2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Introduction
The redesign of a vehicle like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class doesn’t attract quite the same level of attention as that afforded to the recent debut of the next-generation S-Class. This isn't necessarily a knock against the mid-size Mercedes-Benz sedan, but more of an indication of just how much of a segment leader the German brand's full-size flagship truly is. In reality, much of the S-Class' vaunted technology and refinement eventually trickles down to the next-in-line E-Class, which means that even though it doesn't garner as many accolades it still benefits from the investment poured into its more senior sibling.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC reveals just how accelerated the luxury development cycle has become, as it brings forth a host of safety gear that just a few years ago would have been restricted exclusively to a car in the S-Class' price range. It also gains a number of styling tweaks intended to burnish its image amongst luxury shoppers and expands its drivetrain availability to compete harder against the likes of the Audi A6 and the BMW 5 Series. Underneath it all, however, there sits the same E-Class that Mercedes-Benz fans have come to know and love - a vehicle that knows the best way to popular appeal is to take the widest possible path.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Models and Prices
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is available in more than a few different editions, especially when one starts to mix-and-match its individual drivetrains and body styles (there are sedan, wagon, coupe, and convertible editions of this car waiting on a Mercedes-Benz lot near you). In the interests of preserving electrons - and given that the recent E-Class refresh was mostly targeted at four-door editions of the car - I'm going to focus on the E350 model and its various features and options.
The E350 sedan (MSRP $52,825) is available in either Sport or Luxury 'trims,' each of which is priced the same yet brings a little something different to the table in terms of interior and exterior styling. Feature content is identical, (although the Sport wears larger rims and rides on stiffer shocks), which means both cars enjoy dual automatic climate control, wood trim, power front seats, a sunroof, an adaptive suspension system, the COMAND vehicle interface, imitation leather upholstery (Mercedes-Benz calls it 'MB-Tex'), Bluetooth connectivity, and LED headlights. If you order the wagon version of the E350, in addition to extra cargo space you also get a standard rearview camera as well as a power tailgate.
As with most luxury cars, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC is available with a number of options and packages to further ratchet up the bottom line. Indeed, the inclusion of the alphanumeric 4MATIC designation in the name of my test vehicle indicates that it offers all-wheel drive on top of its Premium 1 Package (hard drive for storing digital music files, heated seats, rearview camera, upgraded harman/kardon stereo system, a wider range of voice recognition capabilities), Keyless-Go feature (push button start, keyless entry), panoramic sunroof, and Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise control, active blind spot and lane departure warning systems, automatic braking). In total, the sticker price for the vehicle I drove came to $62,160, which is a startling $10,000 more than the base model.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Design
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC has been restyled for the current model year.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC benefits from a new attitude on the outside, which is part of an effort to combat the conservative image of this mid-size luxury sedan. For the most part it's effective, especially in Sport trim which gains a more aggressive dual-bar grille with a large Silver Star badge planted directly in the middle of it (the Luxury trim places a more traditional logo ornament on the car's hood). The vehicle's body work has been reshaped with litheness in mind, and while the car isn't as wide-looking as the model it replaces it certainly doesn't give up any road presence in the bargain. Large air inlets up front do a lot to increase the E350 4MATIC's profile, while its 18-inch rims fill the fender wells without resorting to 20-inch antics.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC's interior doesn’t stray to far from the sedan's established playbook, but the refresh does contribute a few new and notable affectations to the sedan's passenger compartment. An analog clock now sits at the center of the dashboard, and the car's gauge package immediately in front of the driver has also been replaced. Wood is prevalent throughout the car's cabin, but it's glossy to the point of plastic, and exposing the grain to bright sunlight can cause at least one of its three available patterns to look perpetually dusty. The fact that Mercedes-Benz doesn't take any chances with the E350 4MATIC's interior styling suits its target demographic perfectly, and the end result is a very functional car relatively free from distractions.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Comfort and Cargo
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC doesn't make dramatic changes to its comfort and cargo arrangements.
The refresh of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC left well enough alone when it came to altering the vehicle's already comfortable passenger compartment in anything other than an aesthetic sense. The car still comes with supportive seats front and rear, although it must be said that the lack of genuine leather at its price point is disappointing. Mercedes-Benz attempts to compensate for its MB-Tex hides by adding softer materials to the car's dashboard and a few other assorted places, which helps overall to balance the vehicle's somewhat stark approach to a luxury habitat. Out back, the vehicle's trunk is generous and practical, offering up plenty of storage space for day-to-day use or weekend getaways.
I do have a bone to pick with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC's passenger compartment, and it has to do with its seatbelt 'auto-snug' functionality - part of the extended group of safety features now crammed into the sedan. A few seconds after the car's ignition has been turned on, the E350 sucks its seatbelts back to pull you tight against the seat. I can't even begin to describe how irritating this is when you are trying to turn yourself around to look out the back window while reversing. It felt like I being was subjected to a half-hearted strangulation attempt from the E-Class each and every time I tried to back out of my parking space. It makes far more sense to engage the auto-snug system once the car has been shifted into drive - not as soon as it has been fired up. I wish I could have disabled this feature.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Features and Controls
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC does not gain any new controls compared to the previous model year.
Things remains largely status quo for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC when considering its control surfaces. Although new, the three analog gauges in front of the driver (and small LCD screen nestled inside the speedometer) aren't a dramatic departure, and the COMAND system's rotary controller remains faithfully stuck to the car's console. Once you puzzle it out, COMAND works reasonably well, although I can't help but feeling that the interface adds a few too many steps to simple tasks (such as changing radio stations) due to the logic of its software menus. A row of manual climate control switches line the bottom of the center stack, and while their presence was welcome it would have been nice if they had been constructed a bit more solidly, as they felt flimsy and unbecoming of such an expensive automobile.
