Posted Feb 20th 2013 11:57AM
On sale since 2009, with some enhancements already done in early 2011, the eighth-generation W/S 212 Mercedes-Benz E-Class has once again been put under the knife to stay in step with the automaker's never-ending desire to be the world's Number One purveyor of premium motors. Whereas the smaller C-Class is the best-seller worldwide for Mercedes-Benz, the E-Class pulls in oceans of dough per sale, also at immense volumes.
Beyond a reworking of the overall engine strategy in this second midlife massage, a majority of the E-Class' exterior panels have been redesigned. Additionally, many of the assistance systems to be offered on the next S-Class are being introduced to the E-Class segment for the first time. Occasionally, these sorts of comprehensive refreshes nearly create a new generation of the car, and this freshened E-Class comes damned close to that.
While Mercedes-Benz wants to talk a lot about the new engine lineup and the S-Class-style convenience and safety systems, we were struck immediately by the redesign. Frankly, to our eyes, these past few years of the Mercedes family look could have used a little more finesse and less knife-slice coldness. That general feel of chilled sharpness on the E-Class is set to be history in short order. Even the chiseled "haunch" line is gone from the rear bodyside – the sort of sheetmetal change you almost never see on a mid-cycle update.
Related Gallery2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class: First Drive
We spoke with E-Class design director Hans-Dieter Futschik about the pleasing new styling. He was quick to inform us that this redesign may be the most expensive mid-generation work the company has ever done. Not only is the entire front of the car redrawn from the windshield forward, but the exterior panels on the front doors are as well, and the rear doors are completely new. And while the tail end of things looks similar, it's only the trunk lid that survives intact from the current model. But then the taillight elements are totally different, too, so the rear end looks like a new car as well.
This may have been the most expensive mid-generation redesign the company has ever done.
This is pretty amazing since the next all-new E-Class is set to start deliveries in 2015. It'd be totally understandable if Mercedes had decided to just add a chrome strip to the rocker panels on this 212 generation, or something easy like that. The dilemma was, however, that by the time the next E-Class came onto all world markets, the new S-Class, a new C-Class, as well as the new CLA-Class developed from the just launched A-Class, would have been on sale already donning the new Mercedes design language. The risk was losing E-Class sales while people in various regions of the world waited for the new model, and this would be awful since the E-Class is the company's absolute cash flow-producing cow.
So, according to Herr Futschik, this is why this largely changed E-Class aesthetic almost comes as a surprise to us. Internally, this job suddenly became a huge priority, too, and it had its launch dates moved up. On the whole, we appreciate this more sensual and softer look for the E-Class, right down to the LED bar elements in the taillights as also seen on the latest GLK-Class. If there were anything to pick on, it would be the so-called "eyebrow" LED pattern in the headlights, which look to us as though they're trying a little too hard to express themselves. Mercedes says that they used the eyebrows of famous charismatic people as inspiration... like George Clooney. Yes, really. The also so-called "A Wing" in anodized chrome running the width of the front skirt and intakes will be included on all Sport trim E-Classes, accounting for a reported 80 per cent of purchases.
Mercedes says that they used the eyebrows of famous charismatic people as inspiration... like George Clooney.
Seeing as the chassis ride and dynamics have been left essentially untouched for this model upgrade, the rear air suspension dampers and multi-link structure at all four corners perform in familiar ways through the Agility Control technology and Drive Select button on the console. Toggling between Controlled Efficiency (C), Sport (S) and Manual (M) on our AMG Optic-dressed E-Class Sport chassis, the way the the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission interacted with this new sedan seemed entirely familiar to us.
The conservative estimate for the E400 sedan is 0-60 mph (96 km/h) 5.2 seconds – just 0.3 of a second slower than the E550 4Matic sedan.
