2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Driving Impressions

The E350 with the V6, with its 302 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque, accelerates from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds, which is plenty quick. The E550 with the V8 makes 402 hp and 443 foot-pounds, and it's that torque where you feel the difference, as it booms to 60 in 4.9 seconds, but when you put your foot down that hard, you're mostly just thinking about how much more gas it's sucking. However the V6 torque range is 3500 to 5250 rpm, while the V8 comes on a lot earlier, from 1600 to 4750. Still, we can't see enough reason to choose the V8, because it's not likely you'll tow with your Mercedes. There's always the diesel for that.

We drove the diesel for a couple hours, and it was way different, very smooth but nothing exciting about it. Well, the idea might be exciting, as the 2014 E250 BlueTEC drops to four cylinders from the previous V6. The 2.1-liter turbodiesel makes 195 horsepower with a busty 369 foot-pounds of torque, and comes standard with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, when last year it was rear-wheel drive. We got 40.6 miles per gallon driving on two-lanes and freeway. It rates its name of clean diesel because the emissions are low, but it still rattles like a diesel at idle, just a bit.

The diesel's paddle-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission must be programmed uniquely, because it shifts much slower than that in the E350 and E550.

Stepping deeper into the green world, there's the E400 Hybrid, but we can't see what it offers, not this one. It's the same size as the other E-cars, but it feels way bigger because it's less responsive. Nothing feels the same. The suspension is softer, and it rides way higher. The acceleration is good, but the Hybrid's V6 sounds harsher, not smooth like it does in the E350. The transmission lurched once at 5 mph, like something snatching in the drivetrain.

With an EPA-estimated gas mileage of just 24/30 mpg City/Highway, you'd have to want a hybrid for the sake of hybrid, to choose the E400 Hybrid over the E250 BlueTEC diesel. We got 29.8 mpg while driving the E400 Hybrid, while in the E550 with the V8 we got a solid 25.0 mpg on the highway.

All E-Class models come standard with the ECO start/stop system, which shuts the engine off when the car stops. The Mercedes system is way better than BMW's. Mercedes actually put some effort into the design, instead of just slapping it on to make the Feds happy. That effort means the driver barely notices it, because there's no cranking of the starter. We say barely, but one time, when we were fourth in line at a stop sign, it shut the engine off and on four times, as we pulled forward. In engineer-speak, Mercedes gives credit to seamless, smooth and unobtrusive algorithms. It can be turned off if you don't like it (though it may have to be turned off every time you start the car). Mercedes estimates it increases city mileage by about 1 mpg. It's not a feature we like.

From all our notes in all the E-Class models we drove in two days, there's nothing bad. Suspensions: check. Transmission: check. Handling: check. It all works. You won't be unhappy or surprised. You'll like your ride and comfort. Just know what to expect in acceleration, and get a good feel for the transmission, and the rest is turn-key, in buying a Mercedes.

Our best notes were on the E350 4MATIC Wagon. Bitchin in black with brown leather, off-white instrumentation. Distinctive among the models, different in every respect, best ride, smoothest, swallowed the patchy bumps easiest, seats for the long haul unlike the cabriolets. Cool car.

Different models have different dynamic modes and settings. Suspension settings vary most in Luxury and Sport models. They call it AGILITY CONTROL suspension with stroke-dependent damping system. In the Cabriolets, where we spent most of our seat time, there are three useful modes. Comfort mode does what it says; over one 92-mile leg on choppy roads, it made the ride easier on the backbone.

Specifically, we weren't crazy about Sport in the E550 Cabriolet, mostly because of a transmission setting, it wouldn't let you glide for smooth driving. The system determines that smooth and sport are not compatible, those are the kinds of issues going on. On the other hand, it allows you to drive with some sport, in the Auto mode, with the transmission. You can let it upshift for you, and it will let you do the downshifting.

All E-Class use a new 7-speed automatic, with lever and paddles. If you select Manual mode, but then don't use it for awhile, it shifts back to Automatic; the system assumes you forgot to take it out of Manual. Same theme. It thinks for you. It assumes.

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