I still find it hard to get used to the now-ubiquitous Mercedes-Benz shifter stalk, which juts out to the right of the steering wheel like some half-formed appendage. As with the climate switches, the stalk just doesn't convey a premium image, especially considering the light touch with which one can manipulate it to switch from Drive to Reverse. Reinventing the wheel isn't as much of a necessity in the luxury segment as automakers seem to feel it is, and I would be much more satisfied with a proper column shifter or even a proper console-mounted grip.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Safety and Ratings
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC introduces a long list of new - and standard - safety features.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC offers a number of high tech features seemingly lifted directly from the larger S-Class sedan, and most of these can be found under the safety heading. Every model comes with the brand's Attention Assist system, which monitors driver attention spans and alerts them when they need to take a break, as well as a collision avoidance system that can automatically brake the car if an imminent impact is detected.
Operating under the umbrella of 'Intelligent Drive' its possible to enjoy additional safety gear in the E-Class, such as the 'steering assist' that came with my test vehicle's Driver Assistance Package which can actually turn the car out of the path of an oncoming vehicle, as well as blind spot, lane departure, and pedestrian detection capabilities. You can even get a package that will allow the car to park itself. All of these items are of course on top of the full complement of airbags loaded into the E-Class, as well as its electronic stability control and traction control systems.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Crash-Test Ratings: The E-Class scored 'Good' in all but the IIHS' small overlap front test, which it has yet to experience, giving the car Top Safety Pick status. The NHTSA has yet to crash test the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC offers a drivetrain that is unchanged from the previous year, but other engines have been replaced or updated.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC comes with a 302 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is also capable of generating 273 lb-ft of torque. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is an option for E350 sedans (installed on my tester) and standard with E350 wagons, and a seven-speed automatic transmission is included with each and ever E-Class model. Fuel mileage for the car is listed at 20-mpg in stop and go driving and 29-mpg on the highway: I saw a less-optimistic 18-mpg in mixed driving, despite the presence of an automatic engine start/stop feature. Other power plants available with the E-Class for 2014 include a thrifty four-cylinder turbodiesel, a rambunctious twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, and an even more brutal 5.5-liter, twin-turbo eight-cylinder engine under the hood of the E63 AMG.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Driving Impressions
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC that I was driving might have featured the up-rated suspension system that is part and parcel of the Sport trim, but it would be a mistake to characterize the mid-size car as a performance sedan. The E350 4MATIC doesn't deliver the crisp handling required to earn this appellation, a shortcoming that can be largely laid at the feet of its new electric power steering system which insulates the driver from the road and translates rapid wheel inputs to lazy responses - even when the car is set to Sport, rather than Eco mode. Cornering is capable, but unspectacular, and one gets the sense that the E350 would much rather eat up highway miles than burst through a set of secondary road S-curves with its hair on fire.
Does the absence of an engaging driving experience torpedo the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC's chances in the premium segment? Not at all. In fact, given that the previous version of the car was equally undistinguished when it came to flat-out performance, it's unlikely that most E-Class buyers will even notice a difference (aside from steering feel) between this model and the one they are trading in. The E350 4MATIC might not be as graceful as it should be when pushed hard, but it makes up for it with a very composed ride even over unwelcoming, broken pavement and other sundry road blemishes. It also happens to be much quicker than I expected, with the all-wheel drive system compensating for its dynamic numbness by way of superior off-the-line grip. Acceleration is effortless from such a modestly-sized V-6 engine, and it was one of my favorite aspects of driving the car.
Technological complication has become a legitimate barrier between drivers and driving in most luxury automobiles, and the 2014 E350 4MATIC is no exception. While additional investment in safety is to be applauded, there remains a limit to which a sedan pilot can be expected to usefully process the myriad warning lights, chimes, and vibrations that are thrown their way. For example, the E-Class activates its blind spot warning lights located in its side mirrors when traveling at low speeds, even if there is nothing lurking out of sight. It's done to 'keep drivers aware that they need to pay attention to what's around them,' I was told, but what it actually does is get you so used to the lights being on that when they flash out on the road you don't notice them nearly as quickly. It got to the point where I was hearing so many different sounds and being exposed to an equal number of indecipherable icons on the dash that I simply had no idea which particular safety system was trying to alert me that I was about to die in a terrible fireball.
Equally frustrating is the car's automatic engine start/stop system, a feature which must be disabled each time the E-Class is turned on regardless of the state it was in when the vehicle was parked. The fact that the auto start/stop feature is on by default is bad enough, but the fact that it isn't disabled when the car is put into Sport mode is incomprehensible. I quickly tired of the shaking under the gas pedal each time I pulled away from a red light, and I feel that this lack of smoothness simply isn't worth the imagined real-world fuel efficiency gains.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Final Thoughts
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC subtly refines the car's mid-size luxury concept. Concentrating largely on looks and safety, the E350 4MATIC doesn't push to far in either the comfort or sporting direction, occupying a dynamic middle ground that will fail to woo buyers away from BMW but which will do a lot to keep existing Mercedes-Benz customers happy. This is one of the luxury brand's most popular vehicles, and its broad appeal is easy to understand. The E-CLASS delivers very comfortable ride, a pleasing traditional image, and for 2014 a safer, and more frugal (for diesel buyers) premium experience await those who don't need to validate their purchase price with lap times.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Review: Pros and Cons
- Significant safety upgrades
- Good power from V-6 engine
- Comfortable ride
- Classy styling, even in Sport trim
- All-wheel drive grip
- Options add up quickly
- Engine start/stop feature is intrusive
- Not that much fun to drive
- Safety equipment can be overwhelming
BMW Group Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.