stop and accelerated again through a traffic circle with more aplomb than your average driver. The $3,950 Premium 1 package adds features many buyers will want, including hard-drive navigation, voice control, satellite radio, a rear view camera, heated seats and a dandy-good Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system, while the $2,900 Driver Aid package installs the Distronic system, along with blind spot and lane monitoring. The sheer distraction of trying to use an iPod with the audio system means your eyes will be off the road for long stretches, so it's almost a necessity that the E can mostly drive itself. And while COMAND has lots of functionality built in, it's more clunky than iDrive or MMI, and stands a chance at flummoxing drivers just looking for directions to Bar Americain.
Thankfully, most of the functions have dedicated controls on the center stack. Switches for the ventilation system seem particularly well-considered and Mercedes employs little flippers that make setting temperature, fan speed and mode easy, with a clear bar graph displaying your settings. A column shifter for the seven-speed automatic transmission isn't exactly a sporting touch, but there are steering-wheel mounted shift buttons if you want to pose. Visibility out of the cabin was reminiscent of the low-cowl days of yesteryear, coupled with an airy atmosphere thanks to the glass roof. The biggest ergonomic gaffe is just Mercedes being Mercedes. To wit, the position of the cruise control stalk is exactly where the uninitiated driver expects to find the turn signals. You'll eventually adapt, but there's a period of unintentionally changing lanes without signaling, and not for lack of trying.
Though the E you see in the photos is a rear-drive example, our tester was equipped with Mercedes' all-wheel drive 4Matic system. Without trying the car in ultra-low traction situations (it was a downpour, not a blizzard), the AWD hardware didn't come into serious play as we formed our impressions of the driving experience. The ride proved just short of amazing, with a massively rigid bodyshell allowing the suspension to be topped up with whipped cream without shuddering and flopping about. Despite the plush ride, the E350 isn't all marshmallow – it's just more cushioned than a BMW 5 Series. And while there's a good amount of bodyroll, the E still feels reassuring as it heels over and takes a set. As you'd expect, this is not the sedan for hooliganism, though it won't make a total fool of itself if you force it to play along.
The helm is much sharper than Benzes of yore and even offers some feedback. Watching the tri-star hood ornament rotate through a turn like a gunsight makes up for having to correct mid-corner – something we experienced on more than one occasion. And for a 90-degree V6, the 268-horsepower 3.5-liter is impressively serene. Silent at idle, the engine is smooth and makes the most of its modest pride of horses when wound hard. It even snarls when caned, but it's nothing to set your heart aflutter. The buttery-smooth seven-speed automatic is best left to its own devices, so just ignore the silly, useless paddles and let the trans slides through its ratios without so much as a head bob. Despite having a cogtacular ratio spread, there's only so much power deficit the gearing can counter for, and the E350 is comparatively down on snort. Fuel economy also suffers a bit from the whipping you'll do to keep up.
The E350's stock in trade is being the seriously solid benchmark that we've come to expect. The extra-strong structure feels unbreakable, and there's a seemingly endless well of tricks to keep vibrations and harshness from entering the cabin. The brakes, too, proved unflappable – no surprise considering the myriad of electronics employed to keep the rotors dry and primed for action. Yet despite all the active and passive safety features (nine airbags, active headlamps and the Pre-Safe system which rolls up the windows, closes the sunroof, adjusts the seats and pre-tensions the belts if it senses an impending crash), the E350 doesn't drive like an autonomous space capsule – even when it suggests you stop for coffee when it detects drowsiness.
In the new E's most recent TV spots, Mercedes touts the decades of experience and innovation it brought to bear on the all-new E-Class. Strangely, this is one of those rare instances when marketing speaks truth. While the excellence does cost (the E350 starts at $49,000 and our tester rang in at around $60k), you won't feel ripped off, even if you opt for the V6. If past E-Class Benzes have lost the marque's storied status, the E350 is finally the vehicle to win it back, come hell, highwater or Nor'Easter.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
With eight generations and 12 million units sold over the last 62 years, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class' longevity represents a profound run of intelligent bets for a premium sedan sold in premium quantities. That makes Las Vegas an appropriate background for last week's introduction of the E-Class sedan, Sin City being home to numerous examples of remarkable endurance. Having been outsold by the BMW 5 Series for the last couple of years in the U.S., Mercedes went all-in on the new E, from design to fabrication to luxury to – of course – technology. To find out what we thought of the gamble, hit the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Exemplifying how serious Mercedes is about the 2010 E-Class, the car's presentation began with this line from Mercedes' G.M. of product management, Bernhard Glaser: "Everything we know, everything we are went into this car."
We can begin, though, with what's gone on outside the car. To our eyes, the redesign joins the queue of vehicle forms that aren't accurately translated in photos. Unless caught at just the right angle, the car appears shorter in press shots, rendering its conspicuous design features into a somewhat stubby mass that dramatically ascends from front to rear. In person, however, the car gets properly lengthened: the shoulder line and lower door filet rise gradually, the tail doesn't come off as truncated and the E consumes the proper space of a mid-range sedan. Although an inch lower in height (yet with the same ground clearance) than the outgoing model, the new E is nearly an inch longer and four inches wider. It also has a lower Cd than the slinkier 2009 model.
The E-Class' interpretation of the now common form language introduced on the 2006 S-Class is accentuated by four things: the angular cast of the headlamps, which follow the contour of the new SL headlights but are vertically sliced in two; the upper door-line tied thematically around the front helping to break the side into three discretely angled surfaces, working with the prominent, chrome-trimmed lower door line that spans the full distance between the wheel wells, then continues much more subtly around the rear of the car; and the flared haunches that begin toward the back of the rear doors and take their inspiration from the pontoon detail that breezed in on the 180 sedan in 1953.
In photos the car looks like a cluster of lines and angles, and it takes a moment to get accustomed. In person, the effect is not so pronounced; it simply looks like a Mercedes. Being the most momentous re-skin since the 1995 E-Class debuted with the twin headlight face, it is no surprise that its looks might take some time to acclimatize. But when the E begins flooding the roads (and not to spoil the surprise, they will), the car will blend into the surroundings as comfortably as E-Classes past.
Inside, the first things of note are firmer lines and ostensible simplicity. As with the exterior, the details are sharper on this model than the current E: the IP boasts angles, not arcs; the supports are squared off, not softly contoured; and the center console doesn't cascade, it occupies three distinct spatial planes. Even the 'V' theme from the front of the car is mimicked in the instrument panel's shallow chevron.
