The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 sedan, coupe, wagon and cabriolet are all new, bigger, better looking, and more efficient than the previous versions. They follow the Mercedes-Benz E300 sedan, which was all new for 2017. Longer, lower and wider, these E-Class models are loaded with technology, including semi-autonomous driving features.
2018 E-Class rivals include the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, Cadillac CTS, Tesla Model S, and even the S-Class.
In its lineup of four body styles, the E-Class uses turbocharged engines of four, six and eight cylinders; rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and high-performance AMG models. The cars’ performance characteristics can be changed and tuned to the drivers’ liking with drive modes, adaptive suspensions and tunable steering. This review will be kind of generic, since a hundred iterations of E-Class could be described.
Base engine in the E300 is a turbo four making 241 horsepower. The E400 takes a twin-turbo V6 making 329 horsepower, with all-wheel drive.
The E-Class sedan runs the board in crash testing with the NHTSA, five stars in every test. The IIHS gives it Top Safety Pick Plus.
Every E-Class has forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, LED headlamps, and a sound alert that makes a noise at you when the car thinks you’re not paying attention to the road. In a crash, the seat bolsters tighten. A rearview camera comes standard on 2018 E-Class models.
The optional self-driving system is called Drive Pilot, and costs more than $10,000. It can change lanes automatically when the lane is clear and the driver signals for two seconds. It can follow, accelerate, and stop behind other cars in traffic at speed as high as 130 mph. It can follow lanes at speeds up to 81 mph even when the lanes aren’t well marked. The system can squeeze the brakes when oncoming traffic veers into your lane, and it can add force to the steering when the driver makes an evasive maneuver.
The rear-wheel drive E300 sedan gets 22 miles per gallon City, 30 Highway, 25 Combined.
The all-wheel-drive E400 4MATIC sedan gets 20/27/23 mpg; the coupe and cabriolet get 22 mpg Combined, and the wagon and AMG E43 sedan get 21 mpg Combined.
The powerful E63 sedan or wagon with a V8 engine gets 15/22/18 mpg.
With so many versions, the price ranges from an entry level for the E300 sedan of less than $54,000, to the AMG E63 S wagon for twice that. Both before any options, which can add greatly to the bottom line.
The E300 only comes with the turbo four. The E400 only comes with the turbo six and all-wheel drive with air suspension, in the sedan and wagon. The E400 Coupe and Cabriolet are rear-wheel drive.
The E43 sedan gets a more powerful twin-turbo V6, while the E63 sedan and wagon use a twin-turbo V8 and all-wheel drive.
Standard equipment on the E300 includes synthetic leather upholstery, Bluetooth with audio streaming, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, power front seats, power windows/locks/mirrors, automatic climate control, remote start, navigation, ambient lighting, and rearview camera.
Options include real leather, wireless phone charging, Burmester audio, massaging seats, automatic park assist, rear-seatbelt and rear-side airbags, and a safety bundle that includes Drive Pilot and a surround-view camera system. An air suspension and all-wheel drive also are available.
More options include a head-up display, and active headlamps. The E300 can also be optioned with big 18-inch AMG wheels, sport suspension, a panoramic roof, 19- or 20-inch wheels, heated and cooled front seats, adaptive headlights, satellite radio, and a set of 12.3-inch digital displays that replace conventional gauges.
Standard equipment in the E400 coupe includes keyless ignition, leather upholstery, memory front seats, a panoramic roof, and a rearview camera. Cabriolets add standard rear-seat side airbags and a power folding cloth top, as well as warm-air vents at neck level. Major options on both include an air suspension, and a head-up display. Wagons have a split-fold rear seat, fold-away third-row seats, and a power tailgate.
E43 sedans have 19-inch wheels, AMG exterior trim, a sport steering wheel, a stitched dash, and AMG gauges. Mobile apps that record track performance, a panoramic roof, and carbon-fiber trim are among the options.
E63 sedans and wagons get Nappa leather, heated and cooled front seats, and a power trunk closer (on sedans). The E63 offers carbon-ceramic brakes and a sport exhaust system.
Like the latest S-Class and C-Class, the E-Class sedan is balanced and handsome, with a long hood and short trunk. It looks more relaxed than the more compact C-Class. A deep line at the shoulders tapers under a carefully draped roofline, to the LED taillamps with a charming pattern Mercedes-Benz calls Stardust.
Now a tradition, Luxury models get a tri-star badge mounted on the hood, while Sport models get it in the less flashy grille.
The beautiful coupe and cabriolet are a bit lower than the sedan, and look even lower with frameless windows. But there’s small awkward pillar that divides the rear side window into 2/3 and 1/3.
AMG models are still lower, with bigger wheels and darker trim.
The E-Class cabin speaks in a rhythm of textures, wood and metallic weaves led by stitched and vividly colored leather rising and falling from the door panels to the center console. It glows under 64 shades of ambient lighting from ivory to purple, studded by circular air vents.
The dash can be dominated by twin high-rez 12.3-inch display screens that replace the gauges and controls, although most E300s will come with one screen and a handsome set of dials and climate switches underneath. In place of a shift lever, there’s a touch-sensitive control puck for the COMAND infotainment interface. It’s a futzy knob.
