The mid-size sedan segment of the luxury car world is a picky one. We’d argue brand loyalty and the influence of history often power purchases as much as a selection of a car’s feature. Do nothing wrong and win, assuming your brand is strong and your model’s reputation is genuine. In the case of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, both brand and model are held in high regard, no doubt. What’s more, the current design substantially revised for 2015, is very much in the competitive mix with other luxury sedans in most categories, without really being the best at any one thing.
The question is, what makes the 2015 E-Class the best choice in its segment?
I was furnished with a well-optioned E350 sedan in an attempt to answer just that. We head out to La Quinta, a resort city also called “the golf capital of the world” at Palm Springs, California. The gorgeous black E350 felt comfortable with the posh surroundings including many world-class golf resorts in the area, with a prominent horizon of the Santa Rosa mountains. Citing an example, the “Palm Springs” segment of “Soarin’ Over California” at Disney California Adventure Park in the city of Anaheim was actually shot at the world-famous PGA West golf complex in La Quinta.
The E350’s unmistakable German presence gets softer around the edges significantly this year. Though the styling changes for the E-Class are refined, they make a significant impact. The latest editions ride on a wider and longer platform than before. The front end gets a smoother and more open bumper, a new hood and a choice of two different grilles. For the first time, the E-Class adopts the Sport and Luxury themes the C-Class has had for years. Luxury models wear a three-bar grille and a star on the hood, while Sport models get the star integrated in the grille itself. The other major design changes include the cleanup of the rear quarter panels that incorporate renewed LED tail lamps minus the flared and creased look of the last four model years. Most notable are the previous dual headlamps that have been merged together to one unit with bright LED light bars now visually separating them, giving it a signature night-time look. Undoubtedly the new design looks sleeker and more elegant.
Compared to the previous generation of the E-Class, the new E350’s interior feels a little more conservative, yet also modernist and less curvaceous than some of the other automaker’s offers. Sharp corners and well-pressed creases inside give the Mercedes-Benz E-Class a more traditionally luxurious look that meshes well with the new exterior. Wood trim, improved cup holders, a quieter cabin and generally improved fit and finish adds to the current generation E-Class’ luxurious feel
About the only thing that isn’t so welcoming are the heaps of matte-plastic buttons for audio and climate controls–in addition to the COMAND interface that covers infotainment through a big roller knob and a large LCD screen.
In front, passengers will get deep front foot wells, with supportive power-adjustable seats of synthetic material being the standard base-level upholstery. In the United States, however, the majority of cars are sold with leather seats. Mercedes-Benz offers adaptive seats that inflate and deflate air bladders in the bolsters as you push the car’s limits through corners.
The E-Class now comes standard with up to 11 airbags on sedans and wagons, including a driver-side knee airbag. Side airbags for rear-seat passengers are an option, as is a rearview camera and parking sensors, all in the name of keeping the E-Class at the forefront of safety.
Ride quality is a Mercedes-Benz E-Class hallmark. But depending on your wheel and tire choice and whether your option is an adjustable air suspension or steel springs, your E-class will come with ride quality that starts at exceptional and extends all the way to the truly extraordinary.
Driving through the twisty hills of the desert of La Quinta’s side roads, the suspension settings favor a European preference – let’s say the high-speed roads of the Autobahn is for road texture instead of isolation. Speed bumps expansion strips and broken pavement transmit impact harshness through the 245/40-series Pirelli P Zero tires. Even so, the cabin remains tight and rattle-free, and the suspension (independent three-link front and five-link rear, variable-rate dampers all around) remains planted. Vehicle control is never compromised. The variable-effort electric power steering is superlight when stopped in traffic and at low speeds, but firms up nicely as speeds and tire loads increase. It’s short on contact-patch communication, but at least it’s consistent and accurate.
Common E-Class owners order the variant that has power and value for money, by a combination of the Mercedes 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic with paddle controls. The direct-injected V-6 spins out 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, with smooth power delivery and a relatively wide power band. Zero to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) times is well under 7 seconds and top speed is 130 mph (208 kph). We can’t say acceleration is neck snapping, but the forward urge is strong and steady, and responses to pedal inputs are decisive.
This E-350 comes in Luxury or Sport trim. Ours being a Sport option has more control, thanks to its multi-link suspension lowered 15 millimeters and bigger 18-inch wheels. The “Direct Steer” system adapts both the quickness and the weight of the steering across the tight corners, In practice, it’s given engineers a way to beef up the E-Class and to make it feel more sporty, by adding a bit more feed back to the steering feel as if it were a smaller C-class.
With Chrysler out of the picture, Mercedes-Benz is aiming to bring back its decades-long heritage with those of the gloriously over-engineered W124 generation of the late 1980s and early 1990s of having that immense sense of solidity to the structure and pioneering build standards, the new E-class finally feels commensurate.
Whichever Mercedes-Benz E-Class you buy now, you’re buying into a way of thinking unlike any other in the class. Its rivals might obsess about image and what customers might think their cars say about them.
What really matters to you is that you drive a car of real quality and engineering integrity. What matters also more to you is that your entire family is safe while enjoying its elegance and richness of German superiority. That is the Mercedes-Benz E-Class’ pitch and it’s finally a convincing one.