Mercedes moved the shift lever from the center tunnel to a stalk on the column, a minor move that provides outsized returns in terms of opening up the cabin. Visually, it makes the front area feel more like a single space instead of cockpit and passenger areas, the larger backdrop reducing the impression of how many electronic and mechanical features there are in the cabin. The revamp puts the screen atop the center stack, the climate controls move to a slightly recessed space just above the cup-holders, and layout of elements like the seat controls have been subtly altered. You don't realize how many buttons there are until you start looking for them and it isn't that there are too many - there are probably fewer buttons than before - you simply don't take note until you find yourself saying, "Hmmm, I know it's in here somewhere..." Still, everything is easy to reach. The door lock button has (finally) been moved next to the door handle (hallelujah!), the COMAND control is simple (can I get an amen?), and it doesn't take long to get the layout committed to memory (preach on...).
There are only fractions of an inch more room inside - shoulder room and headroom see gains front and rear while legroom decreases a fraction of an inch, but unless you and Yao Ming buy your suits together you won't want for space. The optional 14-way adjustable seats will also hug, massage, heat, cool, shape-shift, and do everything else they can to get you to relax.
All of that, though, is the easy story of the new E-Class. This car is just as much, if not more so, a tale of technology. Mercedes apparently corralled a group of engineers, locked them in a basement and commanded, "Make safety gizmos!", and didn't release the boffins until they had improved or added a few more entries to the appendix of driver's aids. Let's get this safety party started:
- Attention Assist studies your driving for 20 minutes then keeps track of 70 variables, such as time of day, how long it's been since you used a turn signal, and your steering inputs in order to detect if you're catching Zs at the wheel. If the system thinks you're too fatigued to continue, it will issue a warning chime and a little coffee cup will appear in the speedo.
- Lane Keeping Assist vibrates the steering wheel if the car detects you have unintentionally weaved out of your lane.
- Adaptive Highbeam Assist uses a windshield-mounted camera to detect oncoming cars and adjust headlight settings. It will not only switch the lights from high-beam to low and back, it will also adjust the illuminating distance of the low beams from 984 feet down to 220 feet so that the projection stops short of the oncoming vehicle and the other driver isn't blinded by the light.
- Parktronic Plus with parking assist measures a spot for parallel parking as you pass it and will notify you if the space is large enough. It will then guide you into the space using symbols and text displayed in the IP.
- The E also gets the Blind Spot Assist from the S-Class. The feature places a triangle in the side mirror if you use your turn signal when there's someone in your blind spot. If you begin to change lanes, the system sounds a warning chime and the triangle flashes in the mirror.
- Night View Assist PLUS goes one-up on the S-Class by adding pedestrian detection, and the system places a frame around any pedestrian on the screen in case you confuse one of those bipedal oblong objects for, oh, a boulder that happens to be body temperature.
- Distronic Plus and Brake Assist Plus works with an enhanced radar, now with a range of 656 feet, and D.P. can be set to 'cruise control' and works in stop-and-go traffic as long as the stop is less than three seconds. Brake Assist Plus will add brake pressure if it senses that you aren't braking hard enough to avoid a collision. In a situation where you don't do any braking at all, it calculates the braking pressure needed to avoid a collision and will do just about everything short of driving the car to avoid one. The process happens in three-stages: at 2.6 seconds the system will beep if it thinks you're closing in on an object too fast; if you don't do anything, at 1.6 seconds the system beeps again and applies 40% of the braking force - that leaves you enough steering traction to turn out of the way of the collision if you wish; at 0.6 seconds, if you still haven't made an input, the car applies 100% braking force and PreSafe cinches the seat belts. It probably won't be enough to avoid a collision entirely, but in that last 1.6 seconds the car decelerates by 12 mph, lessening the impact.
- Forty crash tests are federally mandated in order to get a car to market. Mercedes crash tested this new car 150 times, simulated 17,000 additional crashes, drove six million miles in testing. So if things ever really get ugly, there are always the nine standard airbags, the Neck Pro head restraints, the stiffer body made with 72% high-strength steel.
Got all that? Good. Here comes the important stuff...
Initially the E will come in two versions that each have two variations: the V6 E350 with 268 hp and 258 lb-ft, and the V8 E550 with 382 hp and 391 lb-ft. They are immediately differentiated by their steering wheels, with the six-pot having a four-spoke wheel, the V8 sporting a three-spoke wheel.
Both models also come in Luxury and Sport versions, all of which shift through a seven-speed auto. How to tell them apart: the grille on the Luxury version wears four lamellas, the Sport version wears three, along with a more aggressive chin spoiler, a black diffuser insert and trapezoidal tailpipes. Conversely, the Luxury model has a body-colored diffuser and oval tailpipes. Inside, the dash gauges on the Luxury variant rest flat against the panel, while the Sport model's gauges are recessed into individual cowls. The Luxury model is fitted standard with 17-inch, five, twin-spoke wheels, the Sport gets 18-inch, five-spoke wheels. The Sport is expected to account for around 80% of sales in the U.S.
Nevertheless, absolutely none of that counts unless the car actually drives like you want it to. So with steering wheel in hand, feet on pedals, and enough technology for the car to qualify as an Autobot, it was time to beat the tar out of our test vehicles.
Except, that's not really what you do with an E-Class. Furthermore, in contrast to the city's reputation, Las Vegas' mildly undulating B-roads are almost as straight as the cross, so not the best place to go bashing the outer walls of E-Class performance.
What we can tell you is this: the V6 E-Class is all about stately. Its 268 horsies get the 3,891-pound car to 60 in 6.5 seconds, urgent enough to provide an adequate sensation of speed and leisurely enough not to distract your attention while doing it. As on the V8 you have the option of Sport and Comfort modes, yet while flicking into Sport will give you more aggressive throttle control and shifting, there won't be an appearance by Mr. Hyde. Bury the throttle, the car downshifts fractionally quicker than it did in Comfort, but barely warrants its "Sport" designation.
The V6 comes with a suspension dubbed Agility Control, which complements the four-link, independent, steel-sprung setup with an adjusting, stroke-dependent, variable-rate damping. Utilizing valves in each of the dampers, the system is meant to provide increased poise during maneuvers. We don't doubt it works - we just never got any driving opportunity that allowed us to say "Aha! That's the Agility Control working!"
