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2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Test Drive Review
Though my 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic test car lacked the optional sport suspension, like any good German driving machine it demonstrated that the faster you go, the more dynamic the car’s performance.
Long an aspirational symbol of personal success, the iconic Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the most popular midsize luxury sedan in America. Strip it of its 3-pointed star, though, and the car’s value equation erodes considerably, even if the somewhat bland E-Class is a safe, comfortable, and, ultimately, dynamically capable machine constructed of premium materials and equipped with industry-leading technology.
Look and Feel
Mercedes-Benz sells the 2014 E-Class as a coupe, a convertible, a sedan and a station wagon, each offered with a menu of drivetrain selections. The most diverse, and popular, of the various E-Class models is the sedan, and so it is this version of the car that is reviewed here, equipped with the most popular engine.
For the 2014 model year, there are six different E-Class Sedans for sale, ranging in price from $52,325 (all prices mentioned here include a $925 destination charge) for the new E250 BlueTec with its fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine, to $100,625 for the performance-tuned E63 AMG S 4Matic. In between, buyers can select the E350 ($52,825), the E400 Hybrid ($57,625), the E550 4Matic ($62,325), and the E63 AMG 4Matic ($93,695). The E250 BlueTec and the E350 can be optioned with 4Matic all-wheel drive for an extra $2,500.
In addition to 4Matic, Mercedes supplies a long list of upgrades for the E-Class Sedan, some of which might strike buyers as odd. For example, despite a lofty starting price tag, the E-Class commands extra cash for leather seats, heated front seats, split-folding rear seats, Keyless Go passive entry with push-button start, a navigation system, a premium sound system and a reversing camera.
Beyond these options, the E-Class can be fitted with ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, active LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, a power trunk-closing system, a power rear-window sunshade and a rear spoiler. A rear-seat entertainment system and a 115-volt power outlet are available for this car, along with an active multi-contour driver’s seat with a massage feature and an active parking assist system. The E550 4Matic can also be optioned with an Airmatic adaptive air suspension.
Safety equipment is packaged into the relatively simple Lane Tracking Package (Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist) and the more complex Driver Assistance Package (active versions of Lane Tracking features plus Distronic Plus cruise control with Steering Assist, Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Detection, Pre-Safe Plus, Brake Assist Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist). Mercedes dealers can also install a number of accessories for the E-Class Sedan.
As might be expected, the AMG performance variants include more standard equipment and are offered with upgrades that are unavailable on other E-Class Sedans, including a premium Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system, carbon fiber exterior and engine-cover trim, 19-inch forged aluminum wheels and more.
Circling back around to the less expensive versions of the car, the E250 BlueTec and the E350 models’ exterior appearance is dependent upon whether or not the buyer chooses the no-cost Sport Styling Package. Standard equipment includes a traditional grille with a classic stand-up Mercedes star hood ornament and relatively plain 5-spoke aluminum wheels. The Sport Styling Package adds a fancier split-spoke wheel design, a sport grille with a large embedded Mercedes star emblem, a subtle body kit and a sport-tuned suspension.
This look is standard for the E400 Hybrid and the E550 4Matic, while the E63 AMG models get an even more aggressive appearance all their own. Additionally, Mercedes provides a number of metallic and premium exterior colors, upgraded wheel designs, and interior colors and trim selections. A Designo program of exclusive paint, leather and wood trims is also available to E-Class Sedan buyers.
My Steel Grey Metallic E350 4Matic test car did not have the Sport Styling Package, and it did not have Designo program upgrades. It did, however, wear a sticker price of $70,235, because nearly every other option box was checked.
As far as the car’s styling is concerned, my preference is the look provided by the Sport Styling Package. However, the E-Class Sedan’s stand-up hood ornament is jettisoned with this design theme, and seeing it sitting on the end of the hood glittering in the sunlight during the day or silhouetted against the car’s headlight pattern at night serves as a constant reminder to the driver that, yes, after years of hard work, he or she is finally driving a Mercedes.
