The new E-Class made its world debut this week at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show and will be in local showrooms in the summer, as a 2017 model. We’ve already seen the car thanks to several leaks but along with these new photos there’s also plenty of info to divulge. The E-class is a smart car, indeed, much more so than the Smart, the twee city cart that’s also built by Daimler.
This new E is a car for an age of smart devices, one in which fridges alert you to milk gone bad and toilets text you when they need cleaning. Seven years ago, Mercedes launched Attention Assist, an algorithm that monitored steering inputs and other parameters to detect a drowsy driver. While that feature, denoted in the cluster by an icon of a steaming cup of joe, again is present in this new E-class, it’s practically obviated by Benz’s new Drive Pilot technology, which could just as easily be called “Inattention Assist.”
Mercedes-Benz’s new nine-speed automatic transmission, used with every engine, pairs with either rear- or all-wheel drive in the E300. In Comfort mode, the gearbox often reacts to full-throttle kickdowns with two distinct and slightly sluggish steps, but Sport and Sport+ modes quickly erase that complaint. There, the gearbox holds a low gear and then snaps off perfectly timed, seamless downshifts as you brake ahead of a turn—these gearchanges would be impressive in an AMG model.
The E-class fully upholds Mercedes’ reputation for comfort and luxury, though. Even in its sportiest setting, the optional air-spring suspension never becomes harsh. On a winding road, you’ll notice how tightly the seat hugs you before you’re aware that the steering is wholly unexceptional. As novel as its technology is and as competent as its mechanicals are, the E-class is perhaps best bought for its sumptuous interior, optional beautifully quilted and perforated leather, and crisp 12.3-inch infotainment screen.
This driver aid uses half as many radar sensors as in the S-class but still manages to trump the flagship’s self-driving abilities. A single front-facing radar, a stereo camera behind the windshield, and sensors mounted in the rear corners allow for up to 60 seconds of hands-free and attention-free motoring on highways and rural roads. The car even changes lanes for you, once you give it the nod by flashing the turn signal for two seconds.
In other words, Mercedes-Benz’s driver-assistance tech now does everything Tesla’s Autopilot does, albeit with the kind of self-imposed restraint you would expect from an automaker with 130 years in the business. While Tesla’s system drives until it can’t, Mercedes requires the driver to periodically signal his or her consciousness by grabbing the steering wheel or poking one of the touch-sensitive pads on the spokes. Let loose on a Portuguese highway—where we had our first drive opportunity of the new E—the Mercedes sailed with smoother steering, gentler braking, and slower lane changes than a Model S, a demeanor that suggests a more refined system, although not necessarily a more confident one.
The mid-size luxury sedan segment is one of the most hotly contested in the industry and the new E-Class will have its work cut out for it considering all the new rivals. Jaguar just renewed its XF while BMW will soon unveil a new 5-Series. Other new players include the Volvo S90 as well as the Lincoln Continental.f
Working toward that end, the E-class will be the first production vehicle in Europe equipped for car-to-X communication, where X can denote other vehicles, infrastructure-based signals, or alerts broadcast by road-management agencies. Rather than short-range, Wi-Fi–based car-to-car or car-to-infrastructure communication, the E-class sends and receives alerts through cloud-based servers via a cellular data connection. With a critical mass of vehicles and stationary sensors, Haab could get all the data he needs to provide an early warning of a traffic jam, an accident, or a pothole repair crew just around a blind bend.
Whenever a human driver is making the mistakes, the E-class reserves the right to slam on the brakes or guide an evasive steering maneuver to dodge imperiled pedestrians or cars vying to occupy the same space as yours. The optional Pre-Safe Impulse Side system adds radar units to the front corners of the car and inflatable bladders in the outboard bolsters of the front seats. It can predict an imminent side-impact collision and inflate the bladders—without damaging the seat—two-tenths of a second prior to impact, pushing the occupant inward, away from the B-pillar and the intruding car. Pre-Safe Sound plays pink noise through the speakers to contract the stapedius muscles in your ears prior to a crash, reducing the risk of hearing damage during an accident. This is what successful engineering looks like: fixes for problems you never even knew existed.
Indeed, a cellphone with Near Field Communication can unlock and start the car, and eventually—belatedly—we Americans also will be allowed to park the E-class or extract it from a tight spot while standing outside the car and sliding our thumbs in circles on our phone’s screen.
This E-class is a car so connected and so complex that its internal-combustion engine seems like an afterthought. When it goes on sale in June, the E-class will come with only a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. That engine makes the same 241 horsepower in the E300 as it does in the C300, but it’s burdened with an extra 400 pounds in Mercedes’ mid-sizer. While it never feels overtaxed, its presence in this car is definitely due to CO2 and fuel-economy dictates, and the entry E-class will be slower than the outgoing base model, which uses a 302-hp V-6. As consolation, the E300 should be slightly cheaper and more efficient than the car it replaces.