Ask Mercedes-Benz what built the bones of the brand, and they will cheerfully tell you that it was the stalwart E-Class that cemented Mercedes’ role as innovators in not just the luxury midsize segment, but the industry as a whole. The redesigned 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class unsurprisingly remains one of the segment standards, arriving with the level of design, quality, and technology we have come to expect of the three-pointed star.
Like the middle child it is, the 2017 E-Class blends the style of both the smaller, sportier C-Class and the luxe-centric S-Class into a smooth and well-designed executive package. When the cover dropped on the new E-Class back in January of this year, we can’t say we were surprised. Like the brand’s recently refreshed SUV lineup, the E-Class has a bit of every other Mercedes in both its bodylines and face. The front is dead-on C-Class, while the roofline and rear trunk profile is all S-Class. The overall design might sway a little too close to severity, but it remains an attractive player in a market saturated with austerity.
Homogeneity aside, the 2017 E-Class is a handsome and inoffensive car, both inside and out. Along with rival automaker Audi, Mercedes consistently sets the standard for intelligent and high-quality interior design. Where Audi’s cockpits are clean-cut Nespresso machines, the E-Class is fluid, incorporating curvaceous interior trim pieces that appear poured into place. We spent all of our time inside a well-equipped E300 4Matic Sport. Aside from some strange optional art-deco dash panels, it was as comfortable and immersive as the bigger and much more expensive S-Class.
With a new face and new threads, the E-Class’ length extends by 1.7-inches over the outgoing generation, along with a wheelbase stretched by an impressive 2.5 inches. It’s bigger, but it lost fat and gained lean muscle, shedding 99 pounds. Equip your car with all-wheel drive, and the weight loss improves to 143 pounds. This svelteness is thanks in part to the new car’s extensive use of aluminum construction, comprising nearly 40 percent of the entire car.
The E-Class’ visual party piece is the exquisitely designed LCD infotainment system, and when optioned correctly, a gorgeous digital gauge cluster. Nearly every aspect of infotainment, navigation, and car settings are accessible from the configurable gauge cluster using a set of touch-sensitive pads mounted on either side of the steering wheel spokes. If the center screen has what you need, the right-mounted pad can operate every function you desire.
For now, stateside buyers desperate for a new E-Class have to settle for the base powertrain, a 2.0-liter turbo-four. 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque are shipped to either the rear or all-four wheels through Mercedes’ 9G-Tronic nine-speed transmission. Performance is conventional, with 60 mph arriving in a smooth 6.2 seconds for the rear driven model. Want a barn-burner? You will be better off waiting for the forthcoming 396-hp Mercedes-AMG E43. For those power-hungry individuals who squirm uncomfortably behind the wheel of anything with less than 500 hp, the as-of-yet unrevealed E63 is the uber-sedan for you.
If straight-line speed doesn’t impress, backroad composure will. In Sport trim, the E300 maintains the smaller and sportier C-Class’ curve-happy attitude. The sublime Carmel Valley roads were navigated with ease, thanks in no small part to the sticky Dunlop Sport Maxx tires. Like every other member of the Mercedes lineup, the E-Class offers stratified driving modes, ranging from fuel-sipping Eco up to the California-ready Sport Plus. In the latter mode, the E300 Sport hunkers down and sharpens up, alongside raised shift points, aggressive throttle response, and a stiffened-up suspension that is surprisingly composed and flat on tight Carmel roads.
So, case closed, then. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a well-executed evolution of the Merc lineup, blending the best parts of the cheerful C-Class with the super-luxe S-Class, all for a middle-of-the-road price tag of $53,075. It’s good for a slog around curvaceous backroads, and supremely comfortable when the going turns straight.
While these points do remain true to the E-Class’ core, this only tells half of the story. Historically, both the E-Class and S-Class have served as launchpads for Mercedes’ bleeding-edge tech. With the launch of its new bread-and-butter midsizer, Merc also releases the newest iteration of their very powerful and very clever Drive Pilot semi-autonomous driving system.
Created as the convergence of active safety systems, Drive Pilot is billed not as the latest form of autonomy, but as an impressive package of driver assistance programs. Throughout our time in California, Mercedes assured us that they have absolutely no plans to take driver interaction out of the equation, at least not yet. We’ll check back in ten years or so. Regardless, in the new E-Class, the tech suite incorporates a number of radar and camera-based systems to meter acceleration, braking, and even steering on public roads.
We used the system in a wide variety of scenarios. Overall, the system is very impressive. On regular arrow-straight interstates, the system functions much like bog-standard adaptive cruise control, automatically braking and accelerating within a set speed limit parameter. Introduce curves to the mix and Mercedes’ so-called Steering Pilot navigates the car seamlessly, for the most part. If the painted road lines are well-defined and vibrant, the car has no problem playing the role of chauffer. Encounter faded lane dividers and the system begins to stutter ever so slightly. On some tight highway roads arching through mountains, the car would sometimes not detect the curvature, and had we let the car navigate itself, it would have clipped the handsome front end on a retaining barrier.
Sound scary? It isn’t. Mercedes bills this updated tech package as driver assistance, and while the car is happy to follow a self-determined route, the driver is still the head-honcho. If you take your hands off the wheel for a set period of time, the car will issue plenty of warnings, eventually escalating to a slow safety stop, used in the case of a passed-out or unresponsive driver.
In stop-and-go traffic, Drive Pilot was a godsend. Even with the speed set firmly at 70 mph, the car flowed through the congested traffic organically, drastically reducing stress levels during the two-hour commute. On the tight Pacific Coast Highway, the steering systems worked in tandem both with our inputs and the car in front of us to safely maintain a comfortable speed.
Drive Pilot might not be considered fully autonomous, but it remains one of the most intuitive and natural systems we have used thus far. The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 is once again Mercedes’ preview into the future, with a boatload of tech and style that will keep us plenty occupied until the self-driving Mercs of the future arrive.