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2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class ReviewThe Good
New engines offer more power and increased efficiency to an already impressive package in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.The Bad
Sloppy steering is the only noticeable stain on an otherwise pristine tablecloth with the 2012 E-Class.
The CarGurus View
There were few complaints regarding the E-Class other than price, so adding more power *and* more efficiency isn’t likely to change things much. The good news is that if you’ve got the scratch to offer, the E-Class can fit nearly any need—even if your need is a 5-door family funster that can hit 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. What’s more amazing is that the E550’s twin-turbo V8 is now capable of numbers that only the revered AMG could achieve just a few years prior, so whatever you want is yours—for a price.
At a Glance
Thinking back, I can’t recall anyone complaining the E-Class wasn’t fast enough. Certainly there have been hushed declarations from scared old men in country-club bars about the unimaginable power of the 6.2-liter V8 in this premium midsize. But a call for more? No.
Still, Mercedes seems to have sensed a need and done its best to fill it. For 2012, the E-Class boasts three new engines—all more powerful and more efficient—as well as the return of the E63 wagon to accompany coupe, sedan and convertible. There are more, less significant changes to the E-Class lineup as well, but we’ll get to those. For now, let’s concentrate on petrol power.
The E350 is available in all four body styles—sedan, coupe, wagon and convertible—and is powered by a new, direct-injected, 3.5-liter V6 that cracks the 300-hp ceiling for the first time. 34 extra horses were added to last year’s numbers, not to mention 15 extra lb-ft of torque, adding up to 302 and 273, respectively. It gets a 7-speed automatic transmission, and the E350 comes standard with rear-wheel drive (RWD) in sedan, coupe and convertible form, with the wagon getting standard 4MATIC AWD, which is optional for the sedan. The E350 BlueTEC has to make do with the same engine from last year—a 3.5-liter turbodiesel V6 that brings 210 horsepower to the table.
The E550 jumps up two cylinders to V8 power, and here gets a new turbocharged 4.6-liter powerplant. That’s a drop in displacement over last year’s 5.5-liter V8, but the turbocharging more than makes up for it with 20 extra horses and an incredible 52 more lb-ft of torque. All E550s will also get electromechanical steering, as does any E-Class with AWD. Both apply to the E550 sedan, as it’s available only with 4MATIC, but the coupe and convertible retain the more traditional RWD setup for those who still enjoy breaking the back end loose once in a while. Sadly, the RWD sedan is no longer available, and you can’t get the E550 as a wagon either.
For that, you’ll have to jump up to the E63 AMG. The E63 wagon returns this year and gets the same tuning treatment from AMG as the sedan. Available only in RWD, the E63 gets a 7-speed automated manual transmission that’s almost as sporty as a traditional 3-pedal. Of course, when you’re dealing with the 518 horses and 516 lb-ft of torque from the new, twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8, you’ll likely be happy to be able to keep both hands on the wheel. For those keeping track, horsepower figures stay the same as those delivered from last year’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8, but torque has jumped up by 51 lb-ft, which should be more than enough to rip the rubber right off the 18-inch alloy wheels. Don’t worry though, you can still pay extra for unique 19-inch alloys on the E63, if empty space in the wheel wells offends you.
Ride & Handling
The E550 trims handle best with their electronic and dynamic air suspension providing a lovely blend of comfort and performance with constant adjustments to all four wheels. The lighter E350 is sprightlier in the turns, but doesn’t have the same bump absorption. Still, there’s a bit of impact felt in the cabin of the E550, a highly unexpected response in the class. Same with the convertibles, which display a discouraging amount of cowl shake. Mercedes tend toward the comfort side of luxury, and the E Class is no exception. Even equipped with the sportier suspension, there’s still a bit of lean to be felt in turns. Steering falls short of expectations as well—a sad trend in German automobiles of late.
The AMG is a noticeable exception, with no notable lean and crisp, direct steering. There’s even a performance package for the AMG trims, and it’s well worth the extra money if speed is your ultimate goal. Rather than simply stiffening everything and ruining the ride on anything other than glass-smooth surfaces, the AMG suspensions provide the kind of subtle grace we’ve come to revere in the best Euro automobiles, although things will still be quite stiff.
Cabin & Comfort
Regardless of trim chosen, the interior of the E-Class won’t disappoint. Borrowing heavily from its S-Class brother, the materials and design exceed even this lofty class. Changes throughout the trim lineup are mainly aesthetic, with wood and metal accents as well as LED lighting providing a classy ambiance to features like dual-zone automatic climate controls, memory system, 6-CD stereo with Bluetooth and a power tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel. Coupes and convertibles get leather, but the sedan gets dealt vinyl at this trim level. Front bucket seats have 14-way power to go with power windows, doors, and a power sunroof in the sedan and wagon. Coupes get the panorama sunroof, also in power as well as a split-folding rear seat.
The E550 offers no interior upgrades other than standard leather upholstery, but the E63 will add fancy features like navigation with voice recognition and traffic, heated and ventilated massaging front seats, and a Harman Kardon stereo with hi-def satellite radio, iPod interface and hard drive. Wagons get a rear-view camera, side sunshades and a power liftgate, while the sedan matches suit with a power closing rear trunk.
Sedans and wagons have room to spare for heads and legs, but coupes and convertibles will leave passengers wanting for headspace up front and space in general in the rear. For extra headroom, you can at least drop the soft top in the convertible, which takes just a push of a button and 20 seconds, and can be accomplished at speeds up to 25 mph.
With a list of standard airbags 11 lines long, safety shouldn’t be much of a concern in the E Class. Bringing 11 airbags to the party in the coupe and sedan means you’ll look like a mouse in a marshmallow bag in the unfortunate event of an accident. The convertible follows suit as well with 9 airbags, deleting the second-row curtain-side units but keeping the hip-protecting and driver-knee bags. Front seat active head restraints are standard as well as the pre-crash safety system, driver fatigue alert, traction and stability control and 4-wheel assisted antilock disc brakes. Not surprisingly, the E Class has received a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration in rollover testing, the only results currently available. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet released any test results.
What Owners Think
After years of complaints revolving around the diminishing quality of Mercedes-Benz's products, things seem to have turned around, and the complaints have subsequently shrunk. Incredible engines and elegant suspension setups prove to be the highlights here, with the classy interiors and long list of standard features following closely behind. Sloppy steering in all but the AMG trims is a point of contention that will hopefully be sorted quickly.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.