First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan

Lisbon, Portugal - The roads in and around the city of Lisbon proved to be the perfect test location to evaluate the all-new 2017 E-Class sedan. From Lisbon’s 19th Century cobblestone streets to the narrow winding coastal roads to the country’s immaculately paved high-speed toll highways, there was a road to challenge every aspect of the E-Class sedan’s performance. We even got to drive three laps around the famous Circuit Estoril race track in the lusty twin-turbo E 400! More on that later…

Just about everything in the 2017 E-Class sedan is new.

This is the first major redesign of the E-Class sedan since the 2010 model year: the restyled 2014 sedan looked new but it was primarily a styling update with the addition of the new E 400 4Matic sedan (replacing the E 350) and the new E 250 Bluetec diesel 4Matic sedan (replacing the E 350 Bluetec).

What’s New?

Just about everything in the 2017 E-Class sedan is new: an all-new platform and body with extensive use of aluminum panels, a redesigned interior with a new digital instrument cluster and improved infotainment and connectivity system, a new nine-speed automatic transmission, new collision-avoidance safety technologies and optional semi-autonomous driving capabilities and a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the entry-level E 300 replacing the 3.5L V6.

The first 2017 E-Class model to arrive in Canada will be the E 300 4Matic sedan in June or July, followed by the E 400 4Matic sedan in September or October. These were the only two models we were able to sample. Mercedes was tight-lipped about the arrival dates for the E 250 Bluetec (diesel), E 550 and Mercedes-AMG E 63 sedans and there was no indication of when the wagon might arrive – the arrival of the recently redesigned C-Class wagon may spell the end of the E-Class wagon line in Canada. The new E 350e Plug-in Hybrid is also a possibility, but after the discontinuation of the short-lived E 400 Hybrid here in 2014, it seems unlikely we’ll get it. E-Class coupes and convertibles will retain the current body style for 2017. Pricing is yet to be announced but is expected to be similar to current pricing.

Dimensionally, the new E-Class sedan is 43 mm longer with a wheelbase that has increased by 65 mm, but is slightly lower in height (by 3 mm). The 2017 E-Class sedan has a tighter, more dynamic and sculpted appearance with styling that borrows heavily from the larger S-Class and smaller C-Class sedans. Though it’s larger than the 2016 sedan, it looks smaller.

In Canada, 2017 E-Class sedans will once again have the sportier AMG styling package as standard equipment. This includes a two-bar grille with a large Mercedes star in the centre, an aggressive front bumper with large separate side air intakes with two horizontal slats, body side sills, rear diffuser and twin chrome tailpipes. According to Mercedes-Benz’s Canadian public relations manager, JoAnne Caza, this is the body style preferred by the majority of Canadian buyers. E-Class owners who want a more traditional appearance can opt for the Luxury Package that features a chromed three-bar grille, an upright Mercedes star hood ornament on the hood, and a full-width mesh lower air intake with chrome highlights. All 2017 E 300s have LED headlights and taillights, polished aluminum window trim, 18-inch all-season run-flat tires and 5-spoke alloy wheels.

For 2017, the biggest change (and perhaps most controversial is the switch from a standard V6 engine to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The E 300’s new turbocharged 241-hp 2.0L 16-valve four-cylinder engine with direct injection replaces the previous 248-hp 3.5L V6. The new four-cylinder turbo comes standard with an auto start/stop system that automatically turns the engine off while paused at traffic lights and restarts when the brake pedal is released.

As well, Mercedes’ new nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission replaces the previous seven-speed 7G-Tronic unit. Both E 300 and E 400 come standard with Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

The standard independent multi-link suspension remains the same and includes new Dynamic Select driver-selectable powertrain and steering characteristics that allow the driver to vary performance levels with the push of a button. Drivers can choose between Comfort, Eco, Sport or Individual driving modes to suit their driving styles. Comfort mode is the default, while the Eco setting keeps fuel consumption low by minimizing air conditioning and electronic functions such as the heated seats. Sport mode adjusts steering characteristics, suspension tuning and throttle response. Individual permits the driver to customize his own combination of settings.