The V6 is just what you would expect from the base model of Mercedes' middle sedan: solid marks everywhere, no fireworks. The steering is light, fine, but has a touch too much slack around center for our liking. At elevated highway speeds you'll hear practically nothing but the stereo and your conversation. Ask for more, the car fulfills orders efficiently, without complaint. And it looks and feels like a Mercedes in the process.
The V8 hauls its 4,145-pound mass to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. We were told that V6 models are expected to make up about 75% of U.S. sales, but if you lay out the extra $7,700 for the E550 it will be apparent with almost every mile and throttle input where that money went. The AirMatic suspension keeps everything flat and even in a way that doesn't euthanize feedback, the slightly heavier car and heavier front end translates into slightly (and nicely) firmer steering, and the car is faster everywhere. Press the Sport button and in addition to the enhanced inputs, the car lowers itself by an inch, and you can press another button for electronically-controlled four-wheel dynamic damping. Frankly, it didn't feel much different to our rear end on a desert road that offered occasional spots of sand as its biggest challenge, but measured next to the V6 those ubiquitous and cumulative tenths equal an exponential, as opposed to cumulative, improvement.
This might appear to leave us a little short on handling impressions, but in truth we know just about all we might need to know about the car. The question about the E350 and E550 is really this: do these cars succeed in their roles as E-Classes? The answer is "yes." People don't buy either car to set records up the Matterhorn or do time-attack runs to Dean & Deluca - that's what the E63 AMG will be for. People buy non-AMG E-Classes because they want to get from here to there luxuriously and safely, and they want The Mercedes Experience while they do it. Both cars deliver on that since, on the inside and underneath, they have done nothing more - and nothing less - than add another story or two to the tower of E-Class sensibilities and capabilities. On the outside is where the car has put a gap between it and the eighth generation, but it's one that, like the revelations of the first official E in 1984 and the W210 in 1995, will certainly find buyers as reliably as it's done for 62 years. That means we expect the new E to be another winning gamble.
The 2010 E-Class goes on sale this July. While the 2009 E350 retails for $53,200, the 2010 model - with all of the extra standard equipment - will sticker for $48,600 (plus $875 delivery). The E550 takes that up to $56,300, and the 4Matic option adds $2,500 to both cars. Later this year the E63 AMG bows, and next year sees the line rounded out with the E350 4Matic Wagon, the V6 turbodiesel E350 Bluetec, and the E Cabriolet.
But you'll only have to wait until tomorrow for our sampling of the brand new E Coupe.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Do you hear that? That's the jostling of a Prada bag and a soy latte inside the the last Mercedes CLK as it cruises into what is commonly referred to as "oblivion." It's being replaced by the brand new E-Class Coupe. Or rather, it's not really a replacement; the new car is a reset of expectations from Mercedes' middle coupe, distinguished from its CLK niece with more size, more features and more brawn, and distinct from its E-Class sedan big brother by unique architecture and body panels. Our question was: could it distinguish itself? Follow the jump to find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
The E Coupe is roughly an inch-and-a-half longer, two inches wider and three inches lower than the CLK. Compared to the sedan, the Coupe is about seven inches shorter, four inches narrower and three-and-a-half inches lower. Notably, the E350 is close to 400 pounds lighter than its sedan stablemate, and the E550 is 340 pounds down on curb weight versus the V8 sedan. Its bespoke dimensions and body panels indicate that it should not be looked at as simply an E with two doors. When GM of product management Bernhard Glaser was asked if the E Coupe rode on the same platform as the sedan or used the same architecture, he responded twice, "I wouldn't say that." Asked to make some sort of comparison between the two cars, he informed us, "I would say it's a member of the E Class family." As such it gets all of the E-Class safety doodads we mentioned yesterday, along with the same language and general proportions, but wrapped in a stance and attitude all its own.
Even more compelling than the first return of a proper E Coupe since 1995 is the look. Mercedes' design language has the quirk of saying completely different things when applied to different cars. You can tell the S-, E-, and C-Classes are in the same family, but they speak with much more divergent tongues than, for example, the 7, 5, and 3 Series cars from BMW.
And to our eyes the E Coupe's size and shape is a superb fit for the language trademarks. The front fascia features slightly more aggressive twin headlights, and, as with the sedan, presents a much more refined mass when seen in person. But the rear three-quarter view is the best, the more prominent haunches flare out with an aggressive rake, the rear presenting a fitting ascension to cap the rising lines established at the front of the car. The roof-line follows a CL-like rainbow arc. The B-pillar-less design and standard panoramic roof put much more glass up top than metal, letting the greenhouse rest lightly on the body. The shard of a window that keeps the entire arc from being open is there because Mercedes wanted the windows to roll completely down, and that section would have jutted above the frame.
Inside, there's an aesthetic edge we aren't used to seeing in a Mercedes at this price point that isn't labeled "AMG." The seats are sculpted beautifully front and back - in fact, we liked the spine-contoured, scalloped seatbacks just as much as the leather fronts. Black leather interiors come standard with cross stitching. Four simple dials on the inboard sides of the front seats control inflatable bladders in the seat bolster, lower side bolsters, and two lumbar areas (this on top of standard, ten-way electronic adjustment). When the side bolsters were pumped up the seats embraced us in a perfect Posturepedic hug.
Even the back seats are given top-down contour, meaning that - unusual for Mercedes - the rear seat headrests don't retreat back into the rear shelf. It has the same rear headroom as the outgoing CLK, it simply looks much better in the provision. The seats are plenty cozy, and to get that headroom the rear ceiling has two scoops in it where your noggin might reside. Six footers are probably the limit for those who could do long distance comfort back there, which is more than good for a mid-sized coupe. The rear seats' final triumph: they fold flat together or in split configuration, 1/3 to 2/3. The cargo volume with the seats up is already five cubic feet larger than the CLK. With the seats down you can fit your golf bags and cases of Pellegrino and that sculpture you picked up at Sotheby's.
Back up front, the substantial difference from the sedan is the placement of the gear shift lever, which lives atop the center tunnel and splits the cabin back in two, as it should be in a sports coupe.
On the go, there is a great deal more distance between the two flavors of coupe than there is between the sedan variants. The V6 takes its experience cues from the same place as the sedan: it's a solid, efficient performer that does its job without glitter. The six-cylinder is not about the visceral, it's about purpose – you buy it because you like the coupe style, and curving tarmac, exhaust grumbles and phrases like "floor it" just don't speak to you. The 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque will get the lighter body to 60 in 6.2 seconds, which is 0.3 seconds faster than the four-door, but that kind of stat is largely meaningless to the V6 buyer.
