I had always thought of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class as a bit of a grandpa car. Kind of stodgy and non-descript, with soft feminine lines accented by swept-back round headlamps—all making a forgettable first impression.
The look said ‘retirement’ and I half expected to see the Tilley hat on its list of standard content.
Not so with the redesigned E-Class sedan, which bowed in 2009 for the 2010 model year.
The all-new ninth generation boasted a sportier, more athletic design with standard AMG styling (from M-B’s performance division), featuring low and aggressive side sills, and front and rear aprons.
The sedan’s front end, with its quad, trapezoidal headlamps, swept back dynamically, while its long flanks were punctuated by a character line that carried upward from the front wheel arch through the door handles to the pronounced rear fender.
It was a tauter, more muscular look, but the familiar three-pointed star remained on the hood, where it belongs.
Since then, there haven’t been many changes, other than some minor tweaks to colour, packaging and technology.
And of course, the introduction of a new model: the E 300 4Matic, my tester for the week.
The E 300 is a new model for 2012.
It provides a lower entry point for the popular E-Class, which encompasses—with and without 4Matic AWD—coupes, wagons, cabriolets, and five sedan models from the base E 300 (MSRP $57,900) to the top-tier E 63 AMG that delivers more than twice the horsepower at just a tick under $100,000.
The sedan lineup also includes the E 350 BlueTEC diesel, and later this year, the E 400 hybrid.
There may not be an E-Class for every budget, but there’s plenty of variety—from mild to somewhat wild.
The E 300 is more on the mild side, with its standard 3.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 providing 248 hp and 251 lb/ft of torque. That’s slightly detuned from last year’s 3.5 V6 (268 hp, 258 lb/ft), which in the E 350 now delivers 302 hp and 273 lb/ft of torque.
But for a little less power and a few omissions on the standard content list, the E 300 4Matic comes in $9,100 less than the E 350 4Matic sedan.
Sure, you don’t get the Parktronic parking guidance system, heated steering wheel and AMG styling package (front/rear apron, side skirts) found on its pricier sibling, nor do you receive the larger 18-inch alloys (E 300 rolls on 17-inchers).
But all that and more can be ordered, if you choose.
What you do get for a starting MSRP of $57,900 is Thermatic automatic climate control; 14-way power and heated front seats with memory; 12-button multi-function, power tilt/telescopic steering; power windows with express up/down for all; two-stage rain-sensing wipers; sunroof; automatic headlamps and LED tail lamps.
Also standard is the COMAND system, which features a seven-inch colour display and controls your audio system, phone, optional navigation, system functions and more. It’s relatively easy, once you get the hang of it—a crash course by M-B’s public relations rep saved me a lot of reading.
And on the safety front, you get the usual complement of airbags along with electronic stability control, acceleration skid control (ASR), ABS with brake assist, brake pad wear indicator, and a couple of other items worth noting.
Attention Assist uses a complex of sensors and software to create a unique driving profile during your first 20 minutes of driving.
If it later picks up any signs of drowsiness, such as erratic steering, you get an audible warning and a coffee cup icon with a Time for a Rest? message.
Pre-Safe is another useful nanny. When the system senses an impending crash, it takes protective measures like automatically applying tension to the seatbelts, repositioning an overly reclined front seat, and even closing the sunroof and side windows if anticipating a rollover.
Indeed, the E 300 comes standard with plenty of tech, but at its fairly steep pricetag, I was surprised by some omissions. Keyless-Go (with pushbutton start) is not included in the base package (nor is it standard on the E 350); ditto for the rearview camera. Some cars at less than half the price now come with these features.
There are several packages to option up the E 300, and my tester included two of these: $1,990 for leather upholstery instead of the Artico man-made leather that looks and feels pretty close to the real thing, and the Premium Package, which for $3,900 seems a pretty good deal.
All E-Class sedans, except for the diesel and the high-performance E 63 AMG, get 4Matic all-wheel-drive. It’s 30 degrees C at the time of writing, but I’ve tested 4Matic in some truly horrid winter weather and was impressed with its capability.
The system has a slight rear bias (45:55 front/rear), but can route power 30:70 or 70:30 depending on where it’s needed.
The E 300 Sedan also gets the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters.
This autobox is programmed to monitor and adapt to your driving style and can skip several gears when downshifting. And at the same time, it is exceptionally smooth.
This powertrain is all very civilized, but the E 300 still doesn’t come up short when passing and launches with authority—zero to 100 km/h in 7.4 seconds. That’s plenty fast for an executive sedan.
There’s ample competition in this segment: BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, the Infiniti M and Lexus GS, to name a few.
All are superb vehicles, and I’d be happy to park any of these in my driveway.
At this level, it’s not just about content levels and performance, but brand cachet.
And on that note alone, few manufacturers measure up to Mercedes-Benz and its iconic three-pointed star.
M-B E 300 4Matic 2012
Body Style: Mid-size luxury sedan
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 (248 hp, 251 lb/ft torque)
Fuel Economy: 11.1/7.0 litres/100 km (city/highway)
Cargo: 540 litres
Price: Base $57,900, black leather upholstery $1,990, Premium package $3,900