Mercedes reinvented the wheel for the new E-Class.
Not the 20-inch alloy rims and low-profile rubber where the car meets the road, but a new gloss-black steering wheel inside the cabin.
Twin spokes at nine o’clock and three o’clock replace conventionally clicking buttons with capacitive touch surfaces. Though that might not sound like a big deal, it does help you access more of the car’s key features without reaching for a trackpad or touchscreen. Both of the car’s 12.3-inch wide-screen displays can be controlled using glassy-smooth sections of the wheel, enabling you to manipulate navigation, music, vehicle functions and much more while driving.
The other change made possible by the new steering wheel design is its ability to sense warm contact from your skin, handy when using the car’s steering assistance features on highways or in traffic jams. It means you don’t need to turn or wiggle the steering wheel to remind the car that you’re awake, something owners of many modern luxury cars must do, even on straight motorway stretches.
Other tweaks include an updated infotainment system with “hey Mercedes” voice-activated assistance and purposeful-looking AMG-Line styling across the range.
Sedans receive a more comprehensive cosmetic update than two-door versions, which make do with a mildly tweaked front end. That’s not a problem, as the coupe’s rakish silhouette and frameless doors have classic appeal.
As with the more affordable A-Class hatch, the car’s seats subtly change their shape on long drives to prevent you getting too stiff behind the wheel. Sedan customers who choose plug-in hybrid variants can indulge in a “Power Nap” setting to soothe drivers when parked and charging, before using a combination of music, lights and seating posture to wake you when it’s time to hit the road.
The car even communicates with wearable fitness watches to understand how much sleep you’ve had or how stressful the day has been. The car can’t do a lot with that data today, but you can expect future versions to offer to take the lion’s share of driving duties at the end of a trying time in the office.
We tested the new machine in coupe form, where customers can choose from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine in two states of tune — an entry-level E200 with 145kW/320Nm, or mid-range E300 with 190kW/370Nm — as well as a 3.0-litre in-line six version bringing 320kW/520Nm and AMG E53 badges.
Priced from about $127,500 drive-away, the mid-grade E300 we drove comes with a comprehensive suite of safety gear including auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and more. The driver assistance stuff is as good as it gets, working faultlessly in poor weather and heavy traffic.
It also has adaptive air suspension, matrix LED lights, metallic paint and other niceties such as heated seats as standard. Options include tech upgrades (a head-up display and video-based augmented reality satnav) and luxury extras (such as a panoramic roof or heated armrests).
Finished in black leather trim with dark open-pore wood as standard, the coupe’s interior is beautifully-finished. It’s particularly impressive at night, when ambient lighting highlights the cabin’s finer elements.
As you might expect, this a quiet and refined machine that insulates you from the world outside.
The E300 is also reasonably spritely, able to reach 100km/h in 6.4 seconds and engage keen drivers with its well-weighted steering and traditional rear-wheel-drive dynamics. Though it’s not a sports car, the coupe blends refinement and engagement in a way few rivals match.
Impressively muted for the most part, the four-cylinder sounds stressed at full-throttle, where it lacks the effortless wallop of six or eight-cylinder alternatives. As ever, Mercedes’ AMG go-fast department can address that for you, though it’s a case of consulting your bank manager to discover how fast you can afford to go.
Suave, sophisticated and loaded with technology, the latest E-Class is Benz at its best.
MERCEDES-BENZ E300 COUPE VITALS
Price: About $127,500 drive-away
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 190kW/370Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unl’td km, $4800 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping and traffic jam assistance, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Spare: Repair kit
Cargo: 425 litres