The Mercedes-Benz E-Class: ?E? is for Enticing

Auto review - Photo of red mercedes benzThe Mercedes-Benz E-Class is like a classic gray suit. It?s a safe, conservative choice that looks good no matter where you travel.

That might explain not just its popularity but also why Mercedes-Benz offers a full range of body styles including a coupe, cabriolet, sedan and wagon with all-wheel drive. And the variety doesn?t stop there. There?s a sizable choice of powertrains as well.

In an unusual move, the least expensive E-Class sedan, the E250 BlueTEC, has a 195-horsepower 2.1-liter four-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine. An extra $500 nets the E350 and a gas-powered 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Stepping up to the E550 gets you not just another 100 horsepower from its 4.6-liter turbocharged V8, but standard all-wheel drive as well.

If that?s not enough power for you, opt for the E63 AMG with its 5.5-liter turbocharged V8, good for 550 horsepower with all-wheel drive, or the E63 AMG S-Model with the same engine and an extra 27 horses under the hood.

Finally, there?s a gas-electric hybrid model, the E400, with the same horsepower rating as the E350, and the same EPA rated highway mileage, but an extra 3 mpg in city driving.

If you prefer two doors, opting for the coupe or convertible will limit your choice to the E350 or E550, while the wagon is offered as an E350 or E63 AMG S-Model. That?s significantly more variety than the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6/A7 or Cadillac CTS.

For 2014, all E-Class models get a new proboscis capped by one of two grilles, depending on which option package you choose. Cars equipped with the Performance Package wear a giant three-pointed star in the middle of the grille. Choosing the Luxury Package on the E250 or E350 means you?ll have the traditional stand-up hood ornament atop the grille.

Unless you must see a three-pointed star at the end of the hood, the Sport Package looks much better. Its more aggressive look has a more modern feel, yet doesn?t detract from the newly refined front-end styling. There?s a touch of softness to its looks that buffs off the harshness of the previous model.

E-Class sedans get a further design revision that significantly enhances their visual appeal: They lose the pontoon over the rear fender. Unfortunately, coupes and cabriolets retain it.

Regardless of model, all interiors have been redesigned, imparting a richer and sportier feel that?s more in keeping with its price. Even the seats have been reworked, and unlike a typical Mercedes-Benz seat, which is about as unyielding as a cinder block, these thrones are comfortable.

At the press launch for the E-Class in Portland, Ore., I sampled the E250 and 350 sedans, and an E350 Cabriolet.

The E350 has more than enough power for most drivers, but not so much more that you might choose it over the diesel, which has 369 foot pounds of torque, rather than the E350?s 269. Yes, the E250 is slower, taking 7.9 seconds to reach 60 mph, compared with the E350?s 6.5 seconds. But mileage was significantly better, returning 39.2 mpg, compared with the 20.5 mpg from the V6.

The standard seven-speed automatic transmission is responsive when left to its own devices, but shifting manually via paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel is disappointing. Gear changes take too long to actuate, especially if you drop down two gears.

Steering is nicely weighted but largely devoid of feel. As you?d expect of a Mercedes-Benz, the car stays planted no matter what you throw at it while transmitting more road imperfections through to passengers than some folks may like. This is not a pure driver?s car, but it has enough ability and agility to be enjoyed by an enthusiast. In all, it?s a very well-rounded package.

One thing was fairly annoying, however. In an effort to conserve fuel, the E-Class is equipped with a stop/start system, which shuts off the motor when the vehicle comes to a stop. It restarts once the driver?s foot is removed from the brake pedal. While this system is less intrusive than the ones found in BMWs and Porsches, it is much more intrusive than similar Japanese or American systems.

Also, the Harman Kardon audio system was distinctly lacking in sound quality. There was little midrange and a distorted high end. It?s surprising, considering the price of the car.

More impressive was the optional Driver Assistance Package which, for 2014, includes Steering Assist. This feature helps keep the car in the lane, and not just through audible warnings. When the cruise control is on, the system will keep the car between two lane markings and steer it back into the lane or turn the wheel through mild corners. It?s remarkable.

The same could be said of this car?s updates.

For 2014, the E-Class?s styling updates, improved ambience, notable safety technology and wide variety of body styles and engines make it one of the benchmarks in this class of car.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Wheelbase: 113.2 inches
Length: 191.7 inches
Weight: 3,979 pounds
Cargo space: 16.4 cubic feet
EPA rating (city/highway): 21/30 mpg
Fuel consumption: 20.5 mpg
Fuel type: Premium
Base price, base model: $51,400
Base price, test model: $51,900
As tested: Not available

Source:? MCT Information Services