The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 sedan is all new. It’s bigger, better looking, more efficient and more substantial than before. It’s more technologically advanced than the flagship S-Class, with more infotainment and safety equipment. The E300 can practically drive itself.
Competitors like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, and Cadillac CTS can’t do that, although the American Tesla Model S can.
The 2017 E300 sedan is the first of the all-new E-Class. It will be followed by an all-new 2017 E-Class Wagon. The E-Class coupe and convertible continue in the form of the previous generation. We have seat time in the new E300 in heavy traffic outside Lisbon, Portugal, and freeway traffic outside San Francisco.
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan grows by 1.7 inches to 193.8 inches long, with a wheelbase that’s 2.6 inches longer, at 115.7 inches. It weighs about two tons, and would weigh more if it weren’t for the body’s aluminum panels and higher-strength steel.
For now, the new E-Class sedan has just one engine and transmission, the E300 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 9-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is standard, 4MATIC all-wheel drive available.
The 2017 E300 is fairly quick, able to accelerate from zero to sixty in 6.2 seconds (on the way to 130 mph), but it’s also gruff. The outgoing silky V6 engine the four-cylinder turbo replaces will be missed.
Two suspensions are available for the E300, and the handling varies with them. 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. It’s not your father’s E300.
Driving systems with modes are also available: economy, comfort, sport and sport plus, that alter the suspension, steering, transmission, and throttle.
The 2017 E300 hasn’t been crash-tested by the government or insurance industry yet. However, crash ratings nowadays take into consideration not just crashworthiness, but crash-prevention features. Which is subjective. For example, the new E-Class will change lanes on its own, after the turn signal is on for two seconds. This is a good thing? Why? Can anyone besides us see the problems with that? Starting with maybe you want to give the person behind you more than two seconds’ notice. The government and insurance industry might say it’s safer than the driver making the decision to change lanes when he or she sees that it’s safe.
Other safety equipment includes the car telling you when it thinks it’s time for you to take a coffee break; a shriek when it thinks you’re going to crash, followed by automatic braking; maintaining an exact distance to the car in front of you at 130 mph like a NASCAR driver, meaning the guy in front of you has his feet on your pedals. When he floors it at 10 mph, your car does; when he slams on the brakes, your car does.
Another issue is inconsistency; the auto-driving turns itself off after about 20 seconds, maybe in the middle of your thinking it’s driving for you. And the cameras that see the white lines at the edge of the road can’t see a white line that’s faded. So you might think it will keep you from running off the road, but it only keeps you from running over visible white lines. It only knows a road is a road by the paint.
Meanwhile, there are potential virtues. A new system hits the brakes if you don’t see oncoming cross-traffic, preventing you from being T-boned or T-boning another.
It will park or unpark itself using a smartphone app. And there’s a trigger that will inflate a seat bolster that shoves the passenger three inches farther away from impact.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 ($52,150) comes in Luxury and Sport models, with rear-wheel drive or E300 4MATIC ($54,650) with four-wheel drive.
Like the latest S-Class and C-Class, the new E-Class 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.
The Luxury model gets a tri-star badge mounted on the hood, while the Sport model gets it in the less flashy grille.
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.
The couple inches of added wheelbase brings a bit more interior space. Front seats have lots of lumbar support, and available massage. Rear seat is also a bit bigger, with 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. One has 23 speakers and 3D sound.
For now, the four-cylinder E300 is the only E-Class sedan. It’s no hot rod, but it is responsive, with its 273 pound-feet of torque coming 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.
The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system splits power front to rear at 45:55.
The standard suspension uses multi-links and adaptive dampers, and comes in base (firm) and sport (firmer) versions. A sport-tune steel suspension has a mildly firm setup, but the air suspension 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+ mode.
The top suspension is called Air Body Control, and, coupled with the driving modes, gives the E300 vast versatility, so we recommend those options, along with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. They improve the car so much, we think they warrant the cost.
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 modes are Comfort, Economy, Sport and Sport +. 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.
If you know you’ll be happy with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and won’t long for more power and smoothness later, then the E300 stays in the game. But look carefully at the electronic takeover of your steering wheel and pedals, before you think it’s a good idea to give them up to engineers who will never be in the car with you.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.