This year, after nearly two decades of using it as a distinguishing characteristic, the E-Class drops its former quad-lighting-element front styling theme in favor of single-lens headlights. Another change for 2014 is the loss of the car’s pontoon-style rear fenders. When the current E-Class debuted for the 2010 model year, this historic styling element was intended to tie the new E-Class to classic post-war Mercedes “Ponton” models of the 1950s and 1960s. Now, the E-Class Sedan’s flanks are sleek, with slightly canted character lines sweeping from the front wheels to the rear of the car in order to make it appear longer, wider and more upscale.
While I find the new styling more appealing, the E-Class still lacks presence, but maybe that’s simply a byproduct of my test car’s more traditional and conservative design approach. Nevertheless, in standard format, I find the 2014 E-Class to be less distinctive than at any time in its history.
That cannot be said for the interior, which employs rich materials and tasteful surface graining. The cabin exudes quality, though it should be noted that during my test drive, which included some rather coarse pavement, the car displayed several squeaks and rattles. In any case, aside from the car’s small infotainment display screen and the weird yester-tech telephone keypad and associated infotainment system's hard keys on the center portion of the dashboard’s control panel, everything about the Benz’s cabin looks and feels exceptional.
My 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic test car had a 3.5-liter V6 engine, a 7-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system. Rated to make 302 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque between 3,500 and 5,250 rpm, the V6 is equipped with an automatic stop/start feature that shuts the engine off when the E-Class is idling in traffic or at an intersection. Mercedes supplies driver-selected Eco and Normal engine calibrations, while driver-selected Eco and Sport driving modes govern the transmission. According to Mercedes, the quickest that the E350 will accelerate to 60 mph is 6.5 seconds.
The EPA says the E350 4Matic is rated to get 21 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 24 in combined driving. I averaged 20.3 mpg during a week of testing, with the engine and transmission in their respective Eco modes the vast majority of the time. While that’s not good in comparison to the EPA’s estimates, this type of result is also not uncommon.
Though my E350 4Matic lacked the optional sport suspension, like any good German driving machine it demonstrated that the faster you go, the more dynamic the car’s performance. That doesn’t mean the E-Class is no good to drive around town, though. Unexpectedly compliant over city bumps, the E350 4Matic accelerates from traffic lights with authority, corners athletically and stops gracefully. Apply your right foot to the accelerator with too much enthusiasm and the E-Class lunges forward, but over time the driver acclimates to the throttle’s sensitivity. My test car also exhibited an occasional unrefined kick-down around town, as though the transmission was having a tough time deciding if it ought to be maximizing fuel economy or power.
On the highway, the E350 is solid, steady, resolute and ready for the triple-digit speeds that are legal on parts of Germany’s Autobahn. The car’s large windshield, big side glass and very thin roof pillars provide panoramic levels of visibility, and with standard suspension tuning the car wafts down the freeway, filtering the bad stuff while communicating necessary information about the pavement surface.
In the mountains and on country roads, my E350 was in its element on higher-speed sections of 2-lane highway, where it demonstrated remarkable resilience and terrific tossability. However, the E350 4Matic’s maximum handling capabilities degrade in direct proportion to increasingly tighter kinks in the road. Between the occasional lurching from the drivetrain as I powered the car out of turns and the occasional lack of feel at the brake pedal, my E350 4Matic wasn’t much fun to drive in any series of hairpin corners, even if those thin windshield pillars delivered an excellent view around them.
Form and Function
Slide behind the E350’s steering wheel, and the driver’s seat might feel flat and wide at first, but you can pass many hours behind the wheel without suffering an ounce of fatigue. My test car had a massaging driver’s seat, and yes, it was awesome. Still, though I ultimately found my test car’s seats comfortable and supportive, I wished for a greater range of adjustment, especially with regard to seat cushion height and tilt.
