There was a time when the sedate, broad shouldered shape of a Mercedes-Benz sedan was synonymous with quality, durability and superior engineering. Nowadays, customers are more likely to associate reliability with the shape of a Toyota Camry, while Mercedes has pursued ever sleeker and more swooping body forms. Until now. As the brand finally emerges from its build-quality funk (it was the only European automaker to win quality awards from J.D. Power & Associates in 2008), it clearly intends to help customers recall its tank-like sedans of yore. Meet the 2010 Mercedes E-class.
As expected, the new, "W212" E-class, being previewed to journalists in Detroit ahead of its spring unveiling in Geneva, looks similar to the ConceptFascination design study that debuted in Paris last fall. But that unlike that wagon-cum-coupe or any other Mercedes car of late, the new E-class makes no bones about being a classic, conservative sedan. To that end, it wears husky, squared-off sheet metal, an upright roof, and creased "pontoon" fenders similar to those on the new GLK crossover ("a new Mercedes schtick," offers design editor Robert Cumberford). The new car also goes to greater lengths to accentuate its distinctive Mercedes styling elements, particularly its broad chrome grill and dual headlights. Ironically, these details have been so widely imitated by other automakers - we're talking to you, Lexus and Hyundai - that even on a real Mercedes they come off a bit generic. It's more in the overall profile that the E-class comes off as genuinely German in a way no other brand can quite capture.
The hip-to-be-square trend continues inside. Gone are the current model's attempts at being avant-garde and organic, replaced by a severe dash that looks as if it were drawn with a t-square. Of course, it's far from retro, as it receives a host of technology from the S- and CL-class, including the column-mounted Direct Select shifter, and a now standard Comand controller. The new car also gets plenty of advanced safety features, including headlamps that automatically dim when they might blind another driver and Mercedes' new lane-departure warning and driver-monitoring systems.
Under the skin the updates are fewer and subtler. The 2010 E-class will launch on American shores this summer in familiar E350 and E550 variants. Both the 268-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and the 382-hp 5.5-liter V-8 appear to be unchanged. The standard suspension gets adaptive dampers, while an enhanced Airmatic system is now an option. The other flavors, including 4MATIC and the tasty E63 AMG arrive shortly thereafter. The 3.0-liter BlueTec diesel will make it here in early 2010.