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2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Review

Once again dominating the segment

Todd Lassawriter The Manufacturerphotographer

LISBON, Portugal -- Short of simply building a downsized S-Class, it's hard to figure how Mercedes-Benz could build a more luxurious E-Class. Sure, the cars are no longer built to a standard; they're built to a price point. Many of what you'd consider traditional luxury cues as well as the new, high-tech ones are part of optional packages that will quickly hike the sticker price of this $50,000 (or so) car, and lesser luxury brands—even non-luxury ones—are slathering their cars' interiors with supple leathers and softly padded touchpoints. But with the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the German luxury brand once again dominates the segment that is, for lack of a better description, its bread and butter.

The Mercedes E300—the only model confirmed for North America so far—does this seamlessly with the 241-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, powering the rear wheels through the new 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional with this powertrain, and though we didn't get time in an AWD turbo-four, it's fair to say from driving the RWD version that the buttery smooth engine has plenty of power for most E-Class customers. If you live in a northern climate, you can spend the extra money on AWD or on a set of winter tires.

Mercedes hasn't confirmed a V-6 option for the U.S., though it will certainly come, probably by the end of the year. We spent time behind the wheel of both an E300 and an E400 4Matic, the latter of which is powered by a 329-hp, 354-lb-ft, 3.0-liter turbo V-6 sold in some North American market models. Meanwhile, the latest C-Class comes with both the 2.0-liter turbo engine and a more powerful version of the 3.0-liter turbo V-6, tuned to 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft. All these turbo V-6s, in the U.S. at least, come with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which reflects Mercedes chasing one of Audi's chief selling points.

So to try to answer our lead question, while the new Mercedes E-Class comes with some of the most comfortable Nappa leather heated and cooled seats in the business, a 64-color ambient light scheme, various wood, metal or carbon-fiber interior trims (go with the open-pore wood), a 12.3-inch-diameter high-definition navigation/entertainment/information center screen with COMAND and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a configurable digital instrument cluster, it's the next-level semi-autonomy and the 84 LED adaptive headlamps that you can use to impress your neighbors and one-up your Bimmer- and Audi-phile friends.

Most impressive is the self-parking feature, Remote Parking Pilot, which combines with a smartphone app that also can lock and unlock your car. You can use it to back your car out of a tight garage on its own while you stand just outside, twirling a circle on your phone's screen clockwise with your thumb. If you're looking to park it, you can ask the E-Class to find a parallel or perpendicular parking space and let it back its way in (as several other brands do as well), or you can get out and let it squeeze into a tight space. Sure, BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Cadillac soon will have it, but Mercedes is first, and the automaker expects the feature will be available in the U.S. market by 2018. The smartphone key app is part of the P1 package, available at launch.

The LED headlamps await a U.S. federal stamp of approval. The setup of each headlamp consists of 84 LEDs in three rows. Those LEDs adapt to oncoming traffic, rain-slick roads at night, and can shine light around corners without the need for parasitic servos. The problem from the feds' point of view, apparently, is that this excellent headlamp system essentially is on "high beam" all the time. It adapts by turning off some of the LEDs.

Then there's something called Evasive Steering Assist, which adds calculated steering torque into a steering input when the driver isn't turning hard enough for an evasive maneuver. A car-to-infrastructure communications system will be offered in Europe at launch and will come to the U.S. some time later. Pre-Safe Impulse, which uses a bladder in the seats' side bolsters to move the driver and front passenger 2.75 inches closer to the center of the car, is part of the Driver's Assistance Package Plus.

Much of the added tech will add weight to the sedan, of course, though Mercedes says the W213's body-in-white is 155 pounds lighter than the W212's, while the car is 1.7 inches longer on a 2.5-inch-longer wheelbase. Making a package-by-package, option-by-option weight comparison between the W212 and W213 seems impossible.

We will get Mercedes' latest version of Drive Pilot, which uses Distance Pilot Distronic, Steering Pilot, and Active Lane Keeping Assist to allow (temporary) hands-off, feet-off driving on freeways, highways, and other limited-access roads with good lane-markings. In allowing hands-off, the cameras and radar follow the vehicle ahead at speeds up to 130 mph.

We learned a lot about this system first in a '17 Mercedes-Benz E300 before we got into the ride/handling qualities. Get up to speed on the motorway, pull the cruise control stalk forward twice, and the system will raise and lower speeds as speed limits change. (It reads the signs.) It's best to lightly keep a couple of fingers on the wheel for when the red "hands on!" warning appears on the lower instrument panel. The system now changes lanes, too. Just trigger the turn signal left or right, and so long as the blind-spot warning doesn't detect another vehicle, it will change lanes for you perfectly smoothly. Hey, not bad if it gets more drivers to use their blinkers.

Speaking of smoothly, Mercedes has the nicely weighted (light) electric power steering well dialed-in by now. It's good enough to be unobtrusive—nothing you'll think about until it properly transmits road grain inputs. The car is pretty quiet, and the suspension soaks up bumps well, which are a bit more prevalent in Portugal than in much of Western Europe. When we got into the '17 Mercedes E400 4Matic, we had more time to play with the Driver Command modes and found it easier to distinguish between Comfort and Sport. No doubt, this specific car's 275/40R-18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires played a role. We won't see these Dunlops in the U.S., where about 90 percent of buyers choose the Sport package, which upgrades wheel size to 19s.

On twisty mountain roads south of Lisbon, the E400 in Sport mode held gears under acceleration and more aggressively downshifted (with built-in throttle blips and at least one exhaust pop) the excellent 9G-Tronic transmission (the first automatic with more than seven gears, so far, that's worth its hype). Understeer and body lean are minimal for a midsize sedan, and mostly the handling is remarkable for its calm willingness to play in the turns, more than for begging you to do so.

On bumpy and uneven on- or off-ramps between the mountain curves and the highway, the Sport setting reminds you it's on. It's not uncomfortable, but it's stiff without being harsh. And for once there's a drive control switch that might be worth thinking about for each and every commute.

Mercedes won't have EPA fuel mileage and won't announce pricing until it's close to that summer launch. The company hints the price won't change much from the W212, and could even come down a bit (thanks, euro devaluation) so let's say $50,000-ish, which isn't important because no dealer stocks and no consumer buys such a base model. The Sport package, with a 90 percent take rate, replaces the S-Class-style grille and its old-fashioned stand-up hood ornament with the C-Class style grille. We figure the sweet spot will be about $55,000 to $62,000 for a typically-to-nicely equipped 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300.

The W213 is a much-improved car over its predecessor, but not for its driving dynamics, which have long been on the right track for a midsize luxury car that doesn't pretend to be a sport sedan. Styling is much better, but only because it has gone from those ridiculously retro ponton-style rear fender accents to Benz anonymity. It seems only trim and overall length separate the E from the S from the C. It's much improved because Mercedes has done the only thing it could to improve a car that has gotten most things right for so long: Added the luxury of the comfort of not having to drive it.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Specifications

On Sale: Summer 2016
Price: $50,000/$65,000 (base/as tested) (est)
Engine: 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/241 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
EPA Mileage: N/A
L x W x H: 193.8 x 72.9 x 57.8 in
Wheelbase: 115.7 in
Weight: 3,902 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.2 sec (est)
Top Speed: 155 mph