As well, newly available Air Body Control air suspension is now standard on the E 400 and optional on the E 300. It’s a multi-chamber air suspension that works in conjunction with the electronic continuously variable shock absorbers to adjust each wheel individually to road surfaces. Cars equipped with both Dynamic Select and Air Body Control offer four suspension choices: Comfort, Comfort+, Sport and Sport+. At high speeds the Air Body Control air suspension automatically lowers the vehicle to reduce aerodynamic drag, and at low speeds, the suspension can be raised up to 15 mm to clear curbs and obstacles.

Driving impressions

Frankly, we were expecting to be disappointed with the E 300’s new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine even though it has comparable horsepower and more torque than the outgoing 3.5L V6. The V6 is known for its smoothness, generous torque and quiet running. How could a four-cylinder compete with that? Well, apart from a muted clatter at idle when the window is open, the turbo-four is surprisingly quiet at speed, and exhibits a restrained but throaty roar under acceleration that sounds more like a V6. With more torque at lower rpms than the 3.5L V6 (273 lb-ft at 1,300–4,000 rpm vs 251 at 3,400–4,500 rpm), the 2017 E 300’s throttle response is stronger (after a brief initial lag) particularly in Sport mode. The 2017 E 300’s official 0 to 100 km/h time of 6.3 seconds shaves more than a second off the 2016 E 300’s time. Still, the 3.5L V6 is a smoother engine overall and some E-Class owners may not wish to ‘downgrade’ to a four.

Canadian fuel consumption numbers for the 2.0L turbo aren’t available yet, but the European tests show a combined rating of 6.6 L/100 km. The previous E 300 4Matic was rated at 7.5 L/100 km combined. I suspect the final Canadian numbers will be different than the European ones but there’s no doubt the 2.0L turbo four will be more fuel efficient than the 3.5L V6.

Equipped with the same 3.0L twin-turbo V6 engine as before and with the new nine-speed automatic transmission, the 2017 E 400 4Matic sedan is an even better performer than its predecessor. The E 400’s twin-turbocharged V6 makes 329 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 354 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, spiriting this mid-sized sedan from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds, the same time as the previous E 400.

It’s the E 400’s driving dynamics that make it a superior performer. With its driver-selectable performance modes, the E 400 is a real Jekyll and Hyde family sedan. In Comfort mode you can chauffeur your family to Boston Pizza in Business Class comfort, but Switch to Sport or Sport+ mode on a weekend getaway and you’ll experience sharper shifts, firmer handling and quicker steering of a genuine performance sedan.

The new nine-speed automatic transmission is a gem. In Comfort mode, you’ll find smooth shifts, good throttle response, and quiet running. Eco mode is designed to save fuel by opting for higher gears, but there’s still plenty of torque available. Out on the Estoril race track in in Sport+ mode, the nine-speed tranny rev-matched under braking, anticipated correct gearing for corners, and let the engine rip on the straights. Shift paddles allow manual shifts, but simply switching to Sport or Sport+ changes the shift patterns to suit the performance parameters. Top marks!

On curvy secondary roads outside Lisbon, the E 300’s standard multi-link suspension provided a very comfortable and quiet ride with minimal lean in the corners – a change from earlier E-Class sedans which had softer, cushier suspensions. In the E 400, the standard air suspension adapts continuously to different road surfaces: in Lisbon, it absorbed the merciless pounding of the ancient cobblestone streets with better damping than the standard suspension. On the race track, the E 400 felt very stable at high speeds even though it was raining. We found the car very balanced with high cornering limits, exhibiting just mild understeer when driven into a corner too quickly. I can’t take all the credit for keeping the shiny side up though: standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, ABS, and stability control were all working to keep the car under control in those slippery conditions.

