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PREVIEW: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Published March 6, 2013

E-Class refresh is prettier and safer

No mechanical changes, but new safety features almost drive the car for you

CATALONIA, SPAIN — With the E-Class being Mercedes-Benz’s most important model, and this current generation clocking about 800,000 worldwide sales since its 2009 launch, it stands to reason the auto maker is going to tread lightly when formulating a mid-cycle refresh.

As such, when the 2014 E-Class models arrive here mid-April, there will be no significant mechanical differences. The news is a smoother front end with static LED lighting, redone side panels (the sculpted arches over the rear wheels are gone), fresh LED tail lamps, plus a newly available suite of Mercedes’ latest safety systems, many having trickled down from big-brother S-Class.

So the 2014 E-Class is prettier, safer and, according to Mercedes-Benz Canada, will be priced very close to the current models, which start from $58,300 to $74,900. The E350 BlueTec diesel model won’t continue, but an order-only E400 mild hybrid is on the menu.

The E’s interior sees improvements as well, with a new three-tube instrument cluster, redesigned console with analogue clock, richer dashboard grain and a very nice three-spoke Nappa-trimmed wheel. It’s classic Mercedes stoic in here and the build quality is unassailable.

The sporty AMG body treatment is standard on the E350 and E550, optional on the E300.

Mercedes-Benz is now putting all safety systems under one banner: Intelligent Drive. Depending on how much of it you spring for, a combination of radar sensors and cameras has the E-Class continually aware of its surroundings and doing its best to keep you safe.

Standard features include Attention Assist, which monitors drowsiness, and Collision Prevention Assist, which provides audio and visual warnings if a rear-end collision seems imminent. It assists in braking, too, once the driver responds.

The big Kahuna is the Advanced Driving Assistant Package, which pairs the functionality of adaptive cruise control with selected braking functions. Lane Assist will nudge you back in line when drifting into oncoming traffic, and, if you’re completely oblivious, Pre-Safe Brake can detect pedestrians and bring the car to a full stop, avoiding a collision from speeds of up to 50 km/h.

Distronic Plus with Steer Assist “helps take the burden off the driver” (Mercedes’ words) when it comes to keeping the vehicle in its lane, while adaptive cruise automatically adjusts speed and gap in stop-and-go traffic. Look Ma, no hands or feet!

When the E Class isn’t driving itself, it delivers the solidity, comfort and dynamics we’ve come to expect from Mercedes.

I piloted a couple of models with two upcoming engines. Slated for the 2015 model is a fuel-efficient 3.0 L bi-turbo direct-injected V6. It makes 333 hp, a nice snarl, and gives the car an eager playfulness and plenty of poke. If you want truly stellar fuel economy, the E250 BlueTec with its 2.1 L turbo diesel four arrives in September. I got 7.3 L/100 km on our test drive.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: The mad horsepower war in the German executive-sedan arena rages on — specifically between the Mercedes E63 AMG and rival BMW M5. Like a couple of mythic gods chucking mountaintops at each other, the whole scenario is somewhat nuts. But it’s a big whack of driving fun.

For 2014, power from AMG’s 5.5 L Bi-Turbo V8 in the E63 rises from 518 to 550 hp (same as with the previous $7,500  Performance Pack upgrade).

Astute readers will note this is still 10 ponies shy of that pesky M5. Not to worry. A new S model is available, which, along with various other performance enhancements, serves up 577 hp and 590 lb.-ft. The M5’s 500 lb.-ft. now looks a tad wanting.

Wisely, the S version comes only with 4Matic all-wheel-drive, tuned by AMG with a 67-per-cent rear bias. All Canadian base E63 AMG models will be equipped with 4Matic as well. No more smoky burnouts for you.

While we’re looking at numbers, the current E63, with 518 hp, rockets to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds. The new E63 S does it in a claimed 3.6 seconds. Insane.

During a day-long blast through the mountainous Montserrat region of northeastern Spain in both sedan and wagon S models, I came away with several observations.

First, this car is devastatingly fast. Duh.

Second, when compared to the relatively polite M5, the E63 serves up a more visceral experience, most notably in the epic exhaust sound, which ranges from a deep-chested rumble to feral howl. It’s not easy making a turbocharged engine sound badass. The 20 AMG engineers dedicated solely to this task deserve a few extra helpings of strudel.

All-wheel-drive gives this luxurious missile a welcome dose of security. There’s little drama in putting the power down when exiting corners (other than the nutty acceleration) and, although the steering could be a bit quicker, it is accurate and has more feel than the M5.

The seven-speed MTC features four selectable modes that range from the short-shifting economy C (launches in second gear and activates the start/stop function) to the fully manual M mode (where only paddle shifters beckon upshifts).

All 2014 E63 AMG variants arrive in September, with the coolest version, in my opinion, being the S wagon. It appeals equally to your pragmatic and elitist hooligan sides. I’ll take mine in matte gray.

 

2014 MERCEDES-BENZ E CLASS

PRICE (estimated): $59,000 to $75,000 (E63 AMG $100,000-plus)

ENGINE: 3.5 L V6, 4.6 L V8, 5.5 L Bi-Turbo V8

POWER/TORQUE: 248 hp, 251 lb.-ft. (E300); 302, 273 (E350); 402, 443 (E550); 550, 531 (E63 AMG); 577, 590 (E63 AMG S)

FUEL CONSUMPTION: NA

COMPETITION: BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Volvo S60, Cadillac CTS, Lexus GS, Acura RLX, Infiniti M37

WHAT’S BEST: improved inside and out, smooth and secure.

WHAT’S WORST: have to wait for new engines.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: each AMG engine is signed by the person who built it.

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