The S-class is the brand flagship, but the E-class is the core model for Mercedes-Benz, a car that has to work equally well as a twee-engined Parisian taxi or a twin-turbo V-8 AMG battle wagon. That’s why Benz’s engineers and designers are always careful with a redesign.
The E-class needs to cater to the preferences of a traditional owner base and simultaneously serve as a showcase for the brand’s abilities. That’s no easy task, and they have gone to great lengths to get it right with this mid-term facelift of the 2021 W213 E-class.
From the outside, the facelift is so extensive that you could almost call this car a new generation. While the doors, roof, and glass sections remain identical, the headlights and front grille have been thoroughly restyled, looking more swept back and stretched taut.
The rear actually features an entirely new look, with the taillights now horizontal instead of vertical. Which, ironically, brings the E-class in line with famed designer Bruno Sacco’s “vertical model affinity,” which dictated that a similar design language should be followed across the lineup. All Mercedes sedans now have horizontal taillights, with the exception of the soon-to-be-replaced C-class.
Up front, the E-class comes with a number of different grilles, only one of which still keeps the upright star on the hood. We are particularly fond of this traditional look, but we suspect a far greater number of customers will opt for the AMG Line grille with a central star.
The actual AMG models, the E53 and E63, feature a front end that looks like it was grafted from the AMG GT, and the All-Terrain brings the Audi Allroad faux off-road treatment to the wagon. All trims except for the traditional “luxury” grill feature bulges on the hood that Benz refers to as “power domes.”
While the body modifications are impossible to miss, changes to the interior are more limited. The analog instrumentation disappears, replaced by two 12.3-inch screens. And the console rotary knob makes way for a more contemporary-looking touchpad. However, our test car was still fitted with the previous system, and we hear Daimler is considering giving customers a choice between the systems.
We strongly encourage them to do so, since the old setup is far easier to use than the new one.
That’s because the large rotary knob engages with precision and a delicate click, allowing you to move to the desired map size, screen icon, or radio station with precision. The haptic touchpad, on the other hand, needs to be operated like a cell phone, and the constant swiping, pinching, and spreading almost never leads to the desired result without corrections and distraction.
Of course, you can always use the improved voice-recognition system or use the central screen as a touchscreen, but why mess with a system that works?
With the exception of the touchpad, the MBUX system does have some advantages over the previous system. It’s quicker, and it offers quite a few more functions, like the augmented reality navigation setting that indicates turns by displaying virtual arrows over a real-time camera feed of the road in front of you. That trick is good enough to make you forego Waze, sometimes.
The interior remains altogether elegant and sumptuous, characterized by tasteful combinations of wood, metal, and leather. The frameless rearview mirror looks elegant, and the vents and switches operate with typical Mercedes precision.
Fit and finish are impeccable, as they should be in this class. And we appreciate the fact that the E-class maintains its own somewhat opulent style, as opposed to the cold futurism that dominates the cockpit of an Audi A6.
Though you wouldn’t guess it from the horsepower number or displacement, a lot has changed under the hood, with the old twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 making way for a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six. Output remains identical at 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, but the new powertrain is superior for two reasons.
First, it includes an electric motor (basically, a beefy starter/generator called EQ Boost) that can produce up to 21 extra horsepower and 184 extra pound-feet of torque. Using a 48-volt electrical architecture, the electric motor helps swell the torque curve while the turbo spools up, improving response time.
And second, a straight-six defined some of the classic E-classes for the same reason it makes sense now: Compared to the old V-6, the inline engine is noticeably more refined, with ultra-silky sound and vibration characteristics. Even when pushed to the redline, it emits little more than a purr.
A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is all-wheel drive. Thus powered, the E450 charges to 60 mph in a Mercedes-estimated 4.9 seconds, one-tenth of a second quicker than the outgoing model.
Top speed will be governed at 130 mph, but we can attest that the identically powered European-market E450 reaches a governed 155 mph with ease and with a considerable margin above that, were it allowed to go faster. We regret to inform you that Daimler won’t offer any of the excellent four- and six-cylinder diesel engines on the United States market. They are clean and ultra-economical, and they could help restore diesel’s reputation here.
While the standard suspension imbues the E-class with a serene ride, there’s an optional three-chamber air suspension that’s even more cushy. In the non-AMG versions, the suspensions are on the slightly softer side, complemented by precise but pleasantly low-effort steering. When asked to, the E450 can dance through the corners with ease, but its real domain is effortless long-distance cruising.
The E450 4Matic will be priced starting just above $60,000 when it hits the market late this year. It will be joined by the entry level E350, powered by a 255-horsepower 2.0-liter four; the AMG E53 with its electrically boosted 429-horsepower 3.0-liter straight-six; and the 603-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-8-powered AMG E63 S. You won’t see that one working as a Parisian taxi.