Ah, the venerable E-Class. Long a bastion of comfort, quality and luxury.
I have to be honest. When I first heard the E-Class I was getting was the E300, I was a bit disappointed. Sure, it will be a nice car, but I’d rather get the E350 BlueTEC with the awesome diesel, or the E550 with the V-8. Hey, while I’m dreaming, I wouldn’t mind spending a week with the mighty AMG E63. Now that I’ve spent time with an awe-inspiring SLS, I’ve got a hankering for more AMG.
So, what’s the deal with the E300? Well, it’s the entry level – the gateway drug to the E-Class. It starts at CDN $58,300, but equipped as I had it, you’ll be parting with CDN $63,250.
Under the Hood
At first glance, the E300 seems a bit pale on paper. I think the horsepower wars have spoiled us over the last 10 years, because realistically, the numbers are just fine. Mercedes’ model numbers can no longer be taken as gospel in terms of the engine’s displacement, much like BMW’s can’t be. With the advent of the common-place turbo, you’ll often find a lower than expected engine displacement.
The E300 is a 3.5-Liter V-6, putting out 248 horsepower at 6500 RPM. Torque is generated to the tune of 251 lb.ft at 3400 RPM. The power is sent through a 7-speed automatic to all four corners via the 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
Fuel economy is quite good. The car is rated at 11.1 L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 7.0 L/100km (34 mpg) on the highway. During my week of almost exclusively city driving with a ton of slow commuting and a couple of sprints down the freeway, I averaged a very respectable 11.1 L/100 km (21 mpg). That’s great considering this is a 4000 pound all-wheel drive sedan and I never made any attempt to conserve fuel. The tank has an 80 Liter capacity – perfect for road trips.
This most recent generation of E-Class has dispensed with smooth, flowing lines and has replaced them with more angular, taut surfaces, and a rakish profile that jacks the rear end up. It has aged well over the last few years, and looks very good in my opinion.
The grille is quite vertical, and fits into a snout whose lines work their way back over the hood. The HID lights are very pronounced and look aggressive. LED running lights adorn a strip of horizontal chrome trim on the lower front, completing the new signature.
The lines and creases angle up toward the back, giving the car quite a wedge-like profile. Although it’s chunky, it’s attractive in a “carved from a solid block” kind of way. The flanks appear to be quite long, and it gives the sedan a swept-back look.
The rear end is broad and adorned with LED tail lights, wide rectangular exhaust tips and clean, simple lines.
The E300 comes with handsome 17″ rims, whose diameter seems a bit small by today’s standards. You can upgrade those to 18 inchers, should you see fit to do so.
The fit and finish is immaculate in the E, and the materials are very, very nice. Soft touch plastics, dark wood trim, sumptuous leather, lovely textures – everything works in concert to give the impression of luxury. The feeling isn’t necessarily one of welcoming opulent fun, but more a business-like, Teutonic office. It’s nice, but it’s serious. Don’t let them catch you smiling in there.
The leather-upholstered power-adjustable, heated seats are firmer than you might expect, but very comfortable and offer a reasonable amount of bolstering. Both front seats have a 3-position memory.
Ahead of you sits a dash that feels quite shallow, and the driving position feels very forward. A lovely power-adjustable and heated steering wheel has controls for the driver information screen, handsfree and phone functions, and the media system. It sits in front of a set of easily-readable gauges. In the center, you’ll find a large speedometer with a cool floating indicator needle, and in the middle of the speedo, a very crisp circular multi-function screen. To the right, you’ll find a tach and temperature gauges – to the left, a large analog clock and the fuel gauge.
The center of the dash holds a screen. Below it is a bit of a mess of similarly-sized buttons for the audio system, and below that, an excellent automatic dual-zone climate control system.
The center console houses some storage that I’ll discuss in the respective section, the COMAND controller and an armrest. “What about the automatic gear selector, Wildsau?” I hear you shouting. Yeah, you won’t find it there. You’ll find it on the steering column. A la circa 1950-1985 vehicles. No joke. Last time I drove a vehicle with a column-mounted shifter was in our 1978 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. Good times. It took me a minute to even find it in the E300. It sounds ridiculous, but in the end, it’s actually an intelligent placement. It frees up significant space on the console, and gets it out of your way. It just seems antiquated at first.
