1. home
  2. news
  3. Vitamin E: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Second Drive Review

Vitamin E: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Second Drive Review

An all-you-can-experience tour across Germany in Mercedes-Benz’s midsize sedan

Georg KacherwriterJurgen Skarwanphotographer

ETTLINGEN, Germany -- As the crow flies, less than 270 miles lie between France and the Czech Republic by way of Germany, but we're taking the long way, zigzagging through Deutschland on a three-day, 500-mile steeplechase in the all-new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. By journey's end, we want to know: What are the real-life benefits of all those costly safety and comfort-enhancing innovations? And can this Mercedes carve out a big enough lead to beat the present Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series, not to mention the next-generation models due in the next couple years?

Unrestricted autobahns are an enthusiast's dream, but in reality, they more often serve up mind-numbing stop-and-go, with aggressive lane hopping and infuriating tailgating. We expected our Hyacinth Red E-Class to create a stir in the Teutonic weekend traffic, but strangely enough, the car turns no heads and raises no questions. The new E-Class has an evolutionary design and looks rather similar to the handsome car it replaces, but it is set apart by being more curvaceous and aerodynamically efficient.

With an extra 2.6 inches in length and a 1.8-inch-longer wheelbase, the 10th-generation E-Class should also be roomier, though it is difficult to see any material gains in cabin or cargo space at first glance. Instead, a sculpted dashboard and involved door panels seem to take a bite out of the additional interior room.

Our test car, an E300, is fully loaded and priced accordingly. Essential options are the all-inclusive Drive Pilot assistance system, the Business Pack (LED lights, heated seats, parking assist, and Map Pilot), and the entry-level Burmester sound system. We could also get excited about the wide-screen display with COMAND nav, multibeam LED headlights, ventilated massage seats, and heated armrests and door panels.

The COMAND controller stays in its usual place, but Mercedes added two small control pads to the horizontal steering wheel spokes. The left thumb accesses all vehicle functions; the right masterminds the infotainment. Scrolling works in four directions—up and down, left and right—and as soon as the desired menu or submenu pops up, you simply press the button to select it. The car's build quality matches the brand's reputation; its ambience strikes a credible balance between luxury and functionality.

Outfitted with almost all feasible options bar heated safety belts and a leather-wrapped speedometer needle, our E300 can do quite a few things most cars can't. It can park itself automatically via a remote-control app, allow the driver to briefly take hands off the wheel at speeds up to 130 mph, adapt to what the vehicle in front is doing, steer itself through obstacles like a narrow construction lane at speeds up to 80 mph, and overtake traffic automatically. The car recognizes and adheres to speed limits (with an adjustable margin), and congestion is an open invitation to let the car do the driving. It takes time to get used to these trickeries, to relinquish control even if only for a few seconds, and to build trust.

The landscape unfolding from the Rhine inland is picturesque, but rain soon ruins it. Traffic thickens, visibility becomes a concern, and progress becomes painfully slow. Even long detours are often worth the extra drive time to avoid jams like this. There is no sensible way to circumnavigate the bottlenecks between Karlsruhe and Heidelberg, but the countryside eventually opens up on the far side of the Neckar Valley, where big skies beckon and a fascinating topography unfurls. Here, we get to know the more mature dynamics of the new E-Class.

Base E300s come standard with Mercedes' turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque bolted to a nine-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles. Depending on the chosen drive mode, the turbo-four can go from sounding like a hush-quiet background singer to a guttural baritone. Sport Plus, the most aggressive of four driving modes, may deliver too many revs too often, but Sport manages the transition between energetic to relaxed with bravura, and the transmission barely pauses for breath during upshifts. Mercedes says the E300 can do 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and it will eventually top out at an indicated 155 mph. Fuel consumption is about 26.8 mpg on a mixed bag of roads tackled with inspiration.

We rejoin the Basel-to-Frankfurt autobahn. With adaptive cruise control in charge, no more throttle or brake action is required, and the chip-controlled steering will follow the road the best it can. At moderate speed, it's OK. At 100 or 130 mph, it's eerie. Up to 80 mph, the steering assistance can be more pronounced, but only until the radius tightens or the car approaches the edge of the tarmac at too wide an angle. If the driver ignores the grab-the-wheel symbol and the warning beeps that follow, the system triggers a short-but-abrupt unilateral braking maneuver, and a bright red symbol display confirms that you've reached the limit of semi-autonomous driving.

About 5 miles short of the Heidelberg exit, the left lane is closed due to a crash, and the trail of taillights grows longer by the minute as we creep along. The E300 duly follows the car in front until suddenly a van pulls out and forces our invisible co-driver to slam on the brakes. Sure enough, this happens again and again because adaptive cruise control is too polite for the belligerent environment it works in.

We get onto the empty A81 autobahn and vacant backroads that will take us all the way to eastern Bavaria. This is fast driving in its purest form. The E-Class is equipped with optional, all-new air suspension that lowers and raises the body on demand, keeping the car level even when fully laden or under hard acceleration. It blends an underlying cushiness with a remarkable damping prowess and an almost majestic stability, and we suspect competitors will find it difficult to match this broadband compliance. The steering is reassuringly competent, and effort is neither too light nor too meaty. The response varies little as you wind on lock, the self-centering effect feels natural rather than artificial, and the precision leaves little to be desired. It's honest and linear tuning that is nicer to live with than the overassisted lightness of an S-Class and the underassisted pseudosportiness of the current E63 AMG.

We divert onto the esses cutting through spooky Steigerwald Nature Park at full gallop before cutting over toward the rolling hills of the Fränkische Schweiz. Driving the E300 fast is not a test of courage. The 168 LEDs in the headlamp assembly beautifully illuminate the road ahead. Unfortunately, adaptive LED headlamps won't be available in the U.S. until Mercedes and/or others can twist NHTSA's arm. There is always enough grip to lay down torque early, enough traction to shift down into a lower gear before giving it stick, and enough revs left to hold on to a gear until the next corner. Liftoff affects the handling balance ever so slightly, pulling the nose a tad tighter toward the apex and encouraging you to open up the steering earlier on exit.

The final bit before the Czech border is a 30-mile stint on numberless rural roads, where we'll see what the E300 can do in everything-off mode. Not a single assistance system can interfere now; even the transmission is operating in manual mode. In Sport Plus, full-throttle upshifts are brusque, the steering has reduced assistance, and the air suspension feels firmer and even better grounded. We arrive at the border with smelly tires, crackling brakes, and the mud-sprinkled mask of three long days in a car that has intelligent innovation written all over its fly-dotted windscreen.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a compelling car, and it is in a league of its own in some respects. If comprehensive connectivity, state-of-the-art digitalization, and partly autonomous driving are what the silver-haired core clientele of this model really want, then the fully loaded E-Class delivers. When it comes to classic talents such as packaging, performance, consumption, and handling, however, the gap between the competition narrows, but we won't know by exactly how much until the new Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series meet this E-Class head on.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 Specifications

On Sale: Summer
Price: $50,000 (base) (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/AWD 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