Over some very nice driver's roads with varying surface quality outside Barcelona, we toyed around with all of the Drive Select settings in the E400, also switching things to full Eco mode by poking the center dash button with its wee green light. Versus the much-loved 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 in the E350, power may be up just 27 horses in the E400, but torque swells higher by 81 pound-feet and is readily available in toto from a glaringly lower 1,600 rpm through to 4,000 rpm. This explains the big difference in the estimated time it takes to pounce up to 60 mph (96 km/h): whereas the company states 6.5 seconds for the existing E350 sedan, it says the conservative estimate for the E400 sedan with rear-wheel drive or 4Matic is 5.2 seconds – just 0.3 of a second slower than the E550 4Matic sedan. Depending on what Mercedes does with the new engine's power and torque by the time it ships across the Atlantic at the end of 2014, these performance numbers could be right at those of the E550, while consuming on average 16-per cent less fuel than the bi-turbo V8, for an estimated 12.4L/100km (19 mpg) city and 7.8L/100km (30 mpg) highway.
We also felt the quicker responses from the E400 engine. All the while, however, the E400 comports itself more quietly than the already-smooth E350 trim. In these important ways, we are big fans of the new high-output V6. With this rear-wheel-drive setup and sport chassis, the feel from the AMG sport steering wheel of our tester has come a long way versus earlier, more numbing versions of the heavily assisted steering rack. Exiting corners with a hotter foot was very satisfying. We only wish that we could hear a little more of a sport exhaust in its fancy cockpit. Base pricing for this E400 rear-wheel-drive sedan has not been announced, but we do know the car is set to launch in mid-April 2013 in Canada.
The E400 comports itself more quietly than the already-smooth E350.
While the existing seven-speed 7G-Tronic multi-plate transmission is fine in everyday circumstances, when the chips are down and we need to move quickly between braking and throttling, the 7G as programmed can lag in its response times. To repeat, in everyday driving, or in the most frugal Eco setup, the 7G is perfectly swell to live with. If moved into either Sport or Manual, though, the frustration that arises from sometimes casual throttle responses and frequently disallowed downshifts just grows. Something's got to give at Mercedes-Benz to have this otherwise sound transmission bring more sparkle to the party when it's called for.
The list of "Intelligent Drive" assistance systems (or over-assistance, depending on who you ask) now available as options is positively S-Class like. They include Distronic Plus cruise control with steering assist, Brake Assist system with Junction Assist for hidden pedestrians and cars in low visibility situations, Pre-Safe autonomous braking at up to 50 km/h, Pre-Safe Plus for reducing the chances of injury from a collision from the rear, more acute Active Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive High Beam Assist Plus that allow high beams to stay on while not dazzling oncoming traffic, Active Parking Assist now with perpendicular parking [watch the Short Cut video above for that one], more capable Traffic Sign Assist including lane markings, and a 360-degree camera system showing how you're doing via onboard screen.
The Active Parking Assist now allows perpendicular parking.
Included as standard now is a stereo multi-purpose camera where the mono unit used to be at the rearview mirror. This makes the safety and assistance systems far more effective, allowing these more advanced versions to be offered on the E-Class in the first place. Working with whatever level of Pre-Safe you have aboard, as well as with standard basic Distronic Plus, the stereo camera renders a far longer and wider swathe of precise vision to keep you and your beloveds safe and sound. Also tossed in on all E-Class models is the radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, which keeps you from rear-ending the guy in front of you if you're busy peeling an apple while texting.
The North American rollout for the diverse engine trims with the newly packaged E-Class is like a long wave that never quite crashes on the shore. Our best understanding is that the first trims to get this new E-Class design launching around April-May are the ones using existing powerplants, namely the E350 sedan and its 4Matic sedan and wagon trims, plus the E550 4Matic and E400 Hybrid Sport sedans. (The E400 hybrid uses the current 3.5-litre V6, not to be confused with the future E400 bi-turbo V6 gas model unit tested here.)
In Spetember 2013, the new-generation E250 BlueTEC sedan arrives with 4Matic, joined by the updated 550-hp E63 AMG sedan and wagon. Got all that? As for the exact new powertrain strategy for the updated E-Class coupe and convertible models (the looks of which change only really change in the nose), stay tuned.
Mercedes-Benz promises us that this is the final major update for the E-Class family until we see the Vision showcar of the next E-Class during the latter part of 2014. We're enthused by this current set of alterations to the E-Class, however; it bodes well for the Mercedes family look soon to roll out by the hundreds of thousands during 2013.
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