Where does the new E-Class fall within the Mercedes-Benz lineup?There are a number of ways to answer that question. If you look at it in terms of cars Mercedes is bringing to market in 2009, according to them it is "the most important launch for Mercedes-Benz this year." Considering they have sold 12 million of its predecessors over 62 years, you can understand why. That said, the answer you are probably looking for is that this vehicle slots between the entry point into the Mercedes lineup, the C-Class, and the "I'm not just a client, I'm also the president" S-Class, which sits at the other end of the offering.
Photos courtesy of Greg Jarem/Mercedes-Benz
How has the new E-Class changed over the last generation E-Class?There's a new interpretation of the E-Class dual head lamp design, replacing the jelly bean look with a more aggressive angular shape that's also echoed in the optional LED daytime running lights below. The lines on the side of the car moving towards the bumper are also more muscular, and the tail lamps have been completely redesigned as well. Dimensionally it is a slightly bigger vehicle in nearly every dimension, including an extra 1-inch of leg room in back, though through smart engineering (like lowering the vehicle ride height to reduce drag), fuel economy is actually improved.
Well how has the new E-Class different beyond the obvious exterior changes?Hidden from view are numerous upgrades to the structure of the car, including a new suspension, and a body that is 30 percent stronger. A whole host of safety-related upgrades are offered as well (more on that later). A new user-interface system for controlling multimedia and information systems is a huge improvement both in terms of usability and placement, and a larger screen is now standard too. Oh, and if the countless upgrades and 6,000,000 miles spent developing the new E-Class aren't enough to pique your interest, the price on the base E-Class has been dropped from $53,200 to $48,600 -- and it includes more standard equipment than the model it replaces too.
What is the most interesting piece of technology on the new E-Class?We'll answer your question with a question. What causes nearly 25% of all accidents? If you said drunk driving, than perhaps you're expecting a new breathalyzer smart key on the E-Class. Well the culprit is driving fatigue, so you get Attention Assistant, the new technology from Mercedes-Benz that detects when someone is likely going to fall asleep behind the wheel (and we've all been there). The best part of this system is that it comes standard on all E-Class models, so no need to worry when 3 a.m. hits and you need to drive from Las Vegas back to LA because you just bet away your room key.
How does Attention Assist work? Is there a cappuccino machine in the glove box?Clever, but that option is only available on the Maybach. Rather than relying on a camera to monitor a driver's eyes like some competing systems do, the Attention Assistant system interprets 70 different driver input variables, from wheel angle (driver is making lots of steering corrections) to time of day (it's very late) to even minor things like interaction with the stereo (on full blast) to the air conditioning (also on full blast). It uses an algorithm to determine if a combination of these variables indicate someone is off to Doze-ington, and then creates an alert suggesting that perhaps the driver should give it a break for the night.
What are my options for engines?At a base price of $48,600, the E350 sedan is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and is expected to get 18 city / 25 highway. The upgraded E550, at $56,300, is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 producing 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, and is expected to get 16 city / 23 highway. There will also be a BlueTEC clean diesel V6 available in March of 2010 that is expected to get a solid 24 city / 33 highway.
So which one should I go for, V6 or V8?Honestly, it comes down to how much power you really need. With a 0-60 of 6.5 seconds, the V6 is probably fast enough for most people, and Mercedes expects roughly 75% will opt for this choice. Luckily, most options available on the V8 can be had on the V6, though the V8 comes with an upgraded Airmatic suspension which allows for a greater degree of control between comfort and sport ride quality. All engines route power through a super-smooth standard 7-speed transmission which makes for a quicker and more fuel-efficient car (it's always nice when technology doesn't demand those two to be mutually exclusive).
Any option I can't live without?If our chairs at work were anything like the 14-way power adjustable, Drive-Dynamic, Multi-contour, Massage-enhanced, heated and ventilated seats available in the E-Class, we'd probably never leave. And for those who have sat in California traffic, you understand when we say the massage function is not a gimmick but a godsend. We'd also say if you commonly find yourself lost (like we do), upgrade to the available hard drive-navigation system which is bundled with a harmon/kardon LOGIC7 surround-sound system.