Braking is fantastic too: approaching the 90-degree turn at the end of the main straight at Circuit Estoril in the rain at over 200 km/h, the E 400’s standard four wheel discs slowed the car quickly and effectively without any drama. There are few things more satisfying than good brakes when approaching a tire wall at 200 km/h.

Compared to the 2016 E-Class sedan, the 2017 E 300 and E 400 4Matic sedans feel smaller, lighter and more agile to drive even though they are actually larger. There’s a definite improvement in driver control and enjoyment when compared to the previous E-Class sedan.

Ironically then, the new E-Class sedan is now available with semi-autonomous driving capabilities. The optional Intelligent Drive package now includes Drive Pilot, a feature that can take over the steering, braking and accelerating in many common driving situations.

Interior

A lot has already been written about the E-Class’s classy new interior. The upscale cabin has more comfortable and supportive front seats, numerous high-grade trim materials and colour choices, a new optional 12.3-inch digital instrument display behind the steering wheel with three driver-selectable displays, optional head-up display, optional 12.3-inch high-resolution screen in the centre dash, new touchpad/handrest on the centre console, new touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel, next-generation infotainment and connectivity with Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto, wireless phone charging, an optional 590-watt Burmester surround-sound audio system, a built-in Wi-fi hotspot that connects up to three mobile devices, ambient mood lighting with 64 colour choices, optional heated armrests and even an ‘fragrance generator’.

Interior room is similar to the current E-Class but there’s more rear legroom because of the car’s 65-mm longer wheelbase. And though the 2017 sedan is 3 mm lower, there’s still plenty of front and rear headroom. But as before the centre driveline tunnel makes it awkward for a centre rear passenger. We found the front seats very comfortable with larger side bolsters for lateral support when cornering. Even base models include power lumbar adjustment. The outboard rear seats are also very comfortable.

The new interior has a much richer, more opulent appearance that includes stitched Artico simulated leather or real leather on the dash, doors and seats, a wide centre console with piano-black trim, chrome accents and a small clock, a cabin-wide trim panel that can be ordered in an assortment of high-grade wood, metal, aluminum, or lacquered black and brown finishes, four round air vents in the centre dash, aluminum controls for the power seats, windows, and mirrors, mood lighting in the dash, console and doors with 64 available colours, and a new Air Balance Fragrance Generator in the glovebox that wafts pleasant smells into the cabin as well as purifying the incoming air. The interior decor seems more Italian than German, but at least there’s a trend to using more colours instead of the drab black interiors of yesteryear. If you really want to pimp your ride, you can opt for Mercedes’ custom Designo interiors that can be even more flamboyant and bespoke.

While the E-Class sedan’s standard equipment includes an analogue instrument cluster with 7-inch centre screen, an optional Premium Package includes an all-new instrument panel with a glass screen that stretches from the driver’s side to the centre panel. This thin glass panel covers two 12.3-inch (diagonal) displays: behind the steering wheel, a digital speedometer, tachometer and trip computer screen border a centre 7-inch information display. The driver can change the look of the instruments by selecting one of three choices: “Classic”, “Sport” and “Progressive” from a menu in the centre screen.

In the centre of the dash is an optional 12.3-inch COMAND screen used for Navigation, Audio, Telephone, Vehicle, and Settings or as a rearview camera or 360-degree top-down view of the car’s surroundings. As before, the centre screen is not a touchscreen: the COMAND system can be navigated via turning, pushing and pressing the dial on the centre console or by swiping, pressing or writing letters on the new touchpad/handrest just behind it. As well, the steering wheel has new touch-sensitive pads that allow the driver to navigate through the COMAND menus by sliding their thumb across the pad. Voice-activated Linguatronic is also available to operate the phone, radio and navigation system.

The large, brightly backlit digital screens are certainly easy to see and (surprisingly) we didn’t have any problems with reflections. The COMAND control dial under the Touchpad is the easiest way to navigate through the menus in the centre screen. But we found the new Touchpad and touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel to be more difficult to operate even though it’s possible to adjust the level of touch-sensitivity. Admittedly, we didn’t have a lot of time to practice.

