Long a luxury sedan benchmark, the Mercedes-Benz E-class has always placed comfort, function, and good reflexes over glitzy flash. These days, the Mercedes-Benz passenger car line-up is much larger than it used to be.
The E-Class still sits close to the top of the range as Mercedes’ traditional mid-sized executive offering, larger than the C-class, more practical but less expensive than the CLS four door coupe, while smaller and much less expensive than the flagship S-class.
Now in its fifth generation, first launched as a 2017 model, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz E-Class continues on with its refreshed look as the mid-size sedan aims to reinstate itself at the top of the mid-sized luxury car market. Like its bookend siblings — the compact luxury C-class and flagship S-class, the E-class embraces the same curvaceous Mercedes-Benz design language that brings it into line with the current family theme.
Over the years, the E-Class has maintained four different body styles as a sedan, a wagon, a coupe, and a convertible. For the purposes of this review, I tested the 2020 Mercedes-Benz E450 4MATIC sedan.
Despite being three years into its total redesign, this iconic sedan remains competitive, but Mercedes-Benz shifts more of the focus of the E-Class toward handling agility and fuel economy.
Compared with its predecessor, there is plenty to report about this W213 E-class. It’s as lavish as a Mercedes-Benz should be, maintaining the same overall character as before. All the typical stuff that Mercedes-Benz engineers would’ve spent years developing is there. It’s stiffer, lighter, and bigger than the previous E-class, with a lot of technology from the 2020 S-class.
What was formally the entry-level E300 has been replaced by the E350, with a power bump from 241 to 255 horsepower. My E450 4MATIC sedan continues on unchanged with its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 producing 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.
Although the E-class may be seen as a cut-price version of the S-class, that’s a good thing as it delivers on the same level of polish, interior quality, and refinement as the flagship sedan. Not much has changed for 2020, but the full complement of driver’s aids is still on offer including air suspension, self parking assist, and Mercedes’ semi-autonomous system.
A serene environment
The 2020 E450 is a comfort-biased car with handling to match. Passengers are pampered by a solid yet plush ride, extremely comfortable and supportive seats, all ensconced within an impeccably finished interior.
With the air suspension set in its most comfortable mode, the E-class is the perfect environment to knock down the highway miles as it glides over pavement undulations in a solid and predictable manner.
Descriptors such as “creamy”, “serene” come to mind as most feedback from the road is muted with only slide imperfections communicated into the cabin. Cabin noise is kept to a whisper and you’ll hear almost nothing except for the engine, which like a church mouse with a slight snoring issue.
Yet, as you push the E450 in corners, it never feels overwhelmed. After decades of experience in what E-class customers want, perhaps it’s no surprise that the chassis engineers have gotten the car’s steering just right. It’s precise, but not too light or heavy, with just the right amount of assist.
The cabin itself is beautifully detailed with generous combinations of matte wood, brushed aluminium, satin finished switchgear, and leather. It’s a fantastic blend of old-world Mercedes charm and high-tech wizardry, feeling warm and inviting modern. Prominent Burmester speaker grilles and large round vent registers invoke steampunk. Sculpted seats feature pillowy headrests, and even the carpet is high quality.
The seats are perhaps not quite S-class levels of comfort, but yet comfortable and supportive. My test vehicle also came equipped with the optional massage feature for both front seats. Like other Mercedes vehicles, basic seat adjustments use a pictogram-like set of switches on the door panel. More advanced adjustments, including lumbar and side support, are made through the infotainment center screen and controller knob.
Additional niceties include an optional fragrance diffuser, integrated into the ventilation system, which can fill the cabin with your preferred scent. While not unique to Mercedes-Benz, the molecules have even been engineered to not cling onto your clothes when you exit the vehicle. For me, it’s a preferred scent over the typical new-car smell.
The rear seat accommodations are not quite as generous as the front though. Compared with competitors such as the Audi A6 or BMW 5-series, they fall slightly short with expectations for the class. There is certainly sufficient knee and legroom, but I was surprised to find that the rear bench had a bit of a low and short cushion, which sacrifices some thigh support for those who are taller.