Mercedes has a history of safety innovations, I expect nothing less here?While 40 crash tests are required for world certification, Mercedes' own internal standards dictated that they do 150 for the new E-Class. In addition to real world testing, they ran 17,000 computer simulated crashes too (with objects ranging from goats to phone booths…kidding). As we alluded to earlier, some of the biggest upgrades over the previous E-Class come in the form of new safety features, including lane departure warning, night vision that actually detects and alerts the driver to pedestrians, and additional airbags in places you didn't even know needed protection (like your pelvis).
I hear the E-Class will even brake for you when you're too busy texting?Well, that's one way to put it. There are many situations where we become distracted while driving (some more our fault than others), and when traffic stops suddenly a millisecond of reaction time can make the difference between "that was close" and "somebody call an ambulance." With this in mind, Mercedes engineered its optional adaptive cruise control to also act as a device for detecting and mitigating imminent collisions (called Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake). If you are approaching a slowing or stopped vehicle and the system detects you should be braking, it will first warn you 2.6 seconds before impact, automatically apply 40% braking power at 1.6 seconds before impact, and if you're just slumped over or really not paying attention, at 0.6 seconds it will apply 100% braking power to reduce the full impact of what will inevitable be a nasty collision. You can put a price tag on most any option, but a couple extra milliseconds of reaction time in a potential crash situation are priceless.
What other varieties of E-Class family can I expect?Launching with the E-Class sedan in June of 2009 will also be a new E-Class coupe (both in E350 and E550 varieties). The E-Class coupe will be a replacement for the current CLK. In September of 2009, all-wheel drive (4Matic) versions of both E-Class sedans will debut. In November, everybody's favorite supercar with four doors, the high-performance E63 AMG will debut, though at this time only the sedan will get the AMG magic, not the coupe. Moving into 2010, as mentioned before, a clean diesel V6 will debut, and finally in June of 2010, a wagon version of the E350 4Matic will roll out as well. There is a good chance we will see an E-Class hybrid in the future as well, though probably not for a couple years.
Should I go with the Luxury or the Sport model? What's the difference?Without a doubt, go with the Sport. It doesn't cost you anything more, and you get upgraded 18" rims, a more aggressive air opening up front, trapezoidal exhaust tips that look better than the traditional oval ones, and on the V6 a more sport-oriented suspension. Then again, it comes down to what your personal preferences are, but we think a reported 80% choosing the sport model on the last generation E-Class speaks for itself.
Describe the driving experience in one word, and then give me some details.Unshakable. All speeds are experienced in the same quiet isolation, and the brakes felt solid under all deceleration conditions from casual to severe. The V6 felt like it could use more low-end torque, and even engaging "Sport Mode", which adjusts shift points and makes for a more aggressive throttle, didn't really seem to make a difference. The V8 acceleration was as expected much better, but it was the type of acceleration you watch on the speedometer and not the type you feel with your senses -- and for buyers of this car, that's probably okay; comfort, luxury, and a quiet atmosphere are what their senses are generally tuned towards. We preferred the steering feel of the V8 to the V6. While both where plenty responsive, the V6 felt a little light and over-assisted to us. While the V8 had the more technically sophisticated suspension, both setups felt well-poised, and we actually got in a spot of trouble with the V6 and the suspension reacted just the way our senses hoped it would. Unshakable indeed.