The main screen in the dash seems a bit small, but it is very sharp and bright. You use Mercedes’ COMAND system to interact with it. The system revolves around a rotating, joy-sticky, knurled knob on the console. It’s not a super-intuitive way to interact with the system, but you get used to it pretty quickly and it works well. The screen handles audio functions, the navigation system, the phone and the back-up camera.
The back-up camera doesn’t offer trajectory lines, but there are front and rear distance sensors which are supported with beeps, as well as visual indicator lights in black, plastic bubbles on the dash and in the back. Once you get used to it, it’s a very effective system.
The audio system sounds good, but you can upgrade it further to a Logic 7 harmon kardon system, which includes satellite radio. Sources are AM, FM, CD, USB, auxiliary and a series of dongles to hook up iPods, etc.
The bottom third of the driver information screen in the speedometer covers the basics such as outside temperature, gear selected, lane departure warning. The top two-thirds of it allow you to cycle through functions such as telephone, navigation, audio system, trip meters, instant/average fuel economy and fuel range, the vehicle settings, a service indicator and all the settings for the driver-assistance systems.
Overhead is a power tilt/slide sunroof, and there’s a power sunshade in the rear window. The FOB acts much as a key would, and needs to be inserted into a slot and turned to start the car, although there is no key to be found on it. Everything is powered – door locks, windows and folding side-view mirrors. The trunk has a power release on the driver’s door, and a power-closing button on the trunk lid.
There are a ton of driver assistance goodies, such as lane-departure warning, which sends haptic feedback (a b-r-b-r-b-r-b-r-r-r through the steering wheel) if it thinks you’re drifting out of your lane, blind-spot monitoring system which shows orange or red triangles on your side-view mirrors and a bunch of other stuff that could very well save your life.
You have three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests. The seats are very comfortable, but offer barely any bolstering. Legroom is very good, and head room is excellent.
The middle seat is narrow, and slightly raised, and the center of the floor sports a huge tunnel for the drive shaft. What I’m saying is that it’s not the best place to be. With that said, all three of our kids were very happy back there, and had plenty of space.
There are two seat-back map pockets and ceiling-mounted adjustable reading lights. The back of the center console has adjustable air vents and a pop-out ashtray and 12V plug. Man, the Germans love their ashtrays. Vee haff vays uff makingk you ztop zmokingk, Hans!
The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest, exposing a little mesh pocket. There’s a storage bin in the armrest, and two cupholders that can pop out. The door bins in the back are basically useless.
Kids’ seats can be anchored using two sets of ISOFIX connectors, which work very nicely. All in all, the rear seat is a very nice place to be in the E300.
At the front of the console, there is a two-position sliding lid. It can cover the whole nine yards for a nice, clean look. It can slide forward partially to open access to two cupholders, or you can push it all the way forward to further expose an ashtray and a true-blue cigar lighter.
The armrest’s lid opens in two halves, clam-shell style. Inside is some storage, and the USB and media connections.
Door bins are a bit useless because they reside under the armrests. The glove compartment is nice and big, with usable space.
A neat touch is the flip-down bin under your thigh support on the front seats. You can put something small in there, and it just flips down for easy access.
The trunk is big and deep, with a comfortable load floor height. There is a ski pass-through and you’ll find solid tie-down loops, and adjustable mesh pockets that collapse out of your way.
Though the numbers seem a bit paltry at first, the car doesn’t ever feel underpowered. No, it’s not a rocket sled. But the engine and transmission work very well together, and there’s no lag off the line. Tooling around town is always comfortable, and when you need extra power, it will step up and deliver. I never got the impression that the engine was working hard, and when called upon, it will deliver a 0-60 mph run in 7.4 seconds. That’s not bad at all. No, it’s not a fast car and yes, the E550 will do it in barely over 5 seconds, but in the end, for every day driving, the E300 provided everything I needed.
The all-wheel drive system is completely invisible during normal driving, but would be a blessing during the winter months and on rainy days.
The ride qualifies as extraordinary. I can say that the E300 is one of the nicest-riding, most luxurious suspensions I’ve ever driven. It soaks up EVERYthing. Every little road irregularity, every big dip, every expansion crack and pothole – they just disappear. It is very well done, and the smoothness speaks volumes about how serious Mercedes is about comfort and luxury.
Handling is a bit soft. Though the car is very competent around corners, and will handle most emergency maneuvers with ease, the soft suspension shows up here, and one trade-off is a bit of body roll. It’s not terrible – the car remains relatively flat for turns but it is noticeable. During everyday driving, it’s never an issue. And it will gobble up highway miles like there’s no tomorrow.
