Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned, substantially revised, in a wide range of models.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes with a new edgy look, available in many models and iterations. The 2014 E-Class might be remembered for the breakthrough of intelligent drive, as the E-Class smashes into the Brave New World of the car doing the driving for you, with a burst of electronic enhancements in pursuit of safety. Mercedes counts 11 of them, down to anti-glare continuous high-beam headlamps.
Because the E-Class competes with the Cadillac CTS and Audi A5, it needs to be pretty, and the new face of the 2014 E-Class brings it alive. The interior is cleaned up for 2014 as well.
Over two days in Oregon, we drove the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC Sedan, E350 Cabriolet, E550 Cabriolet, E400 Hybrid Sport Sedan, and E350 4MATIC Wagon. Each has something special to offer. Give us our pick and we'll take the wagon. The black paint and brown leather upholstery had something to do with that.
The new E-Class is more dynamic, improved to the eye from every angle. Mercedes calls it elegant and poised, and it is that, but it's aggressive too. The front end is especially sporty, while character lines on the sides are cleaner. The tweaks keep Mercedes moving from old man's car to muscle car.
The E350 with the V6 makes 302 horsepower, 273 foot-pounds of torque, and accelerates from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds. The E550 with the V8 makes 402 hp and 443 ft-lb, and takes 4.9 seconds. We prefer the V6 because it's smooth, plenty fast, and more efficient.
There's also a 2.1-liter turbodiesel that makes 195 horsepower with a robust 369 lb-ft of torque, and comes standard with 4MATIC all-wheel drive; we got 40.6 miles per gallon driving on two-lanes and freeway. The diesel makes more sense than the V6 Hybrid, which delivered just 29.8 mpg. We got 25.0 mpg in the V8-powered E550. The diesel is slower than the hybrid but more responsive.
All the E-Class models come standard with the ECO stop/start system, which shuts the engine off when the car stops. The Mercedes system is less intrusive than the BMW system.
In two days of driving different E-Class models, we have no big bad notes, only little ones. Suspensions: check. Transmission: check. Handling: check. It all works. You won't be unhappy or surprised. You'll like your ride and comfort. Just know what to expect in acceleration, and get a good feel for the transmission, and the rest is turn-key, in buying a Mercedes.
The interior is less changed than the exterior. The dashboard is smoother, every inch soft touch, with new two-piece trim in three woods. Beige leather and brown satin ash is beautiful, as is gray leather and black ash, and more we haven't seen. Changes on the instrument panel for 2014 include a new cluster with nice off-white gauges, and sleeker air vents with an analog clock between them. Console switches are now dipped in chrome.
The soft top on the convertible is quietest in its class, says Mercedes, and with the optional Airscarf, Aircap, and wind deflectors, you can drive with the top down on brisk days. The seats are a bit different in the models. In the Cabriolets they're Recaro-like, with tight ribbed leather.
As for the active safety enhancements, there's a whole lotta assisting going on here. We have collision prevention assist, parking assist, steering assist, lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic assist, rear-end collision assist, pedestrian recognition assist, and last but not least Attention Assist. That's the hand that reaches out of the dashboard and slaps you. Just kidding.
We wonder if some of this assistance might take us into the land of unintended consequences. As in, you might get creamed from behind when it late-brakes for you to prevent your smashing the guy in front of you. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We'll wait for Top Gear to take a safety-optioned E-Class and drive it toward a brick wall at 30 mph with another one on its tail, to see what happens. We'll wait for Jeremy Clarkson to drive blindfolded with no feet on the pedals, toward Richard Hammond bound to a post.
The 2014 E-Class comes in 11 models: E350 Coupe ($52,200), E350 Cabriolet ($60,200), E350 4MATIC Coupe ($54,700), E550 Coupe ($59,000), E550 Cabriolet ($67,300), E250 BlueTEC Sedan ($51,400), E250 BlueTEC 4MATIC Sedan ($53,900), E350 Sedan ($51,900), E350 4MATIC Wagon ($54,400), E550 4MATIC Sedan ($56,700), and E400 HYBRID Sedan ($61,400).