I’d rather sit up front than in the back, though, because I don’t find the E-Class Sedan’s rear seat comfortable. It sits low in the car, with a reclined seatback position. This is good for taking naps, I suppose, but I’d rather sit up taller for a better view out. Leg and foot room are adequate, but nothing remarkable.
Usefully shaped, beautifully lined, and equipped with a netted side pocket for holding containers of liquid that you might not wish to have rolling around, the trunk provides 15.9 cubic feet of space. A ski pass-through is standard, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat is optional.
As far as the interior’s layout is concerned, the E-Class displays a mix of old-school buttons and knobs combined with the automaker’s COMAND system, which makes navigation, entertainment, communication and other vehicle functions accessible through display-screen menus operated by a round control knob and primary function buttons that are located on the car’s center console. While this arrangement might prove preferable to the touch- and proximity-sensing control screen and panels found in some luxury models, others may find the Mercedes approach somewhat anachronistic.
In my opinion, the E-Class Sedan’s COMAND system is not as intuitive and sophisticated as BMW’s latest iDrive offering. Even Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI), though flawed, is a little easier to use than COMAND. But I’d rather use COMAND than I would Cadillac’s infuriating CUE system.
Redundant controls for many functions are available on the E-Class Sedan’s center control panel, numerous buttons that resemble the keypad of an old Motorola Razr cell phone. As irritating as COMAND sometimes proved, to be honest, I never once touched any of the redundant dashboard buttons except the knob that controls stereo volume. Even so, thanks to steering-wheel controls that are surprisingly easy to understand and to use, few drivers are likely to ever require the buttons on the dashboard.
Just below them, a silver strip of buttons helps create separation between the redundant infotainment controls and the conventional climate controls. Unfortunately, because they are rendered in silver, the gray markings for seat heating and ventilation, the powertrain’s Eco mode and the parking assist sensors are very difficult to see during the day.
Furthermore, take a look at the E350’s steering column. There are no fewer than 4 stalks jutting from it. The ones on the left side operate the wipers, the turn signals, the cruise control and the power tilt/telescopic steering column. The single stalk on the right operates the transmission. Rather than employ a gated shifter on the center console, the E-Class is equipped with this column-mounted gear selector.
If it sounds like the E-Class Sedan’s interior is a bit of a mess, know that the E350’s new gauges are a model of clarity, the primary controls are easy to find and use, and the car’s hallmark pictographic seat controls mounted to the front door panels make it easy for front-seat occupants to get comfortable. Plus, as is true of just about anything, the more you use the E-Class model’s interior, the easier it gets.
As I indicated in the previous section, I find the E-Class Sedan’s COMAND system pretty fussy in terms of operation. In my opinion, it could use a home screen and a button to help the driver “start over” when they’ve completed a task or ventured too far down the wrong menu path, especially for models equipped with the optional Premium Package 1 and the hard-drive navigation system, which allows owners to choose music from any of the following sources: AM, FM, satellite radio, Internet radio, Bluetooth or hard-disc storage. So much for that CD collection you amassed back in the 1990s.
As for the car’s Bluetooth system, I paired my iPhone with only a bit of minor difficulty, but could not successfully stream Pandora. Using the system to make and receive phone calls was no problem at all.
Through the standard mBrace2 telematics system and Mercedes-Benz Apps, my test car offered access to Google local search, Facebook, current events news feeds and, naturally, financial information from Morningstar Finance. Additionally, the system delivered local weather, gas station locations and prices, restaurant reviews and ratings, a hotel search feature and information about flight times and delays.
Using the system, owners can download destinations to the car’s navigation system, make a car payment, and even search for traffic cameras that are located in the immediate area or along the prescribed route. When the car is sitting still, occupants can watch movies or surf the Internet.
As flipping awesome as all of this sounds, I generally found that the system took a long time to load information, and I suspect most people would just as soon use whatever smartphone they’ve got in their pocket to perform many of these functions.