The E450’s shapely rear does open up to a sizable trunk and lowering the rear seatback opens up much more space for hauling cargo. The seat backs don’t fold completely flat so you’ll have to be careful when balancing some loads.
Other technical features
My 2020 E450 tester came standard with a large array of infotainment features, all incorporated into a wide high-resolution hooded display. It looks expensive and positively dominates the dashboard as the high-tech focal point of the cabin. The gauge cluster is also made up of another set of virtual dials housed in a second 12.3 inch screen, similar to the 12.3 inch COMAND infotainment display.
Alas, Mercedes’ fantastic MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Interface) that was launched in the A-class, will not make an appearance till the 2021 model year. For now, the Mercedes COMAND system can be controlled in three ways: a rotary knob combined with a touchpad on the centre console, voice commands, or by using Blackberry Bold-like mini-touchpads on the spokes of the steering wheel.
Simple audio functions were easy enough to adjust but entering a destination in the navigation system requires considerable effort, even for someone like myself who has been a past Mercedes-Benz owner and already familiar with the COMAND system.
Like Audi’s MMI system, BMW’s iDrive system has consistently improved over time and both are more intuitive. Fortunately, voice commands do work relatively well, and the COMAND system does have the ability to run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A wide variety of advanced driver systems can help avoid crashes and assist the driver. Both the NHTSA and IIHS, America’s two leading vehicle safety agencies, give the E-class top marks when it comes to safety equipment.
My 2020 E450 was equipped with all of the latest active and passive safety features expected in this class. You’ll find collision mitigation automated emergency braking, lane keeping assist, self-parking, adaptive cruise control, as well as a semi-autonomous driving feature.
An excellent 360 degree surround view camera provides one of the clearest images I’ve seen on any vehicle in the market, with multiple selectable angles to avoid bumps, scrapes, or curb rash on the wheels.
Notably, the E450 is also among the first vehicles that include vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability, allowing for pre-warning of hazards on the road ahead. For now, since this benefit depends on other cars communicating with yours, it is of limited use. Nonetheless, it is a preview of what is yet to come especially as high speed 5G connectivity is now starting to roll out globally.
How does it drive?
With its well-shaped and supremely padded front seats, most drivers will find the E450 to be a wonderful road trip companion. Turn on the massage function to enjoy actively pulsating air bladders that can massage the back and shoulders.
The E450 is as unflappable, if not quite as eager in corners, as any sports sedan. Steering response is quick, and the car doesn’t lean much tackling curves. Even bumps in mid corner don’t faze it in the least. On-center feedback in the steering is minimal, but its effort is appropriate, and its linearity instills confidence. The rear-biased 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system is completely transparent.
While the car feels solid and initially imparts an impression that it’s absorbent, the large wheels and low profile run flat tires do allow some rough surfaces to permeate into the cabin as hard but muted kicks.
The optional head-up display is optional makes it easy to read the speedometer, and navigation turn-by-turn information is also clearly indicated. The system lights up an icon when the self-steering system is activated, making it easy to tell when the computer has partially taken over.
The twin-turbo V6 engine is smooth, quiet, powerful and clearly the one to get over the smaller engine in the E350. 0-100 km/hr sprints are accomplished in around 4.8 seconds and the power delivery is strong throughout the rev range. For those wanting more power, an E53 AMG is available, with a 48-volt mid-hybrid system and even more horsepower.
The 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly in most circumstances and there are steering wheel mounted paddles for engine braking or for sportier roads. In Eco mode, the system automatically shifts into neutral when the throttle pedal isn’t depressed, activating a “gliding mode” for better fuel economy.
The E450 continues on with the E-class’ tradition of feeling like a luxury car that has been engineered to reduce as much stress and fatigue as possible during the daily commute grind. 100 kilometre round trips are less of an issue than ever before thanks to the new Drive Pilot enhanced adaptive cruise control system.
While the infotainment system may not be the easiest to use for now, the upmarket interior, plus a competitive powertrain and dynamic character make the E450 well worth considering. Although in this iteration, my test vehicle was more clearly biased towards comfort, other E-classes can be configured to have a greater sporting edge.
If you’re looking for a civilised, capacious, and quietly efficient mid-sized luxury car, the E-class continues to be a good choice.
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