First Drive

First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

New E-Class is more efficient, more intelligent and more emotional

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class - front 3/4 scenic
BARCELONA, Spain – It's not often we get to drive two new cars wearing one body – or even better – four new cars wearing two bodies. Mercedes-Benz gave me that opportunity here during the introduction of the heavily revised 2014 E-Class sedan and wagon. 

The confusion factor in this atypical product launch was that the vehicles on hand had 2015 drivetrains. The E-Class receives a serious mid-cycle makeover for 2014 but, for the most part, doesn’t get the new engines we sampled until the 2015 model year. 

Let me try to clear up the confusion. Arriving at Mercedes stores this spring, the 2014 E 300 sedan, E 350 sedan and wagon, E 400 hybrid, E 550 sedan – all with 4Matic all-wheel-drive – have the new body, interiors and features, but carryover drivetrains. 

The new 2014 E 63 AMG 4Matic sedans and wagons go into production in July followed a month later by a new E 250 BlueTEC 4Matic sedan – both due here in the fall. All use the seven-speed 7GTronic transmission. No news yet about coupe or cabrio versions. 

Global presence

Mercedes has sold more than 30 million E-class vehicles over the past 60 years. The ninth generation will come in a staggering array of 74 different configurations globally – 10 of them for Canada. 

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.jpgAll get the new look and interior and a suite of advanced technologies introduced on the current S-Class, or slated for the next generation arriving later this year.

I drove both sedan and wagon variants of the new car here, equipped with a new turbocharged V-6 engine that will replace the V-8 currently appearing in the E 550. 

The 3.5-litre V-6 is available in two forms, with 248/302 horsepower and 251/273 lb-ft of torque, as well as a hybrid variant (power and torque ratings as yet unspecified).

A turbocharged 4.7-litre V-8 is rated at 402 horsepower and 443 lb- ft of torque, while a turbocharged 5.5-litre V-8 is offered in 557- and 585-horsepower form, with 531 and 590 lb-ft of torque, respectively.

There was also some quality – and fun – time in the new E 63 AMG in both “normal” and new “S” guise. Also on hand was a variation of the new four-cylinder E 250 diesel.

New look

While the platform, suspension and drivetrains of the 2014 E-Class sedan and wagon are carried over, with some minor upgrades, almost everything you see or touch has changed. 

All exterior panels except for the roof and trunk lid are new. The overall look is more contemporary with smoother lines. 

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class - grille star badge.JPGThe new front end is readily identified as a Mercedes-Benz. 

There are two versions globally: the Elegence version, with the traditional three-pointed star atop the hood, a subdued grille and four-spoke steering wheel; and the sport, or Avantgarde version with a honking big star centred in the grille and a three-spoke steering wheel. 

Canadians will get only the latter version. 

In addition to new front and rear appearance, the 2014 E-Class has a distinctive character line that runs diagonally across the rear doors to meet the leading edge of the taillight. 

There are new alloy wheel designs in 17 and 18-inch sizes and a dark panel ringed in chrome separates dual exhaust outlets.   

Innovative headlamps

One feature worthy of note is the new headlamp design. 

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon - NAIAS.jpgFixed single-lens LED low-beam units with integrated LED daytime running lights are standard. They emit light at 5,500 Kelvin temperature, very close to natural sunlight (6,500 Kelvin). 

Also available will be full LED “Intelligent Headlights”. High and low beams, turn signals, cornering and parking lights as well as the daytime running lights all use LEDs which use very little energy and have a long service life. 

The full-LED setup comes with active curve illumination which turns the lights slightly in the direction of travel and adaptive high beam assist – a marvellous new system that directs light around vehicles in front, but not at them.

Updated interior

Interior changes include a trio of round gauges, an analog clock between the centre vents, new Nappa-leather trimmed steering wheel with shift paddles on the backside, selectable three-color ambient lighting, restyled console and richer wood or metal trim. 

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class - front seats.JPGThe signal and cruise control stalks have swapped places putting the former up where it belongs. Electric power steering, a navigation system, 4Matic and automatic start/stop systems are standard on all 2014 E-Class models.

Parktronic with Active Parking Assist – which uses four digital cameras to create a 360-degree view of the vehicle's surroundings – automatically identifies available parking spots at speeds below 36 km/h, whether perpendicular or parallel. 

Once the driver selects reverse, the system does the steering and braking. It is standard on all 2014 E-Class wagons. 

Safety systems

This is a Mercedes-Benz so there are no less than 11 new or improved assistance systems including Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, Adaptive brakes with "hold" function, Pre-Safe, Neck-Pro, ESP, ASR and BAS and 11 air bags. 

There is also a raft of other advanced technologies that do everything from monitor the adjacent lanes and keeping you in yours to driving for you in slow, stop/start, heavy traffic situations. 

There is also a new strategy, called Intelligent Drive that bundles many of these features. In essence the car knows what it going on around it at any given time and how to react. 

On the road

I had ample opportunity to sample the new engines and suspension revisions on the twisty roads of Catalonia. Subtle changes to springs, dampers, bushings and antiroll bars have improved both ride and handling.
 
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-63 AMG - engine.JPGThe new twin-turbo V-6 is a jewel of an engine, giving up very little in the area of performance to the 4.6-litre V-8 is will replace in 2015. Mercedes, known for conservative ratings, says the sonorous new six will hustle the E-Class from 0-to-100 km/h in 5.2 seconds!

But the highlight of the two-day session was the opportunity to throw the new E 63 AMG around narrow and twisty roads for several hours to try the AMG-specific air suspension and a pair of absolutely glorious engines. 

The 5.5-litre V-8s in these road rockets were designed and developed in-house by AMG, with features like spray-guided direct injection and air-to-water charge-air cooling. 

There are two versions of the hand-built eights for the new E-class sedan or wagon, both paired with an AMG-tweaked 4Matic system and an AMG-developed version of the 7-speed automatic with three drive programs and the ability to snap off shifts in as little as 100 milliseconds.
 
The “standard” engine belts out a stout 557 horsepower, 37 more than the 2013 model. There is also a new “S” variant with 585-horsepower on offer accompanied by an astonishing 590 lb-ft of pavement-rippling torque. 

Sleeper!

At dinner one evening our host, Dr. Gerald Thater, said his favorite new E 63 AMG was a dark grey “S” wagon with the special “delete” package available in Europe, where it is often not wise to advertise your wealth and stature. 

Mercedes will remove all identification and replace the diffuser between the gigantic exhaust outlets with one from a “lesser” E-Class. The head of powertrain development at AMG, an avowed and obvious “car nut”, has good taste!

They can remove the decals and trim but they can’t disguise one of the most glorious sounds in the industry! Dr. Thater told us 20 of the 1,300 engineers in Affalterbach were charged with developing the exhaust note – without any form of electronic intervention,. 

While others feed engine and exhaust sound into the interior through speakers or special tubes, AMG lets the noise coming from the exhaust outlets speak for themselves. 

My driving partner and I made frequent stops in the numerous tunnels in the Catalonian Mountain range to enjoy the mellifluous bellow, and in the process verified 0-100 times of 3.8 seconds. 

Hans Peter Buhler, product manager for the new E-Class, told us the new E-Class  is more efficient, more intelligent and more emotional. “The “E” in E-Class now stands for excellence, but also efficiency,” he said. 

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