If you decide to break free of the tone of the car and really cane it, the Agility Control suspension with adaptive shock absorbers will keep you between the solid lines even when things get tight. Get up to speed and the seven-speed adaptive transmission will quickly figure out that you're trying to order some fun off the menu and will hold gears accordingly. But on this car it can be just as useful – and it adds a little more engagement with the driving experience – to do the shifting yourself instead of waiting for the tranny to finish reading your psych chart.
Nevertheless, even though Mercedes says this isn't the two-door version of the sedan, the E Coupe actually is a two-door version of the sedan: it will do everything you need it to do with pleasant efficiency.
The E550 Coupe, however, is where you'll find the action. If it were a neighborhood, it would be the genteel enclave on the hill next to the Tenderloin district – you can sneak out, head down the hill and get dirty whenever that side calls, knowing you always have a cosseting, leather-filled abode to return to when it's time to be respectable again. The 5.5-liter V8 with 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque is only marginally faster to 60 than the sedan – two-tenths of a second.
But this is really about the exhaust note – as with the interior, we're not used to these sorts of aural treats from a Mercedes unadorned with an AMG-badge. The E550 Coupe sounds terrific, and the note and vibration resonate into the cabin terrifically. For some reason that means you can feel the one-inch lower ride height versus the standard six-cylinder coupe. Blip the throttle, and the exhaust raises its hand, responding "Present, sir!"
The E550 Coupe comes with the Dynamic Handling suspension (the AirMatic isn't an option on the lighter, sports-centered car) that brings electronically-adjustable shock absorbers, revised throttle response, and 18-inch wheels. Add the Sport package and that gets the Jamba Juice boost of 18-inch AMG alloys, 235/40 rubber up front, 255/35 doing duty astern, and an AMG steering wheel.
What you've really got in the E550 Coupe is a curve-approved GT. On the wide-open adventureland that is Nevada, put all the windows down and open the sunroof then play with the gas pedal and the stereo volume, adjusting either depending on which one is making better sounds at the time. On cross-country interstate duty, set the cruise control to 130 mph (we didn't do this... but we know folks who did) and, if you're not paying attention, you'll either be in Nova Scotia before you remember to be fatigued, or you'll be saying things like "Was I really going that fast, officer? Please, put those handcuffs away..."
We would firm up the steering some, but it's well calibrated to serve both its daily-commuting customers and its sporting intentions. Leave the electrono-nanny fully on and she hovers over your shoulder, so much so that a smattering of sand in the road will have the little yellow triangle flashing at you. Put the car in its Sport (as opposed to Comfort) setting and it drops a gear. Then, you can turn the ESC off – not completely, but into a sort of sport mode (it will show up wearing a cape in an emergency, though) and get some tail-out action... especially if you drive back over those sand patches again.
The shifting is, of course, Mercedes smooth, and we commend the rev-blip that keeps one from noticing downshifts. We dropped from 7th down to 3rd at highway speeds and if we hadn't been looking at the readout or tach, we'd have had little notion of what gear we were in. And when the Sport button is pushed, even at 90 mph the car would drop into 6th. We were never able to find out how fast you have to be going to get the car to hold 7th in sport. But it's fast. And it's fun.
However, we must take a moment to mention the one travesty of this car: while Mercedes admitted that they can never say never, the company currently has no plans to produce an E63 AMG. Shocking. If the CLK could get its own flamethrower version, but the E coupe gets left out of the tuning room, then Justice is not only dead, she has been drawn and quartered and her head placed on a pike outside the walls of Mercedes HQ. Yes, we feel that seriously about it.
Aside from that... all is well in the world of the E-Class Coupe. While the E350 Coupe gets a "Yes, that will be fine, thank you," it's for the E550 Coupe that we say, "That one. In silver."
The 2010 car goes on sale in June, with the E350 posting a list price of $48,050 plus $875 destination, which is a $50 drop over the price of the 2009 CLK350.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Convertibles have long been something of an acquired taste. Devotees steadfastly defend the unique sensation of elemental motoring that can only come when plugged in to one's surrounding breezes, noises and smells. Conversely, detractors have traditionally lambasted droptops for their lackluster foul weather performance, added weight, vulnerability, and creaky, ill-handling platforms. And while the naysayers may have had a point in the era of tonneau-covered British roadster pilots with their tepid heaters, dubious structural rigidity and leaky, masochistic roof mechanisms, modern topless numbers like this 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet give lie to the idea that convertibles make lousy year-round companions.
Follow the jump to find out why.
Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Mercedes-Benz has long since memorized the four-seat convertible script. Hell, they probably wrote the damned thing. Benz has built dozens of different ones over the years, so it stands to reason that company engineers have approached their new E-Cabrio with a pretty reliable checklist of attributes. Primary among their concerns? A luxurious and well-sheltered interior. To that end, not only has Stuttgart mated an inch-thick canvas top with startlingly good sealing capabilities to a suitably robust chassis, it has kitted out its latest baby with all manner of draft-dodging technologies, including a new feature called Aircap. The system consists of a motorized airfoil that deploys from the windshield header in tandem with a power-actuated rear wind blocker that rises with the rear headrests to reduce in-cabin air turbulence. We've seen riffs on both elements before, but never with one-touch simultaneous deployment.
In addition to Aircap technology, the E-Cab offers a much-improved version of its Airscarf in-seat neck vents, seat warmers and a trick HVAC system that automatically compensates for whatever position the top is in. Benz marketing types at the car's launch on the Spanish island of Majorca promised us that their new convertible is a four-seasons vehicle for four passengers, and after a couple of days in the saddle, we are ready to concede their point.
Firstly, in an age where many luxury marques are forsaking the cloth in favor of Rube Goldbergian retractable hardtops, we applaud Mercedes for not fully succumbing to the trend it actually kickstarted with the SL roadster back in 1990. Not only does E-Cab's 'acoustic' softtop seal out the weather and din of the outside world just fine, it looks much better while doing it. Four-place tin roofs like those on the Lexus ISC and BMW 3 Series tend to have awkwardly prominent panel seams and the spatial requirements of filing away their tops often has a nasty effect on body proportions (to say nothing of trunk space). The Benz suffers no such injustices, and it looks quite striking regardless of whether or not it's wearing a cap.