Where I found an issue was in the steering. The steering system has variable levels of boost. During normal driving, it’s pretty numb and that’s fine. It’s a soft, luxurious car. I take no issue with that. During parking maneuvers, I’ve never driven a car that was easier to turn. The steering is so boosted at low speeds, that it’s almost surprising. What I didn’t like was the variable speed at which it turns the wheels. During low-speed driving, I felt the steering turned the wheels more than I ever expected it to, and often had to crank back on it, because suddenly I was turning in too much. It took me half of the week to get used to. But, as with most vehicular idiosyncrasies, you DO get used to it. It’s just not to my liking.
Speaking of comfort, the E300 is also exemplary in terms of noise. Road, engine and wind noise are essentially non-existent at any speed. From a standing start up to highway speeds, noise is never an issue and is always very well controlled. The one exception is when you step on it – you’ll get a muted snarl from the V-6 under the hood, which is a good thing.
The transmission can be switched from Economy mode, which will hunt for higher gears quickly to save fuel, to Sport, which will hang on to gears longer. I wouldn’t say things feel sporty, but it does make things a tad more sprightly around town. You can also manually shift gears with paddles if you want to, but it seems out of character for this car. The transmission does a darn good job on its own. It’s smooth, exceptionally so, in fact. Gear changes are essentially imperceptible. Yet it was always in the right gear, or only one gear away, and it quickly sorted itself out when called upon. A great marriage of mechanicals.
The brakes were linear and smooth, and felt very powerful.
The view of the road is stellar, thanks to the hood that slopes away steeply. Visibility out of the front and to the sides is fantastic, and quite good out of the rear and for shoulder-checking.
Something I absolutely loved was that, regardless of what the driving situation was, the E300 felt vault-like. It felt as though it was carved out of a solid block. And that impressed me very much.
What’s that at the leading edge of the hood, you ask? Why, friend, it’s a good old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness hood ornament. Mmm-hmmm, that’s right.
The trunk holds a very cool storage innovation. There is a frame at the top of the trunk. If you pull it back, it slides toward you, exposing an opening in the frame with a soft tray in it. I thought that was neat. You can put some flat items in there and slide it back in and out of the way. But it gets better! The soft bag in the frame is extendable, nearly all the way down to the trunk floor, and acts like a giant storage bag. It’s a fantastic way to get stuff off the trunk floor to keep it from rolling around and can easily be retracted back into the frame with the push of a button. I loved this feature.
One of the most irritating ergonomic issues I’ve ever come across, and one that took me a few days to get used to, is that the signal stalk on the steering column is set quite a bit lower than any other car I’ve driven. That wouldn’t normally be a big problem, except that Mercedes has decided to put the cruise control stalk precisely where you’d expect the signal stalk to be – roughly at the 10 o’clock position. My hand automatically fell to the cruise control stalk every single time I wanted to signal – that went on for a few days until I finally adjusted to the change.
The E300 never did disappoint me. I was expecting it to be a bit of a limp-wristed performer with the entry-level engine. But it did just fine, thank you very much. And returned exemplary fuel economy, all things considered.
I give the E300 a solid 8 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high for the E300. She loved how it drove, loved how “solid” it felt and liked that our kids were comfortable in the back. She said she always felt safe in the car, and she really liked the power trunk opener/closer and the cool, adjustable trunk basket. She agreed with me that the signal stalk vs. cruise control stalk positioning was weird and she never got used to that.
As old-school as the hood-ornament seems, I can tell you that there is something special about looking at the road ahead of you through a three-pointed star.
Obviously it’s psychological, but there’s something reassuring that speaks to quality, safety and … I guess, Mercedes-Benz. Maybe that’s the point with this car.
It’s a new E-Class, but it hasn’t dispensed with all the things that have made the E-Class great over the years.
It’s a solidly-built car. It feels heavy. But that’s not a knock against it. Some cars feel heavy and crappy.
The E-Class feels heavy in a substantial sense – in everything it does, and in everything you ask of it.
It’s comfortable around town, and perfect on the highway.
It caters to your needs, and it coddles you and your family in comfort and safety.
If that’s what you’re looking for, the E-Class could very easily be the right choice for you. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mercedes-Benz Canada.
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