Depending on the model, they come in Luxury or Sport trim, or just Sport. The E350 uses a 3.5-liter V6, the E550 a 4.6-liter twin turbo V8, the BlueTECs a 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel. There are three super-high-performance E63 AMG models.
Standard equipment on the E350 Coupe and Cabriolet, E550 Coupe and Cabriolet, and E350 4MATIC coupe includes every power thing imaginable. New standard equipment includes Eco start/stop.
Safety equipment standard on all models includes 10 airbags, active head restraints, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, rollover sensor, rearview camera, and tire pressure monitor. New standard safety equipment includes Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist, and LED headlamps and taillights. Optional equipment includes full LED lighting, surround view camera, and parking assist. The Driver Assistance Package includes steering assist, lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic assist, rear-end collision assist, and pedestrian recognition assist.
The new 2014 E-Class looks way more dynamic than the 2013. It's improved in every angle and direction, unless your taste in Benz design is rigid. It's edgy and sporty now, especially in the front end. The new face might be faulted for being less smooth than it might, but it brings the E-Class alive.
The LED headlamps are bigger and sleeker for 2014, and the grille is bigger and blacker, with only two bars and the big Benz star moved into the center. But it's the AMG models, with wide flowing faux air intakes in each corner and a wide horizontal dam below the bumper, that make the E look like it's trying to be a Mustang. Mercedes prefers to say the styling forms a visual link to the brand's high-performance sports car models. This describes the Sport trim, not Luxury, which is less changed, with the star still a hood ornament. Sport places the three-pointed star on the grille.
The character lines on the sides are smoother now, with gently rising shoulder lines to the trunk lid, under windows unbroken by B-pillars. Horizontal LED taillamps widen the view from the rear. Overall it's elegant, dynamic and poised, says Mercedes, and we agree.
The interior is less changed for 2014. Gone is the gear selector lever on two-door E-Class, making room for storage and big cupholders. It makes sense to create usable space when mechanically possible. Shifting is back to the future, with a lever on the right side of the steering column. It's not like your father's Oldsmobile, trust us, we own one.
The dashboard is smoother, every inch soft touch, with new two-piece trim in burl walnut, black ash, or brown satin ash. Mercedes says there are virtually unlimited possibilities for individual configuration of exterior and interior colors. We don't know about that, but we can sure say that beige leather and brown satin ash in the black wagon is beautiful, as is gray leather and black ash in the hybrid. Changes on the instrument panel include a new cluster with nice off-white gauges, and sleeker air vents with an analog clock between them. Console switches are now dipped in chrome.
A new multi-function three-spoke steering wheel with optional flat bottom is small enough to make the car feel smaller, and large enough to control the car with precision.
We spent most of our seat time in the E-350 and E-550 Cabriolets, on a gorgeous summer day at the Oregon Coast. It was cool in the mountains, but using the optional Airscarf heater that warms your neck, that's living, with the top down. Set the heated seats on low, never get a chill. The Aircap wind deflector over the windshield rises at 25 mph, and reduces cabin turbulence mostly in the back seat. Another wind deflector between the headrests rises when the rear seatbelts are snapped.
The E-Class Cabriolet is the quietest soft top in its class, after careful development with high acoustic standards. Mercedes says wind noise scarcely penetrates it, and we'll have to take their word for it, because we enjoyed the topless driving so much we forgot it had a top. Come to think of it, we didn't see any other journalists driving with the top up. It looks handsome in pictures.
The seats are a bit different in the models. In the Cabriolets, our seats had a nice Recaro-like fit, ribbed leather, on the firm side. Mercedes says you're here to drive, not kick back.
Every time we looked in the driver's side window, in the models we drove, we saw the vents on the dashboard. It's a common reflection to see in cars at times, but on this day it seemed like the vents were painted in the window. Check it in your test drive.
Another small thing that bugged us was the seatbelts. They make sure you're all buckled up when you get in, by choking you. Don't think you can clip in and lean forward, that's a no-no.
The following things might be a bit more difficult to check in a test drive.
The 2014 Coupe and Cabriolet are fitted with standard COLLISION
PREVENTION ASSIST, a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive
brake assist systems, designed to do what it says in all caps.