Admittedly, some of us on staff still haven't warmed to the new E's rectilinear headlamps and H-E-double-hockey-stick LED running lamps, but the car's profile remains decidedly rakish, with ample visual thrust provided by the swollen rear fenders and angled character line. The rear taillamps are perhaps a bit generic in form, but the trunklid 'point' is a nice extension of the character line on the hood and the dual rear exhaust tips are well integrated into a blacked-out recess that curbs visual bulk.
Whether the top is up or down, the interior is a fine place to be. Truth be told, we didn't notice a great deal of improvement when the rather gawky looking Aircap winglet was deployed during open air motoring. Don't worry, you can't see it from the inside, but even so, there's not a drafty perch in the well-furnished house. Better still, gone are the days when a studied eye could find evidence of Benz beancounter cost-cutting in the cabin, and even the base model gets the aforementioned Aircap, along with dual-zone HVAC controls, leather and walnut trim.
At our first opportunity, we absconded with a top-rung V8-powered E500 Cabriolet (to be badged E550 when it comes to the States in May) and went hunting for entertaining coastal winding roads – tarmac that was in abundant supply thanks to Majorca's tidy dimensions and thin off-season traffic. While we couldn't access some of the area's most celebrated roads (Xynthia, the very windstorm that nearly scuttled our man Harley's Jaguar XJ drive in Paris had caused rockslides and downed trees that made obstructed key passage points), very few of the Spanish island's surface roads we encountered ran straight for longer than the length of an olive grove, and some of the more mountainous stretches we traversed had the sort of blind zig-zags that have locals honking their horns to announce their presence before rounding a bend.
Other than on a few lengths of motorway, we never really had the chance to sample the ample reserves of our E-Cab's 5.5-liter V8, but it was pleasing to have that much power and torque (382 horses at 6,000 rpm and 391 pound-feet from 2,800-4,000 rpm) at our disposal all the same. Further, the seven-speed automatic didn't hunt around as some gearboxes with as many cogs are wont to do in hilly country – the computers simply picked the right gear and stuck with it, rendering our sport pack-equipped car's pull-tab paddleshifters all but unused.
In addition to copious amounts of added support (reinforced A-pillars, "plug-in" B-pillars, floor buttresses, etc.), our German friends have sought to allay safety concerns with pop-up rollbars, seven airbags (including Benz's first headbags in a cabriolet), seatbelt pretensioners, as well as available preventative measures including 'Attention Assist' drowsiness detection, Distronic Plus active cruise control, and so on. As with the coupe, the chassis and its attachments are an artful hodgepodge of C-Class and E-Class bits, and impressively, company officials tell us that the resulting structure is as safe in a rollover as its tin-top counterpart.
Given that your average Majorcan meteorologist's calendar is filled with happy-faced sunshine icons for upwards of 300 days a year and there isn't much of a local trucking industry, we didn't exactly have the chance to assess the chassis' fortitude on bad roads, but we have every reason to be encouraged. Still, in the interest of further verifying Benz's 'four-seasons' claim, we're curious to see how the car's rear-drive power delivery and various electronic nannies (traction control, stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, etc.) will cope with icy surfaces after swapping the 18-inch Pirelli P-Zero footwear for a set of snows. Perhaps we'll get the chance to find out next winter. In the meantime, Mercedes officials tell us that there are no plans to market a 4Matic all-wheel-drive variant of the Cabrio, ceding that niche of the market to the likes of Audi.
While impressively comfortable, swift and – with V8 power – in possession of a nice top-down burble as backing vocals, the E-Cab still isn't the sort of machine that will cause the 'red mist' to grab your Inner Stig by his HANS device – it's a more relaxed affair than all that. No need to white knuckle the steering wheel, there's good weight and reasonable feel to the rack-and-pinion system, and all of the hidden extra scaffolding has done its thing to minimize cowl shake and unnecessary drama. Rather than try to do something undignified like catch that rogue in his M3, it's better to lower the top in a scant 20 seconds – at speeds up to 25 mph – and revel in the countryside, sample the audio system, or perhaps enjoy a conversation with three of your friends (the rearmost occupants ideally not being quite as leggy as your front-seat companion, just as God intended).
To be clear, it's not that the E-Cab isn't up to a good grab-by-the-scruff shagging, it's just that with its more relaxed demeanor, it doesn't encourage that sort of behavior, much less cry out for it. In fact, we suspect that buyers would do well to save a few bucks and simply go with the less costly – and weighty – V6-powered E350. We've got nothing against the V8, but we figure that the 3.5-liter's 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet should provide more than enough starch in this car's trousers. By lopping off a couple of cylinders, North American customers will lose some AMG body tweaks (the front fascia goes from a 'frown' to a 'smile,' etc.) as well as the cross-drilled rotors shrouded by 18-inch alloys, paddleshifters and the obligatory 'sport' button that firms up the suspension and tweaks the gearbox and throttle responses, but we're sure you can tough it out – especially at an estimated cost savings of around $8,000–$9,000. About that – Mercedes hasn't officially announced pricing yet, but we've been advised to expect something in the neighborhood of $58k for the E350 and $67k for the E550.
If you're concerned about such things (or at least the appearance of such things), official EPA fuel economy figures haven't been released yet. For comparison's sake, the 2010 V6 coupe is rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 26 highway, and the V8 checks in at 15/23. Both droptops are heavier by a couple of hundred pounds due to their additional bracing, so we'd bet on around a single MPG drop in each cycle.
One more thing: A 290-horsepower direct-injected version of the 3.5-liter is expected next summer, something that ought to further dent the V8's attractiveness. For the moment, though, Mercedes says to expect 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds for the E550, with the E350 taking an additional 1.2 seconds to achieve the same milestone. Both cars are limited to a toupée-compromising 130 mph.
Still searching for something a bit more hardcore from the House of the Three–Pointed Star? We'd suggest binning the rear seats and going with an SLK55 AMG, or perhaps waiting until the execs in Stuttgart slip a few E Cabrios onto a truck bound for Affalterbach. Either way, before you dismiss Benz's latest effort, understand that there's a certain type of stateliness and undeniable pleasure that's achievable only when motoring around in a relaxed luxury four-place convertible. And thanks to advances in technology found in cars like the E-Cabrio, that ineffable joy promises to be had in any season and without penalty.
Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Great luxury sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is fresh from major revisions last year, and the lineup has now been filled out with the new 2011 E550 Cabrio.
The new Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabrio features an innovative soft top that's nearly one-inch thick with three layers of acoustic sound dampening, leaves good trunk space, and provides wind protection with the top down. The soft top disappears in 17 silent seconds, as Mercedes says. Mercedes claims the E550 is the most affordable V8 four-seat convertible on the market.
The Mercedes-Benz E350 and E550 sedans, coupes, convertibles and wagons are a technological tour de force, yet none of the new technology is intrusive.
The essence of the Mercedes E-Class cars hasn't changed. They retain the feeling of robustness and engineering excellence that has defined them for decades.
The E-Class sits in the middle of the Mercedes car line, between the compact C-Class and the big S-Class. It's the company's best-selling car worldwide, and as such it defines the brand's essence. Every E-Class model delivers an excellent balance of passenger space, luxury, style and impressive performance in a practical, manageably sized package.
The E-Class line includes a two-door Coupe joining the familiar sedan, with wagons and convertibles, too. The E-Class looks more angular and technical than it used to, but it is quite pleasing to the eye. The chassis is strengthened to improve crash protection, reduce vibration and sharpen handling, without adding weight. Yet if the new-generation E-Class cars have a theme, it might be their high-tech control and management systems. That's not surprising for a car that introduced a host of now-familiar features, from antilock brakes to airbags, to mass production.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class represents the most electronics-intensive model line Mercedes has offered to date, and most of the new computer-managed systems focus on safety. A new Attention Assist system that comes standard monitors up to 70 driving parameters to determine whether the driver is getting drowsy behind the wheel and uses both visual and auditory warnings to tell the driver to pull over for rest. The Distronic Plus cruise control option features both blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning technology, while automatic self-adjusting headlights automatically dim the brights. And those systems are just the start.
Beyond the technological wizardry, the E-Class remains what it has always been, only maybe a little bit nicer. Every model is smooth, quiet and appointed in elegant, understated fashion, with comfortable space for four or five passengers and a substantial load of luggage.
The new two-door Coupe might be the sexiest E-Class car ever.
The standard gasoline V6 in the Mercedes E350 models is more than powerful enough for most drivers. The 382-horsepower V8 in the Mercedes E550 models delivers the turbine-like, overpowered feel that characterizes Germany's best autobahn blasters. The turbocharged engine in the Mercedes E350 BlueTEC sedan is the smoothest, quietest diesel available in the United States. It delivers amazing bursts of acceleration for passing, with mileage that surpasses most other cars in this class by about 30 percent. Those seeking help through the worst of a northern winter can choose the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system for the E-Class sedans and wagon.
The E-Class created a category of mid-sized luxury cars that has become one of the most competitive (and enjoyable) in today's automobile market. The 2011 E-Class models simply re-establish Mercedes credentials near the top of the class.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class includes four-door sedans, two-door coupes, convertibles, and a wagon, in 11 distinct models. E350 models come with a 3.5-liter V6. E350 BlueTEC models feature a 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel. E550 comes with a V8. All E-Class cars come with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The E350 sedan ($49,400) comes with automatic dual-zone climate control, burl walnut trim, 14-way power front seats with position memory, an eight-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and Bluetooth interface, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The standard upholstery is cloth. The E350 BlueTEC sedan ($50,900) is equipped similarly except for its diesel engine. The E550 sedan ($57,100) comes standard with leather upholstery and a power sunroof.
All-wheel drive comes on the E350 4MATIC sedan ($51,900), E550 4MATIC sedan ($59,600), and E350 4MATIC wagon ($56,200).
The E350 Coupe ($48,850) and E550 Coupe ($55,450) are equipped comparably to the sedans.
The E350 Cabriolet ($56,850) and E550 Cabriolet ($64,800) resemble the two-door Coupe but feature a power-operated, three-layer fabric convertible top and other features intended to keep passengers comfortable for top-down driving. These new models feature the AIRCAP, a pop-up slim wing over the windshield that directs air over the cabin, and adjusts itself with the vehicle's speed. With a screen rising behind the rear seats, passengers are protected from wind buffetting.
The E63 AMG sedan ($87,600) features a 6.2-liter V8 that generates 518 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. It adds a host of performance upgrades, including a seven-speed transmission with an automatic clutch rather than a conventional torque converter.
Options include Premium Package I with COMAND with navigation system, premium harman/kardon audio with HD radio and Sirius satellite radio hardware, heated front seats, rearview camera and rear-glass sunshade. Premium Package II includes Package I plus ventilated front seats, a bi-xenon active light system with automatic high-beam control and headlight washers, and keyless entry. Standalone options include rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,850), Panoramic Sunroof ($1,590), split folding rear seat ($430).
Safety features include advanced antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability program (ESP). Active safety systems include Attention Assist drowsiness monitor. Standard passive safety features include nine airbags: dual frontal, driver's knee-protection, front-passenger side-impact torso, front passenger side-impact pelvis, and full cabin head-protection curtains. Rear passenger side-impact airbags are optional. 4MATIC all-wheel drive enhances safety, particularly in slippery conditions.
The latest-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class models are generally more angular than their predecessors, with sharper creases. Automotive styling is a subjective process, to be sure, but this latest E-Class has been lauded from many corners for its character and pleasing design.
Besides the familiar sedan and wagon, the line-up includes an E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet (or convertible), which replace cars that had been known as the CLK since the mid-1990s. All E-Class models share the same underpinnings, and nearly identical exterior dimensions.
Styling for all E-Class variants is quite similar, too, at least from the windshield forward. Every design cue, panel, lamp and piece of glass was changed for 2010. And although they tend to look bigger than their predecessors, more like Mercedes' premium S-Class, they really aren't. The new E-Class variants share a larger grille, and a new trapezoidal headlamp array with multiple elements and square corners instead of the traditional E-Class oval lamps.
From the windshield back, the new E-Class models differ, of course. The two-door Coupe's roof flows more evenly than the sedans, with a less prominent notch where the rear glass tapers downward. Yet all variants share a set of four lines rising from front to rear in or on the body. Rear lamps are similar on Coupe and sedan, as are the rectangular exhaust tips built into the bumpers, rather than hung below them.