The trunk in the 2017 E-Class sedan is slightly smaller (530 vs 540 L) than before but it’s still a big trunk that’s fully lined and the trunk opening seems larger. As well, the E-Class sedan has standard 40/20/40 split folding rear seatbacks that can be released from inside the trunk for transporting longer items.

A partial list of luxury options you can add to your 2017 E-Class sedan include drive-dynamic front seats with ‘hot-stone’ massage, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated armrests, heated rear seats, power sunshade for the rear window, manual shades for the rear side windows, wireless phone charger, Active Parking Assist and more.

Standard safety features in the 2017 E-Class include Passive Blind Spot Assist, Attention Assist, Active Brake Assist, Adaptive Brake with Hold function, Pre-Safe, ABS, ESC, and Neck-pro. Optional is new Intelligent Drive Package and Drive Pilot that enable automatic braking and steering in certain situations. 

With improved driving dynamics, better fuel economy, high-tech instrument panel, upgraded interior and advanced safety features, the 2017 E-Class E 300 and E 400 4Matic sedans add more to the E-Class’ traditional attributes of comfort and luxury. But whether E 300 buyers will warm up to the idea of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine instead of a V6 remains to be seen.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans are manufactured in Bremen, Germany.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E 300 4Matic sedan standard and optional equipment:

The E300’s standard Avantgarde interior includes Artico simulated leather 14-way power heated front sport seats with power lumbar, folding centre armrest, multifunction Nappa leather steering wheel with new Touch Control buttons, round digital speedometer and tachometer separated by a 7-inch colour digital display, console-mounted Touchpad, Comand navigation with Mercedes apps and smartphone integration, satellite radio, automatic climate control, analogue clock, dark ash wood trim, air-conditioned glovebox, moonroof, split folding rear seatbacks, remote entry and keyless ignition.

Five option packages are offered on the E 300 4Matic:
Premium Package
12.3-inch instrument cluster display
Rear-view camera
Burmester surround sound audio system, 590 watts, 13 speakers
Panoramic glass moonroof
Heated steering wheel
Silver shift paddles
Keyless Go
Power trunk closer
Parktronic parking sensors and Active Parking Assist
Hands-free Access

Exclusive Package
Leather upholstery
Drive-Dynamic multicontour front seats
Enhanced heated front seats
Heated armrests
Warmth Comfort Package
Illuminated door sills

Technology Package
Head-up display
360 Camera
Adaptive highbeam assist

Luxury Package
Exclusive exterior
18-inch wheels
Comfort suspension

Intelligent Drive Package
Drive Pilot
Distronic Plus with Steering Assist
Active Blind Spot and Lane-Keeping Assist
Pre-Safe Plus
Pre-Safe Impulse Side

Individual Options:
18- or 19-inch AMG alloy wheels
Summer performance tires
Climate comfort front seats
Air body control (air suspension)
Heated rear seats
Wireless phone charging

2017 Mercedes-Benz E 400 4Matic sedan standard and optional equipment:
The E 400 4Matic sedan includes all of the standard equipment in the E 300 plus: 3.0-litre biturbo V6 engine, leather upholstery, rear-view camera, Active Brake Assist, Active Parking Assist, Pre-Safe and Pre-Safe Sound.

Individual Options:
Intelligent Drive Package: Drive Pilot, Distance Pilot with Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot and Lane-Keeping Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Assist
Air Body Control suspension
Head-up Display
360 Camera
Keyless Go
Drive-dynamic multi-contour front seats w/hot stone massage feature
Burmester 3D High End surround sound system.

Lisbon, Portugal - The roads in and around the city of Lisbon proved to be the perfect test location to evaluate the all-new 2017 E-Class... 3/17/2016 9:37:19 AM