Looking at a list of midsize luxury sedan manufacturers is like holding roll call for the UN. You can get your high-class on with the Japanese, British, Americans, Koreans or Swedes, but today we're talking German luxury. More specifically, Mercedes-Benz richness in the form of the 2017 E300.
The E-class, long a top seller in the segment, routinely sells more than the BMW 5-series, the Audi A6 and Cadillac CTS. In fact, the only luxury sedan that sold more units in 2014 and 2015 is the Lexus ES. Deutschland, Deutschland almost über alles.
For its 10th generation, the E-class offers a whole new look and a massive amount of technology, adding good looks to affluent comfort, resulting in a sumptuous ride indeed. This overhaul likely won't hurt its sales position.
Mercedes-Benz calls the E-class the most intelligent sedan in the world, and while I'm not one for superlatives, it certainly is well on its way to autonomy. The Drive Pilot adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous steering system can follow cars up to 130 miles per hour. What if you're out on a dark, desert highway with no lead cars in sight? The E300 can read the speed limit signs and adjust the speed accordingly. Don't worry speed demons. You can turn this feature off.
While not not perfect, the system does a good job of keeping your foot off the pedals while commuting. During heavy traffic the steering pilot pulled either extremely right or left, and at higher speeds it gently moved from side to side, instead of keeping me directly centered. Still it made my rush-hour voyage from San Jose to Monterey down the unpleasantly busy Pacific Coast Highway less stressful than usual.
The E300 can even change lanes for you when in Drive Pilot. Just signal your intention and the E300 will swing around the slower car, traffic permitting. However, it's better to keep this assist to the straightaways. A left-hand lane change during the middle of a long right-hand sweeper confused the E300, but on straight sections of the highway it centered itself in the new lane just fine.
Save that squirrel!
I also got to experience Mercedes-Benz's new evasive steering assist, though as a passenger, not as a driver. While barreling through the California countryside my drive partner and I came upon two squirrels who had decided the road was their turf. A flick of the wheel to the left and the system kicked in, offering extra steering torque to get us around the defiant rodents. One may think it would be easy for an experienced driver to overcorrect the computer's correction, but we ended up perfectly centered in our original lane.
My turn to feel the computerized nannies of the E-class came on the freeway, when sudden traffic had me on the brakes quite firmly. Even though I had it all under control, the brake assist came on to give me a little extra boost so I stopped at least a foot away from the lead car's bumper, and not merely inches.
Other new safety features include Pre-safe Sound, which sends out a short burst of aural interference if a collision is detected. This interference triggers a protective reflex in the human ear, mitigating hearing loss in an accident. Further, if a lateral collision is detected the side bolster rapidly inflates, forcing the occupant towards the midline of the car to reduce the load of impact.
Look out, Virtual Cockpit
Mercedes-Benz adds some sweet technological advances to the E300's infotainment system for 2017. A 12.3-inch LCD is standard in the center dashboard, but to my delight my test model had an additional 12.3-inch screen as the instrument cluster. Similar to Audi'sthe layout of the screen can be changed to include radio, fuel economy or navigation information as well as different gauge layouts.