Mercedes designers took great pains managing airflow through, under and around the E-Class, producing a sedan with a drag coefficient of only 0.25, despite its big, brawny appearance. That makes the E-Class the most aerodynamically efficient four-door car in the world, according to Mercedes. The company claims that the Coupe's Cd of just 0.24 is the best overall figure for any series-production car anywhere. Other things equal, a lower coefficient of drag means less interior noise and better fuel mileage.
The E-Class wagon is offered in Sport trim. That means a bolder three-bar grille, more aggressively flared rocker panels and perforated front brake discs with painted calipers, visible through five-spoke 17-inch wheels. The wagon's roof creates a dramatic teardrop shape in profile, with LED taillights that wrap around the rear corners of the car.
The E-Class Cabriolet comes closest in appearance to the Coupe. The lower half of the body of the E550 Cabriolet is designed by AMG, Mercedes' partner in high performance, and its sleek edginess reflects that attitude. The power convertible soft top is one inch thick, and performs like a hard top, so well insulated that it actually dampens sound more effectively than the steel roof on the coupe, according to Mercedes. It lowers and rises in 17 seconds.
The lines of the soft top are not as sleek as the lower half of the car. The rear glass is not expansive, so it could fit in the trunk without taking up too much space. This means more area of fabric around the window, making it look thickish back there, losing some of the beauty of the Coupe. And for all its edges in the sheetmetal toward the front of the car, it has fairly round hips, especially noticeable in the Cabriolet.
Though redesigned for 2010, the E-Class cabin retains enough Mercedes-style interior appointments to make it comfortably familiar to previous E-Class owners.
Seat-shaped seat controls high on the door panels and seat heating/cooling controls at the very bottom of the center stack make it easy to adjust important things quickly. Textures and color schemes are familiar Mercedes, too. With the darker interior colors and standard burl walnut trim, the E-Class can create a slightly somber tone inside. Yet in all cases the cabin exudes a classy, understated elegance.
The dashboard in all E-Class variants is identical. The forward door panels and center console are similar as well, though they're trimmed a bit differently depending on the model and equipment ordered.
Mercedes' familiar three-gauge instrument cluster has been supplanted by a package of five analog gauges, including two pairs that overlap each other. All are exceptionally crisp and easy to read at a glance. Nonetheless, the E-Class dash is dominated by something Mercedes calls its COMAND system, which sits front and center at the top of the center stack.
COMAND is a seven-inch color display screen with standard in-dash, six-disc CD/DVD changer and a Bluetooth interface that allows phones to be operated through the car's audio system, even if they remain in a purse or pocket. Using a point-and-click controller on the center console, this central display can be controlled by either the driver or front passenger to adjust audio and other functions. Most features, including climate controls, can be adjusted with their own separate switches lower in the center stack. The COMAND display also shows the optional navigation screen, the back-up camera image, and the night vision infrared display. It comes with its own 212-page manual.
The E-Class sedan front seats are quite comfortable and supportive, but the sportier seats found in the Coupe and Cabriolet might be on the firm side for long stints at the wheel. There's plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel to accommodate nearly any sized driver. The Sport steering wheel is lovely, wrapped in stitched leather, with buttons to control audio and phone and driver information. The center spokes showed off a graceful and delicate design, with indents for your thumbs, a perfect fit. Much thought went into this steering wheel.
Mercedes' familiar stalk-mounted cruise-control switch remains, and it still looks too much like, and is too easily mistaken for, the turn-signal lever. The new gear selector is a lot like a turn signal, too, on the right side of the steering column. E-Class cars ordered in Sport trim have nicely shaped paddles behind the steering-wheel spokes for manual gear selection.
All E-Class variants come standard with new active safety features. The big-ticket item is Attention Assist, which constantly monitors up to 70 driving parameters to determine whether the driver is getting drowsy behind the wheel. If it decides a driver is at risk of dozing, Attention Assist uses both visual and auditory warnings to tell the driver to pull over, get some rest, or get a cup of coffee.
The Distronic Plus cruise control option is offered with both blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning systems built in. An intelligent self-adjusting headlamp system uses cameras to detect both oncoming cars and the traffic ahead, and raises and lowers the headlamp beams accordingly. The idea is to put the most light on the road most of the time, without disturbing other drivers. The new Intelligent Nightview option throws infrared light in front of the car and then uses high-resolution video cameras to spot the higher temperatures coming from otherwise invisible pedestrians and animals.
The middle seat in back of the E-Class sedan is reasonably comfortable for a small-to-medium-sized adult on a short trip. The outboard rear seats in the four-seat E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet are actually a bit more inviting than those in the sedan, even though they're more difficult to climb into in the absence of rear doors. The Coupe and Cabriolet's rear seats offer marginal legroom, and they're more sportier than those in the sedan.
Neither interior nor cargo space in the new-generation E-Class have changed significantly; they are about the same as the previous model's, and the car can be ordered with split folding rear seats for additional cargo flexibility.
Trunk capacity at 15.9 cubic feet remains at the top of the class, matching the Audi A6, and surpassing the BMW 5 Series (14.0), Acura TL (13.1 cubic feet), and Lexus GS (12.7). The E-Class Coupe has as much trunk volume as the sedan.
The E350 wagon expands cargo capacity even further, and its standard all-wheel drive and self-leveling rear air suspension allow a substantial towing capacity of some 2,500 pounds. The wagon features a power-fold mechanism that lowers the split rear seatbacks with buttons near the tailgate, as well as an automatic tailgate that can memorize a desired opening height. The wagons come standard with a folding third seat in the cargo area.
The E-Class Cabriolet has good trunk space for a convertible. Even with the top down, there's room for two bags of golf clubs. That's almost the whole point of the soft top. Trunk space and less weight is the reason for the soft top, rather than hard top like all the others are doing. A soft top also allows more room for the rear seats. If it can do what a hard top can do, it's a winner.
The soft top for the E550 Cabriolet introduces a big blind spot made by the roofline where it drops down to the rear quarter panels. Visibility out the backlight in the rearview mirror is also tight, because of the small rear glass and the screen to block the wind into the cabin when the top is down; it doesn't lower all the way. The structure of the top is so sturdy, and its motor so strong, that the top can be raised with the car traveling 25 mph, for when the rain comes fast and you can't pull over.
The Cabriolet's AIRCAP is especially inventive. It has 20 patents and 211 parts, and has been tested in the wind tunnel at 150 mph with the wind full of bugs. We got our E550 Cabriolet out on a high-speed two-lane, open and remote like a Nevada road, and opened her up on a hot day. The AIRCAP, along with the rear screen, works to screen out buffeting. Its mesh allows some air to pass, thus reducing cabin pressure and with it wind noise.
