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.
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.
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's Virtual Cockpit, the layout of the screen can be changed to include radio, fuel economy or navigation information as well as different gauge layouts.
It's easier to initialize navigation by voice, otherwise you're stuck using the rotary dial or the handwriting recognition system to input each number and letter. The map takes up the entire center screen, but stays relegated to one corner of the gauge cluster. Compared with Audi, which allows for a full-size map directly in front of the driver, it's not quite as ambitious.
As in previous models, a rotary dial on the center console controls the Comand infotainment system, but Mercedes-Benz added touch control buttons to the steering wheel. Swiping left or right, up or down, with a click to select, it's yet another way to manipulate the Comand system. And for those who just want to chuck it all and use their phones, the system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are many luxury touches in the E300. From your choice of 64 colors of ambient lighting to piano-black trim (open-grain wood is also available) to sumptuous leather, it's all here. But I need to spend some time on the seats.
I consider myself a connoisseur of heated seats and these far exceeded my expectations. Though they will not stay full-blast hot for hours on end, they heated up quickly and stayed at the highest level for a good chunk of time. The heat proliferates not just on the seat cushion but also up the back and is augmented by the massage function. There are various options of massage to choose from, but I found myself using the wave massage, which extended from shoulder to upper thigh.
And if that's not enough for you, the bolsters will activate while turning, hugging you in all the right places. It's a little distracting for everyday use, so I recommend turning on the feature only under spirited driving. Or if you're lonely.
My test E300 came with 4Matic all-wheel drive, although rear-wheel drive is also available. The turbocharged 2-liter engine puts out 241 horsepower and with 273 pound-feet of torque, there is ample oomph for accelerating out of corners. Sport and Sport-plus modes are best for attacking the twisties, with Sport-plus offering a bit of a quicker steering ratio and throttle input. The 9-speed automatic transmission wants to upshift quickly in comfort or eco mode, so keep it in the sporty programs if you want it to hold your gears longer.
Mercedes-Benz says the E300 can scoot to 60 miles per hour in 6.3 seconds, which isn't exactly slow, but after powering through the twisty back roads, merging onto the highway was a little disappointing. Having said that, high-speed cruising is very comfortable. Don't be surprised when you find yourself in triple digit speeds. Even in Sport mode the ride is very smooth and quiet.
EPA fuel ratings for the 2017 E300 are 22 miles per gallon in the city, 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 25 miles per gallon combined. My week behind the wheel netted a combined efficiency of 23 miles per gallon.
The E300 doesn't behave like a sports car, and that's okay. It's happy to push through the turns, but doesn't exactly beg for a second go around. Fortunately for Mercedes-Benz, there are plenty of folks out there who want a side dish of driving excitement, not a whole serving of it. There's a reason why Sir Mix-a-Lot asked if the ladies wanted to roll in his Mercedes. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 offers good looks mixed with stellar technology and a willing, though not eager, chassis. Those looking for a more enthusiast-focused E-class should wait for the AMG E43 sedan coming later this year. An E400 4Matic wagon will also be available.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 should be available in July of this year. The rear-wheel-drive E300 will start at $52,150 and the 4Matic at $54,650, but all the good stuff like the massaging seats, Drive Pilot and the lane change assist is part of the premium 3 package that costs, wait for it, $10,400. Adding in other options like the $3,950 paint job and an $850 Burmester stereo, and my test vehicle retails for $70,525.