Also standard is ATTENTION ASSIST, which perceives with sensors any inattentiveness or drowsiness (and we do mean any, that's the root problem with these systems; the debate is a long story, and will get longer in the future) and furthermore tells the driver just how inattentive he or she is, by nagging to drive straight to the nearest espresso booth and get a shot in the dark. Better yet, take a nap. If you don't need quite that much ATTENTION to assist you in driving safely, you can turn it down, or off, as you can with most of these features.
Now for the optional safety things. We won't call them tricks. First there's 3 DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, which brings us the day we've been waiting for, the robot takes over the wheel. We knew Mercedes would be the first, they've been working on it for decades. There's a gentle tug on the wheel to keep you from danger, as seen by the camera that is the eyes of Intelligent Drive. We experienced false alarms with this system on. We can see how it could save lives, but there are also false alarms and unintended consequences. The haptic warning in the steering wheel sure beats being beeped at, like other cars. In the Cadillac you can set it at a beep or a buzz in your butt. The Mercedes vibe-vibe in the steering wheel feels about like running over metallic reflectors on the freeway.
The system that keeps you from hitting a pedestrian in the crosswalk, invented by Volvo and now evolved by Mercedes, is one we'll get behind. Hitting a pedestrian is a top-ten worst nightmare.
It starts with BLAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, which can see pedestrians and cross traffic, and boost the braking power applied by the driver accordingly, according to Mercedes.
The next level is PRE-SAFE Brake, which will take over the brake pedal altogether, to make sure you get stopped. Drive straight at a brick wall at no more than 30 mph with your feet off the pedals, and PRE-SAFE Brake will get you stopped before the wall does.
Active Parking Assist enables automated parking with active steering and brake control in both parallel and perpendicular spaces. We didn't have a chance to try it. Other systems need parking spaces so big you'd have to be an impossibly poor or lazy parker to need it.
The 360-degree Surround View camera shows a bird's-eye view of your car on the screen, with lines to guide you.
PRE-SAFE PLUS with Rear-End Collision Protection sees when you're about to be rear-ended. It can't get you out of the way, but it tightens up the seatbelts and head restraints, and keeps the brake pedal down after the impact, to minimize chain reaction.
Active Lane Keeping Assist goes the next step after Active Blind Spot Assist. If it thinks you're pulling out of your lane into the path of another car, the brakes will be applied on that side of the car, veering your E-Class back into its lane. Twice it did that against our intention. The hard part is defining “into the path.” The sensors, not the driver, decide what is a close call. The system says it's protecting you, but it's also regulating you. Governments love these systems. We can't help but wonder whether there will be a sea of lawsuits in the future, over the unintended consequences.
So what if you're in a freeway jam and the guy in front of you slams on his brakes? You react quickly and swerve into a hole in the other lane, but the system thinks you're cutting it too close, so it swerves you back into your lane, and you rear-end the guy in front of you, going too fast for PRE-SAFE Brake to help.
Mercedes-Benz says the idea of Intelligent Drive is to relieve driver stress. In other words, let the car worry about it. We worry about that.
The E350 with the V6, with its 302 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque, accelerates from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds, which is plenty quick. The E550 with the V8 makes 402 hp and 443 foot-pounds, and it's that torque where you feel the difference, as it booms to 60 in 4.9 seconds, but when you put your foot down that hard, you're mostly just thinking about how much more gas it's sucking. However the V6 torque range is 3500 to 5250 rpm, while the V8 comes on a lot earlier, from 1600 to 4750. Still, we can't see enough reason to choose the V8, because it's not likely you'll tow with your Mercedes. There's always the diesel for that.
We drove the diesel for a couple hours, and it was way different, very smooth but nothing exciting about it. Well, the idea might be exciting, as the 2014 E250 BlueTEC drops to four cylinders from the previous V6. The 2.1-liter turbodiesel makes 195 horsepower with a busty 369 foot-pounds of torque, and comes standard with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, when last year it was rear-wheel drive. We got 40.6 miles per gallon driving on two-lanes and freeway. It rates its name of clean diesel because the emissions are low, but it still rattles like a diesel at idle, just a bit.
The diesel's paddle-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission must be programmed uniquely, because it shifts much slower than that in the E350 and E550.