A host of electronic systems present themselves once you're underway. The blind-sport warning system lights up a triangle in the side mirrors whenever a vehicle enters the blind spot. The lane-departure warning system vibrates the steering wheel when you cross or creep toward the lane marker before activating the turn signal. The optional night-vision screen image is large, crisp and clear, and so bright and detailed at night that it can distract the driver from the task at hand.
Still, most of these new systems are less intrusive than those in many E-Class competitors. Most functions and features can be adjusted with the point-and-click dial on the center console, or with more conventional, separate switches on the dash: whichever the driver finds easier or less distracting during the process of driving. And, all the new electronic gizmos aside, the new generation models are more comfortable, more solid, quieter, and more agile than any previous E-Class.
We particularly like the diesel-powered E350 BlueTEC sedan. Mercedes' V6 turbodiesel is the smoothest, quietest diesel engine available, so virtually all the smoky, clattering drawbacks of more traditional diesel power are gone (though the oily diesel smell during fill-ups remains). Performance is virtually identical the gasoline-powered E350, with even stronger short bursts of acceleration, and the diesel engine comes with a substantial fuel mileage increase compared to nearly every other car in this class. That's good for the pocketbook, the environment and the world's geo-political balance. The BlueTEC 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel engine is rated 210 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque.
As for the E-Class gasoline engines, both the more economical 268-horsepower V6 and the more powerful 382-horsepower V8 are smooth, quiet, and responsive. Better still, Mercedes' seven-speed automatic transmission is improved compared to previous iterations. It more frequently chooses the perfect gear for the prevailing driving circumstances, and both up or down shifts come quickly. Or the driver can choose the desired gear with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and the transmission will stay in that gear right up to the engine's redline without upshifting automatically.
Acceleration performance is impressive, regardless of the model, and none of the E-Class variants is a lightweight. Packed with all the technology, all the luxury touches and all those airbags, an E350 sedan weighs in at 3,825 pounds and the E550 at 4,034 pounds. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive option adds more weight. Given these figures, the spry acceleration seems even more remarkable.
E350 models are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. E550 models use a 5.5-liter V8 generating 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The E350 V6 will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds; the E550 V8 does the same in just 5.1 seconds, with top speed electronically limited to 130 mph.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/24 miles per gallon for the E350 sedan. The E350 coupe rates 17/26 mpg, E350 cabriolet gets 17/25 mpg, E350 4MATIC sedan rates 17/24 mpg, E350 4MATIC wagon gets 16/23 mpg. The E350 BlueTEC is rated 22/33 mpg. The E550 sedan, 4MATIC sedan and coupe are rated 15/23 mpg, the E550 cabriolet is rated 15/22 mpg. The E63 AMG is rated 13/20 mpg.
There's a nice balance of comfortable ride and good handling response, even in the standard models, which put a bit more emphasis on the ride. All E-Class variants have a variable damping system that changes the rebound rate of the shock absorbers according to conditions. This allows a softer, quieter ride on smoother roads, but retains full shock damping through dips, or for spirited driving on twisting two-lanes.
The E-Class brakes are world-class, with the latest electronic controls and built-in automatic braking with the Distronic radar-controlled cruise option. These brakes are consistently powerful at the wheels, progressive and reassuring at the pedal, and they always come back, no matter how hot they may get in a spirited drive.
The E-Class Cabriolet is loaded with features intended to extend open motoring throughout the year. One is AIRSCARF, which uses neck-level heating vents under the headrests. Another is a new device called AIRCAP: an aerodynamic deflector mounted at the top of the windshield.
AIRCAP contains 211 separate parts with 70 patents, and it can be raised roughly 2.5 inches at the driver's discretion to redirect airflow over the top of the E-Class Cabriolet's open cabin. The point? AIRCAP virtually eliminates buffeting (not to mention wind noise) for front-seat passengers when the convertible top is lowered. It reduces buffeting for rear-seat passengers to levels comparable to that experienced by front-seat passengers in other four-place convertibles, according to Mercedes. And it does so without the drawbacks associated with more familiar, screen-type wind blockers raised behind the front seats: reduced visibility, and elimination of rear-seat passenger space. There's at least a slight payback with AIRCAP, to be sure. When the airfoil is raised, the E-Class Cabriolet's roof-open drag coefficient rises from 0.33 to 0.38, and that could have a measurable effect on fuel economy. Nonetheless, AIRCAP works as billed, and allows the quietest, buffeting-free open motoring we've experienced.
We found the E550 accelerates like a rocket with the silky V8 and improved 7-speed transmission (we got 18 mpg average), and handles more precisely than any E-class we've known. The suspension in the E500 Cabriolet we drove might be too firm for some, though; over patchy freeway roads you can feel the jolts, as if the car is trying to defeat the bumps rather than absorb them.
Few automobiles deliver as satisfying a mix of passenger space, luxury, style and performance in a vault-solid, practical package as the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. From convertible to wagon, there's an E-Class variant for nearly every taste, an available high-mileage diesel engine or an ultra-performance, 518-hp V8, and optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive for drivers who can use it. Add to that Mercedes-Benz claims the new-generation E-Class is the safest car of its type ever built, based on all the standard safety equipment that's built in.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Madrid, Spain, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit, Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles, Sam Moses in Portland.
Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan ($49,400); E350 BlueTEC sedan ($50,900); E350 4MATIC sedan ($51,900); E350 Coupe ($48,850); E350 Cabriolet ($56,850); E350 4MATIC wagon ($56,200); E550 sedan ($57,100); E550 4MATIC sedan ($59,600); E550 Coupe ($55,450); E550 Cabriolet ($64,800); E63 AMG ($87,600).
Options As Tested
PO2 Premium Package includes GPS navigation system with 40 GB hard drive, harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround-sound audio with HD radio, Sirius satellite radio and iPod connection and cable, rear-window sunshade, rearview camera, heated/ventilated front seats, Bi-Xenon headlights with Active Curve Illumination, Adaptive High Beam Assist, LED turn signals and daytime running lights, headlight washers and KEYLESS-GO proximity key ($6,450); Wood/leather steering wheel package with wood/leather shift knob ($760); Steel Gray metallic paint ($720); 18-inch alloy AMG wheels, sport steering wheel, all-season tires ($1270).
Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet ($64,800).
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