From an office on wheels for a taxi driver in Frankfurt to an adrenaline rush on wheels for an enthusiast in Los Angeles, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class needs to be a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s an important part of the brand’s lineup, even in a market dominated by crossovers and SUVs. The new, W214-generation model gets a sharper-looking design and a long list of technology — including in-car Angry Birds — yet it remains true to the values that have helped make the nameplate a reference in terms of comfort and build quality for many decades.
One point Mercedes-Benz couldn’t ignore during the design phase is that the E-Class is no longer the only midsize sedan in its portfolio. It needs to share the showroom floor with the EQE, which is exclusively offered with an electric powertrain. While the two models aren’t direct rivals, I’m told that a great deal of effort was put into ensuring they don’t overlap. This explains why the E-Class carries on with a rather classic, three-box design rather than a more futuristic-looking shape like its battery-powered sidekick. In addition to “don’t make a gasoline-burning EQE,” executives also told the design team to give the E-Class a look of its own instead of copying the C-Class or the S-Class.
Visually, the new E-Class carries on with the three-box silhouette that has characterized its predecessors since the nameplate appeared in 1994 (the model’s lineage goes back much further, but the E-Class designation is relatively recent). Its wheelbase is about an inch longer than the outgoing model’s, a decision made to give second-row passengers more space, and the flush-mounted door handles already seen on the S-Class, among other models, have trickled down. There’s a lot more going on in the design department than initially meets the eye: For example, the little wave on the bottom part of the headlights echoes the four-light front-end design seen on many older E-Class variants, like the W210. And, the beltline crease ends above the front door handles to create a smooth surface and picks up again a few feet later.
As has been the case for the past few generations, the E-Class is globally available with two front ends. One features an elegant-looking grille with bright horizontal slats and a Mercedes-Benz emblem mounted upright on the hood. The other, which you’re far more likely to see once the sedan hits the streets, gets a sportier-looking design with a bigger star embedded into the grille. Both grilles feature a black frame. Mercedes-Benz spokesman Stefan Ott told me that his team expects 10% of buyers will choose the more old-school design; it’s particularly popular in a number of Asian markets. Out back, the E gets horizontal lights with three-pointed-star-shaped inserts, a light bar, and a strip of chrome trim that emphasizes its width. The light bar isn’t illuminated, because Mercedes-Benz wants to save this feature for its EVs.
“We wanted to visually bridge the gap between our traditional cars and our electric cars,” designer Michael Frei summed up. His team managed to give the E-Class a drag coefficient of 0.23, which is nearly on par with the EQE’s (0.22) and improves efficiency.
This same train of thought shaped the cabin, according to interior designer Erik Degen. He describes the interior vibe as “cocooning.” From the driver’s seat, you feel like the dashboard is around you rather than in front of you because LED strips link it to the door panels; this is seen in the EQE as well, but the strips stretch even further back in the new E-Class. You face a digital instrument cluster, side air vents with surprisingly intricate detailing, and a giant dash of screens appropriately called SuperScreen embedded into the dashboard to display a new version of the MBUX infotainment system. As a part of the optional SuperScreen package, there’s a third screen integrated into the part of the dashboard ahead of the front passenger. Whether you spec the SuperScreen or not, the central display is a 14.4-inch screen. If you don’t option the SuperScreen, the passenger screen is essentially deleted in favor of a more traditional-looking dash.
More screens allowed engineers to program more features into the E-Class. From the middle or the right-side screen, you can play Angry Birds, browse TikTok, stream videos, and even take a selfie (welcome to 2023!) using one of the in-car cameras. Alternatively, this camera can power in-car Zoom meetings. Many of these features are optional, and some rely on a new, 5G-compatible communication module.
While that’s a lot to take in, my first impression is that you won’t overdose on technology halfway through a long drive. The infotainment system’s icons can be rearranged for easy access, like on a smartphone or a tablet, and the interior features leather upholstery, wood trim, and materials that are nice to touch and look at. It’s an interesting and cohesive blend of classic craftsmanship and the latest technology.
Special attention was given to the MBUX system’s interface. Mercedes-Benz, like many of its peers and rivals, is realizing that driving around with what’s essentially a big tablet causes distractions. “We created new icons. They look more like smartphone icons, so they’re more intuitive to operate while driving because they’re easier to recognize,” pointed out MBUX expert Christopher Gäng. Speaking of distractions, isn’t driving on the autobahn while your passenger energetically tries to shoot birds at evil pigs a big one? Gäng says no: the driver can’t see what’s displayed on the passenger-side screen, but the driver-facing cameras (there are two) can tell if the driver isn’t looking at the road and darken the screen. Besides, the passenger-side screen is only on if there’s a passenger sitting in the front. It’s off if there’s no one there.
One of the coolest interior features isn’t inspired by the past or fueled by 22nd century-like technology; it’s super simple and very clever. There are two storage compartments in the center console. One is located where the shifter was on a lot of older cars (it’s mounted on the column in the new E-Class), and the other is under the armrest. The charging ports live in the latter, but a tiny cable tunnel connects it to the former so you can charge your phone without opening the armrest or driving with the armrest open. Well done, Mercedes.
At launch, buyers in the United States will have two E-Class flavors called E 350 4Matic and E 450 4Matic, respectively, to choose from. The base model uses a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 255 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 2,000 to 3,200 rpm. The next (and, for the time being, last) model up benefits from a turbocharged, 3.0-liter straight-six rated at 375 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Both engines work with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that injects up to 148 pound-feet of torque into the driveline. They shift through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive will be the only configuration offered here.
European motorists will have additional drivetrains to choose from, including turbodiesel and plug-in hybrid options. There’s even a diesel-electric plug-in hybrid system in the pipeline that should offer massive torque and massive range. Unfortunately, Ott confirmed these will not be sold here. There’s not much of a market for turbodiesel engines here, and plug-in hybrids “aren’t that important at the moment,” citing demand as the reason PHEV E-Class models won’t come to the U.S. While he didn’t confirm what’s next, it’s reasonable to assume that AMG-designed, high-performance models will join the range in the coming years.
One E-Class variant Mercedes has confirmed for this new generation is the continued presence of a wagon body style. Both the coupe and convertible versions of the E-Class will go away in favor of the upcoming CLE-Class, but a longroof will eventually be made available.
The list of options includes a rear-axle steering system that turns the back wheels by up to 4.5 degrees. Mercedes-Benz makes a steel suspension system standard, and its AirMatic air suspension setup is optionally available regardless of cylinder count.
Built in Sindelfingen, Germany, the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class will enter production in the coming months and go on sale in the U.S. by the end of 2023. Pricing will be announced later.
In an era shrouded by looming combustion-engine bans, it’s natural to wonder what the future holds for the E-Class. Volkswagen will can the combustion-powered variants of the Golf once the current, eighth-generation model reaches the end of its life cycle. “I have nothing to say today,” Ott told me. “Whether it’s the last combustion[-powered E-Class] or how the naming is going to be in the future is something we’ll see.”