What do I get on an entry-level, don't have an extra dime for anything else model?You'll be satisfied to know that if it's a stretch for you to get in an E-Class, at the base level you'll still be driving home with a very well-equipped, luxurious automobile. As has been a theme throughout this conversation, safety comes standard in droves. From nine airbags to electronic stability control to a full tire pressure monitoring system, you can rest assured that even if you don't have funds for some of the more advanced safety features like night vision, you and your occupants will be safe regardless. Other standard items that you can benefit from (that don't require an accident) include hand polished wood trim, interior ambient lighting, an 8-speaker sound system with in-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer and auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth for hands-free calling, power tilt/ sliding sunroof, and most everything else you would expect a luxury car in this class should come with.
Anything of note that turned you off about the car?
While we are quite pleased with the redesigned front end of the new E-Class, we're really not fans of the fog lamp/daytime running light combo. They look like an afterthought, or some JC Whitney order that never should have happened. That said, the LED day time running lamps that can optionally replace them look awesome, but they come bundled with the most expensive package offered. We'd rather see them offered as a standalone option.
How is the car in terms of overall space? Backseat, trunk, cargo room?Travel abroad and you'll notice the E-Class is commonly used as a taxi due to its size and durability. With the largest trunk it its class (15.9 cubic feet), the E-Class is well suited to do airport duty, and if you're the one being picked up, you'll have no problem getting comfortable. For transporting really big items, split folding rear seats are available -- at extra cost. The gear shifter has also been moved from the center area to the stalk allowing for more…wait for it…cupholders, a part of American society Germans manufacturers have come to accept.
I heard a rumor the new E-Class is equipped with laser beams for destroying objects in its path?Unfortunately, no molecular disintegrating laser beams on this edition of the E-Class. The image you see here is actually demonstrating the Lane Keeping Assist function that utilizes input from a small camera to identify and monitor traffic lanes. If you veer across a lane unintentionally, the steering wheel simulates a rumble strip to grab your attention. It's available as part of a Driver Assist Package that includes the aforementioned Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake, as well as a blind spot monitoring system.
This all seems pretty attractive; remind me why I would get an S-Class?It's true, when the 2010 E-Class launches, it will have some technology that even the current S-Class doesn't have. That balance will be restored when the 2010 S-Class launches in the fall, inevitably with some technology that the E-Class can't touch. Even so, Mercedes-Benz recognizes that in this economy, some shoppers will realize that maybe an S-Class is more than what they need, and for them they will still be satisfied by the level of luxury and performance offered on the E-Class. And for those who want the best of technology, the most sumptuous of interiors, the availability of even larger engines, or just a bigger luxury car, the S-Class remains unparalleled in the Mercedes lineup for delivering all this.
What other cars might I have on my consideration list?If you are looking for a more engaging driving experience, it is difficult to beat a BMW 5 Series, though keep in mind the 5 Series will be completely redesigned in 2010 so you might want to hold off there. We love the styling and driving experience of the Jaguar XF, and it offers a V8 at $1,000 over the starting price of the E350 V6. You might also be looking at a slightly larger and more luxurious Lexus LS430, and at a starting price of $63,825, the $56,300 Mercedes E550 starts to look attractive too. Audi just gave it's A6 a redesign and a new engine, so it's worth checking that out. Finally, if brand pretension is not a part of your vocabulary, and value is, you really need to check out the Hyundai Genesis sedan . While it doesn't have all the safety technology and assistants of the incoming E-Class, it was just awarded a top safety pick by the IIHS and gets nothing but 5 stars from the NHTSA.
Any final words?How do you top a car that in its previous rendition sold 1.5 million units? According to Mercedes-Benz, by concentrating on "innovations that matter." The new E-Class if full of innovations that matter: Better fuel economy, increased safety features, sharper design, and smarter engineering. Combine this with a sizeable drop in price tag and an increase in standard features, and that's how you top a car that in its previous rendition sold 1.5 million units.
You may also be interested in...
First Drive Q&A: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe
IIHS Names Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedans 2010 Top Safety Pick
What Is The Mercedes Media Interface Plus?
2008 Paris Auto Show: 2010 Audi S4
2008 Paris Auto Show: 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
2008 Paris Auto Show: 2010 Lexus IS 250 Convertible