The COMAND infotainment system remains balky (although for 2018 Android Auto and Apple CarPlay appear). For example, too much is required to enter a destination in the navigation system, whose points of interest are too slim.
The E300 is receptive to fingertip control, namely in the steering wheel that has touch surfaces for swipe-and-tap operation. Intended or not.
Front seats have lots of lumbar support, and available massage. Bolstering in the AMG models is thick. The heated steering wheel also heats the armrests and center console. Rear seat has a middle armrest, cupholders, and available laptop holder.
There’s a choice of Burmester sound systems that use structural parts of the body as passive speakers with carved metal grilles. The system for $6000 has 23 speakers and crystal-clear 3D sound.
Luxury features include a cabin fragrance dispenser for a few hundred dollars, and the 64-color ambient lighting. Imagine purple lighting with white leather, and see Miami Vice. But with classier colors and leather, the E-Class can make a BMW look dowdy. Even a Jaguar.
There is good space in the rear of the sedan, where the seatback folds in three sections. The boost in cargo space is necessary because the sedan’s trunk is small, at 13.1 cubic feet.
The rear seat in the Coupe and Cabriolet offer seven inches less legroom than the sedan and wagon. However a six-footer will have enough legroom and headroom to fit.
A pair of rear-facing third-row seats is standard in the wagon. They fold into the cargo floor, to make a strong 35 cubic feet of space behind the second row.
Because the four-cylinder engine occasionally makes brusque noises that can sound cheap, the cabin could use more sound deadening.
We have driven the E-Class from the San Francisco Bay area to winding roads in Portugal, and have experienced everything from docile to frenetic, from four-cylinder to twin-turbo V8.
But even with the docile powertrain it’s fairly quick, able to accelerate from zero to sixty in 6.2 seconds (on the way to 130 mph). Its 273 pound-feet of torque comes on down low at 1300 rpm, giving good early acceleration. Its paddle-shifting 9-speed transmission helps keep it in the perfect spot of the powerband. Too bad the four-cylinder sounds gruff.
Two suspensions are available for the E300. There is a firm multi-link suspension with adaptive dampers in either base or sport (firmer) tune, or an air suspension with adaptive dampers. In addition to that, the wheel sizes range from 17 to 20 inches, mounted with different tires.
The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system splits power front to rear at 45:55.
The air suspension (called Air Body Control) and driving modes give the E-Class breathtaking versatility. It can cruise with lots of suspension travel, slow and smooth shifts and light-touch steering in Comfort mode, or approach AMG levels of heft and stiffness when set in Sport Plus mode. The modes are Comfort, Economy, Sport and Sport Plus. Comfort offers languid steering and shifting, and lengthy suspension travel. We often preferred Sport mode, which brings the best compromise of a good ride and quickness from the throttle, steering and transmission.
The air suspension system uses springs with two chambers per front strut and two chambers per rear strut; the chambers inflate and deflate at lightning speed based on sensor readings from the road. It lowers the ride height on the freeway for better aerodynamics and fuel mileage, and can raise it when more ground clearance is needed.
The E400 makes few compromises. Its 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 makes 329 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque at 1600 rpm, powering it from zero to sixty in 5.5 seconds in the rear-wheel-drive Coupe; in the all-wheel-drive sedan, with better traction from the standing start, it does that sprint in 5.2 seconds.
All that torque at such a low engine speed makes the E400 feel even quicker. Unlike the four-cylinder, it feels smooth and refined. Its 9-speed automatic transmission does quick and smooth shifts.
The Coupe and Convertible have a distinctive driving feel, slightly lower than the sedan. The air suspension and adaptive dampers are available, and they transform the ride and handling. In Comfort mode it’s stable and poised for daily driving, while it begs for Sport mode on winding roads.
The E43 sedan boosts that V6 to 396 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, mated to a stronger 9-speed that shifts like a racecar’s. It does zero to sixty in 4.5 seconds, and 155 miles per hour. The all-wheel drive stretches the front/rear bias to 39/61.
In Sport Plus, the throttle is lightning quick. The transmission will hold a gear through tight curves, or manual mode can be used. Individual mode allows the driver to soften the steering that can feel unsettled in Sport Plus. The ride is very firm but comfortable enough.
The AMG E 63 S, sedan or wagon, uses twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 making 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Try 3.3 seconds from zero to 60, and 180 mph top speed, without drama.
The all-wheel drive can go 0/100 front/rear, meaning you can take the wagon on the track and throw the tail around, drift it in the corners, then go 180 mph on the long straight.
The E 63 S will nail the corner apex with its taut suspension, four links in front and a multi-link rear with more bracing and stabilizer bars, thick tubes. The front brake rotors are 16 inches, with available carbon-ceramic for the track. Pirelli P Zero tires are mounted on 20-inch wheels.
It’s at home on the Nurburgring or American streets, with the air suspension and adaptive dampers that were developed on the S-Class. When you realize that the AMG models weigh more than two tons and are 190 inches long, it’s a reminder how far the E-Class has come.
The new E400 with its smooth engine, may be the best E-Class. The E43 is a high-performance sedan, while the AMG E63 is pure excess, in a good way.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.