Beyond styling changes, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class benefits from significant upgrades to its safety technology, packaged under the Intelligent Drive umbrella. A new stereo-vision camera system is mounted to the windshield, providing a 3-dimensional view of what’s ahead of the car. Software algorithms continually process what the cameras can see and use the data to operate several new safety technologies.
Highlights from this list of safety features are the standard Collision Prevention Assist system and an improved Attention Assist system, the latter now offering a greater range of sensitivity when detecting drowsy or impaired drivers. Options for 2014 include Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Brake Assist Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist, Pre-Safe Brake and Pre-Safe Plus.
I did not experience some of these systems, as I did not come close to getting into an accident. Of the safety features that did activate during my test driving, I actually liked the Lane Departure Warning system, which delivers staccato vibrations through the steering wheel to warn the driver of lane departure, providing a message to the part of the driver’s anatomy that can actually do something about making corrections, rather than emitting more common flashing lights, blaring warnings or, as in a Cadillac, a vibrating driver’s seat cushion.
That said, the active part of the Lane Departure Warning system equation occasionally produces aggravation. As I travelled a country road on the way to a pumpkin patch with my family aboard the car, I needed to take moderate evasive action to avoid road debris. Someone’s apparent youthful exuberance over the prospect of impending free candy had resulted in a smashed pumpkin spread all over the blacktop, and as I crossed the double yellow line to skirt the larger chunks of the gourd, the E-Class briefly attempted to swerve me back into my lane before evidently deciding that I must be exiting my lane for a good reason.
Activate the Distronic Plus cruise control system, and you’ll experience the car’s unsettling autonomous Steering Assist feature that is designed to help the driver to remain centered in a traffic lane. The effect is similar to what your hand feels when your pooch is leading the way on a fully extended leash. Occasionally, the leash heads off in a direction that you did not dictate. In other words, the car is doing things you’re not expecting, and it takes some getting used to.
Don’t think you can let go of the wheel, either. I did, and the system was fine for a while, but it didn’t take long before a visual warning requested the presence of hands on the steering wheel, and when I failed to comply, the system emitted a warning sound and shut itself off.
Distronic Plus is definitely one of the best radar-based cruise control systems that I’ve ever used. Extremely refined, the system brakes and resumes speed with far greater sophistication than those from other automakers. But, like any autonomous driving technology, it is only as good as its lines of software code allow. When the bozo in the Volvo SUV that I was following down the Pacific Coast Highway decided to take a sweeping curve on the shoulder, the Benz thought it was safe to accelerate, assuming the lane ahead was clear. Well, it wasn’t, and I needed to take action before Volvoman crossed back over the solid line in front of me.
I swear that somebody, somewhere, stands to make a ton of cash off of these automated driving systems. Personally, I just think it should be much harder to get, and to keep, a driver’s license. Driving is not a right, after all. And I simply don’t see how this kind of technology is healthy. It’s as if the E-Class is saying: “Don’t worry, relax, I’ll take care of everything, until it really counts, and then you’re on your own.”
Unfortunately, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash tests on the 2014 E-Class, so there’s no way to determine how well the car protects occupants when the technology tosses responsibility back into the driver’s lap.
Buying a brand-new Mercedes E-Class is not the most cost-effective use of your money, but if you’re smart enough to earn the kind of dough required to park one of these in your driveway, that’s probably not a surprise. And that’s probably why so many people choose to lease an E-Class instead, making the problem of depreciation somebody else’s problem.
Based on my experience, the E350 4Matic also didn’t hit its EPA fuel economy target. Then again, if you really care about extracting as many miles as possible from each gallon of fuel, you’re looking at the E250 BlueTec, not the E350. Anyone prioritizing fuel economy is definitely not shopping the E550 or AMG models.
If the E-Class isn’t particularly cost effective in most respects, at least you don’t need to worry about fixing it all the time. Both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power predict that this car’s reliability will prove better than average over time.
Most of these variables simply don’t matter to an E-Class driver. This car is a statement that tells the world that you’ve finally made it. As long as the monthly payment fits the budget, if there is one, nothing else really matters.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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