Stepping deeper into the green world, there's the E400 Hybrid, but we can't see what it offers, not this one. It's the same size as the other E-cars, but it feels way bigger because it's less responsive. Nothing feels the same. The suspension is softer, and it rides way higher. The acceleration is good, but the Hybrid's V6 sounds harsher, not smooth like it does in the E350. The transmission lurched once at 5 mph, like something snatching in the drivetrain.
With an EPA-estimated gas mileage of just 24/30 mpg City/Highway, you'd have to want a hybrid for the sake of hybrid, to choose the E400 Hybrid over the E250 BlueTEC diesel. We got 29.8 mpg while driving the E400 Hybrid, while in the E550 with the V8 we got a solid 25.0 mpg on the highway.
All E-Class models come standard with the ECO start/stop system, which shuts the engine off when the car stops. The Mercedes system is way better than BMW's. Mercedes actually put some effort into the design, instead of just slapping it on to make the Feds happy. That effort means the driver barely notices it, because there's no cranking of the starter. We say barely, but one time, when we were fourth in line at a stop sign, it shut the engine off and on four times, as we pulled forward. In engineer-speak, Mercedes gives credit to seamless, smooth and unobtrusive algorithms. It can be turned off if you don't like it (though it may have to be turned off every time you start the car). Mercedes estimates it increases city mileage by about 1 mpg. It's not a feature we like.
From all our notes in all the E-Class models we drove in two days, there's nothing bad. Suspensions: check. Transmission: check. Handling: check. It all works. You won't be unhappy or surprised. You'll like your ride and comfort. Just know what to expect in acceleration, and get a good feel for the transmission, and the rest is turn-key, in buying a Mercedes.
Our best notes were on the E350 4MATIC Wagon. Bitchin in black with brown leather, off-white instrumentation. Distinctive among the models, different in every respect, best ride, smoothest, swallowed the patchy bumps easiest, seats for the long haul unlike the cabriolets. Cool car.
Different models have different dynamic modes and settings. Suspension settings vary most in Luxury and Sport models. They call it AGILITY CONTROL suspension with stroke-dependent damping system. In the Cabriolets, where we spent most of our seat time, there are three useful modes. Comfort mode does what it says; over one 92-mile leg on choppy roads, it made the ride easier on the backbone.
Specifically, we weren't crazy about Sport in the E550 Cabriolet, mostly because of a transmission setting, it wouldn't let you glide for smooth driving. The system determines that smooth and sport are not compatible, those are the kinds of issues going on. On the other hand, it allows you to drive with some sport, in the Auto mode, with the transmission. You can let it upshift for you, and it will let you do the downshifting.
All E-Class use a new 7-speed automatic, with lever and paddles. If you select Manual mode, but then don't use it for awhile, it shifts back to Automatic; the system assumes you forgot to take it out of Manual. Same theme. It thinks for you. It assumes.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class features new styling, electronic safety enhancements (Intelligent Drive), and a new 7-speed automatic transmission. Eleven models range from a high-performance V8 Cabriolet to a new four-cylinder clean turbo-diesel sedan that gets 40 mpg and makes the Hybrid less attractive. There are three high-performance E63 AMG models. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is available throughout the line.
Sam Moses filed this New Car Test Drive report after driving the 2014 E-Class models in Oregon.
Mercedes-Benz E350 Sedan ($51,900), E350 4MATIC Sedan, E350 4MATIC Wagon ($54,400), E350 Coupe ($52,200), E350 Cabriolet ($60,200), E350 4MATIC Coupe ($54,700); E550 4MATIC Sedan ($56,700), E550 Coupe ($59,000), E550 Cabriolet ($67,300); E400 HYBRID Sedan ($61,400); E250 BlueTEC Sedan ($51,400), E250 BlueTEC 4MATIC Sedan ($53,900).
Options As Tested
Palladium silver paint ($720), blue/beige Nappa leather ($1370), wood/leather steering wheel ($590), rear deck spoiler ($350), high-performance tires ($250), Premium Package ($3270), Lighting Package ($1500), Sport Package ($1490), Driver Assistance Package ($2800).
Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet ($60,200).
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