|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Before heading out to the open roads surrounding the Tagus River, engineers have reserved a third of the program on workshops that focus on design and technology. With a premium placed on the avant-garde, Mercdes-Benz has made intelligence the main focus of the E-Class. It’s not intelligence in The Terminator sense (at least not yet). Until the infrastructure for true car-to-X communication is laid out, the E-Class relies on a multitude of lasers, radar, cameras, and other sensors to keep the car safe.
With Drive Pilot, the E-Class intervenes whether it feels the human driver is making mistakes. It can slam on the brakes, guide an evasive steering maneuver to dodge pedestrians or other cars, and even park or un-park itself from a tight spot while the driver stands outside. It can follow another car with no driver inputs in both urban or highway setting. It can even predict an imminent collision and prepare the human body for it by sending out a short interference signal to contract the ear’s stapedius muscle or push occupants inward in a side collision by inflating bolsters in the seats. This car solves problems one never knew existed.
Surprisingly, Mercedes-Benz has still managed to cram an engine in-between all that technology. And in the case of the E-Class, it’s all about intelligent performance. Gone are the days of horsepower one-upmanship. Today, it’s about light-weight construction coupled with small yet responsive drivetrains. On the average, it’s about 30 kilograms lighter than its predecessor despite the increase in technology. The E 200, which forms the foundation of the local E-Class line-up, is rated at 184 horsepower and 300 Nm of torque—enough to propel this luxury sedan to 100 km/h in 7.7 seconds. Upping to the E 300, and the horsepower count grows to 245 and torque to 370 Nm while 100 km/h time drops to 6.3 seconds. Interestingly, the model nomenclature is made more confusing with the E 200 and E 300 sharing the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder motor. What varies is just the tuning.
Completing the styling trifecta started by the S-Class and continued by the C-Class, the E-Class wears the newest Mercedes-Benz design language. Dubbed “sensual purity”, it’s defined by the strong flanks, broad shoulders, and coupé-esque roofline. It’s sharp and sleek, a fact only reiterated by its ultra-low 0.23 co-efficient of drag. And with all due respect to its bigger and smaller siblings, the mid-sized E-Class looks the best.
Just like any other car, the E-Class’s lights serve as a strong aesthetic focal point. Found in models carrying the High Performance and MULTIBEAM LED headlights, it has the world’s first high-definition lighting system with 84 individually controllable LEDs. This enables excellent nighttime visibility, simultaneously illuminating the road, tracking objects both moving and stationary while reducing glare to both driver and oncoming traffic by turning off selective LEDs. The rear is no less impressive. Debuting here is the new “stardust” taillights that provide a glow reminiscent of the Milky Way or that of a jet engine.
Inside, the E-Class manages to lend a traditionally luxurious yet advanced cabin. Front and center is the two 12.3-inch high-resolution display. Found in a shared glass cover, it gives a wealth of information while emphasizing the horizontal orientation of the cabin. Apart from that, it has touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel. Working like a smartphone interface, it responds to both horizontal and vertical swiping moments allowing for full control of the infotainment system. Finally, energy-saving LEDs serve as ambient lighting. With 64 colors to choose from, it offers a wild variety of personalization options.
For those who prefer a more traditional take on luxury, the E-Class does have the quietest interior in the segment. It’s also brimming with high-quality materials with the use of open-pore wood or wood veneer finished in a yachting look. Getting in and out is easy too with best-in-class ingress/egress while the seats themselves are ergonomic and sculptural, perfect for tackling long distances.
Setting out from Lisbon, the program takes the fleet down south to the port city of Setúbal some 82 kilometers away. After a few minutes of acclimatization, piloting the E-Class becomes second nature despite having to deal with Lisbon’s narrow city streets. The E-Class is renowned for its excellent sight lines and the 2017 model is no different. Together with the low dashboard height, it’s easy to see out of the hood lending to stellar visibility. And despite running on low profile tires, it made easy work of the cobblestone lined streets.
Free from the confusing maze of Lisbon, it’s time to open up the E-Class’s drivetrain. On the highway, it’s an effortless cruiser with an interior so quiet that the sensors actually sent out a speeding warning. Not wanting to risk a traffic citation, the adaptive cruise control took over. Exiting to local roads, the terrain turned to from straight highways to cross town winding roads—a perfect place to test the handling chops. Upholding its reputation for comfort and luxury, the ride never becomes harsh. Yet, it’s equally adept at tackling twisty roads with its precise steering and surefooted cornering. The E 300 produces just the right amount of intake growl to satisfy enthusiastic driving while the 9-speed automatic reacts quickly. Sometimes though, the shift program tries to shift one gear too low in response to acceleration, only to rev out to the next gear a millisecond later. This is quelled by engaging the more aggressive Sport and Sport+ modes. Plus, these two modes are best for perfectly timed, seamless downshifts when entering into a turn.
For a car that could spend most of its time driving itself, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class still manages to be fun. As novel as all that technology is, the mechanicals remain foundationally solid. In terms of steering responses, agility, and surefootedness, it has every right to be called a sports sedan. Yet, thanks to its comfortable and quiet cabin and plush ride, it makes a mark for being the best midsized luxury sedan out there. Luxury takes on many forms, but it seems the E-Class has managed to conquer them all. It’s the best car to drive and the best car to drive itself.