Mercedes-Benz is quite aware that its current E-class, although a relative success, has been the poster child for the company's well-publicized quality problems. With the car nearing the halfway point of its life cycle, engineers are working with suppliers to address numerous electronic glitches that have dismayed owners worldwide. However, sources say that the SBC electronic brakes remain an Achilles' heel for which there is no lasting fix.
In the short term, the E-class will get its usual mid-cycle face-lift this year, with new bumpers, headlights, grille, and possibly even fenders and doors. The cabin will feature some of the innovations from the new S-class.
Already, though, our spies have garnered details on the next all-new E-class, code-named W212 and due in 2009. Mercedes will abandon SBC in favor of conventional brakes, although they will boast features such as wet-weather disc wiping and wheel-selective cornering brake control. Optional ceramic-composite discs could be introduced top-down, starting with the AMG models.
The next E-class will ape the S-class's wheel-arch extensions, rising character line below the door handles, massive bumpers, and greenhouse. A more sculpted wide-frame grille, the more geometric nasal air intakes, and the wedge-shaped profile should give W212 a sportier stance. Actually, early styling models show a certain affinity for the most recent efforts from Lexus--such as the rectangular quad headlamps, the C-pillar treatment, and the taillights. This is, of course, ironic given that the Lexus LS is famous for copying Mercedes, but Stuttgart still has plenty of time to hone the shape.
Driver assistance in general is a major theme for W212. Expect lane-departure warnings, an eye-movement monitor, traffic-sign identification, road-condition sensors, and stability control that accounts for crosswinds, camber changes, and tire wear. We'll get the usual V-6 and V-8 engines, plus a normally aspirated, 500-plus-hp, 6.3-liter V-8 for the E63 AMG model. Check out the September issue of Automobile Magazine for artist renderings.
Gizmos galore, S-class styling cues, and a hefty-but-not-too-hefty price: it must be the upcoming Mercedes-Benz E-class. The next version will debut in 2009 and will abandon the current model's electronic braking system for a conventional setup, but it still will boast enough electronic gimcrackery to fill an episode of MacGyver. For example, there will be a radar system that prearms the brakes in busy stop-and-go traffic. It's official--we live in the future.