Reviews

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Walk Around

The new 2014 E-Class looks way more dynamic than the 2013. It's improved in every angle and direction, unless your taste in Benz design is rigid. It's edgy and sporty now, especially in the front end. The new face might be faulted for being less smooth than it might, but it brings the E-Class alive.

The LED headlamps are bigger and sleeker for 2014, and the grille is bigger and blacker, with only two bars and the big Benz star moved into the center. But it's the AMG models, with wide flowing faux air intakes in each corner and a wide horizontal dam below the bumper, that make the E look like it's trying to be a Mustang. Mercedes prefers to say the styling forms a visual link to the brand's high-performance sports car models. This describes the Sport trim, not Luxury, which is less changed, with the star still a hood ornament. Sport places the three-pointed star on the grille.

The character lines on the sides are smoother now, with gently rising shoulder lines to the trunk lid, under windows unbroken by B-pillars. Horizontal LED taillamps widen the view from the rear. Overall it's elegant, dynamic and poised, says Mercedes, and we agree.

Interior

The interior is less changed for 2014. Gone is the gear selector lever on two-door E-Class, making room for storage and big cupholders. It makes sense to create usable space when mechanically possible. Shifting is back to the future, with a lever on the right side of the steering column. It's not like your father's Oldsmobile, trust us, we own one.

The dashboard is smoother, every inch soft touch, with new two-piece trim in burl walnut, black ash, or brown satin ash. Mercedes says there are virtually unlimited possibilities for individual configuration of exterior and interior colors. We don't know about that, but we can sure say that beige leather and brown satin ash in the black wagon is beautiful, as is gray leather and black ash in the hybrid. Changes on the instrument panel include a new cluster with nice off-white gauges, and sleeker air vents with an analog clock between them. Console switches are now dipped in chrome.

A new multi-function three-spoke steering wheel with optional flat bottom is small enough to make the car feel smaller, and large enough to control the car with precision.

We spent most of our seat time in the E-350 and E-550 Cabriolets, on a gorgeous summer day at the Oregon Coast. It was cool in the mountains, but using the optional Airscarf heater that warms your neck, that's living, with the top down. Set the heated seats on low, never get a chill. The Aircap wind deflector over the windshield rises at 25 mph, and reduces cabin turbulence mostly in the back seat. Another wind deflector between the headrests rises when the rear seatbelts are snapped.

The E-Class Cabriolet is the quietest soft top in its class, after careful development with high acoustic standards. Mercedes says wind noise scarcely penetrates it, and we'll have to take their word for it, because we enjoyed the topless driving so much we forgot it had a top. Come to think of it, we didn't see any other journalists driving with the top up. It looks handsome in pictures.

The seats are a bit different in the models. In the Cabriolets, our seats had a nice Recaro-like fit, ribbed leather, on the firm side. Mercedes says you're here to drive, not kick back.

Every time we looked in the driver's side window, in the models we drove, we saw the vents on the dashboard. It's a common reflection to see in cars at times, but on this day it seemed like the vents were painted in the window. Check it in your test drive.

Another small thing that bugged us was the seatbelts. They make sure you're all buckled up when you get in, by choking you. Don't think you can clip in and lean forward, that's a no-no.

The following things might be a bit more difficult to check in a test drive.

The 2014 Coupe and Cabriolet are fitted with standard COLLISION

PREVENTION ASSIST, a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive

brake assist systems, designed to do what it says in all caps.

Also standard is ATTENTION ASSIST, which perceives with sensors any inattentiveness or drowsiness (and we do mean any, that's the root problem with these systems; the debate is a long story, and will get longer in the future) and furthermore tells the driver just how inattentive he or she is, by nagging to drive straight to the nearest espresso booth and get a shot in the dark. Better yet, take a nap. If you don't need quite that much ATTENTION to assist you in driving safely, you can turn it down, or off, as you can with most of these features.

Now for the optional safety things. We won't call them tricks. First there's 3 DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, which brings us the day we've been waiting for, the robot takes over the wheel. We knew Mercedes would be the first, they've been working on it for decades. There's a gentle tug on the wheel to keep you from danger, as seen by the camera that is the eyes of Intelligent Drive. We experienced false alarms with this system on. We can see how it could save lives, but there are also false alarms and unintended consequences. The haptic warning in the steering wheel sure beats being beeped at, like other cars. In the Cadillac you can set it at a beep or a buzz in your butt. The Mercedes vibe-vibe in the steering wheel feels about like running over metallic reflectors on the freeway.

The system that keeps you from hitting a pedestrian in the crosswalk, invented by Volvo and now evolved by Mercedes, is one we'll get behind. Hitting a pedestrian is a top-ten worst nightmare.

It starts with BLAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, which can see pedestrians and cross traffic, and boost the braking power applied by the driver accordingly, according to Mercedes.

The next level is PRE-SAFE Brake, which will take over the brake pedal altogether, to make sure you get stopped. Drive straight at a brick wall at no more than 30 mph with your feet off the pedals, and PRE-SAFE Brake will get you stopped before the wall does.

Active Parking Assist enables automated parking with active steering and brake control in both parallel and perpendicular spaces. We didn't have a chance to try it. Other systems need parking spaces so big you'd have to be an impossibly poor or lazy parker to need it.

The 360-degree Surround View camera shows a bird's-eye view of your car on the screen, with lines to guide you.

PRE-SAFE PLUS with Rear-End Collision Protection sees when you're about to be rear-ended. It can't get you out of the way, but it tightens up the seatbelts and head restraints, and keeps the brake pedal down after the impact, to minimize chain reaction.

Active Lane Keeping Assist goes the next step after Active Blind Spot Assist. If it thinks you're pulling out of your lane into the path of another car, the brakes will be applied on that side of the car, veering your E-Class back into its lane. Twice it did that against our intention. The hard part is defining “into the path.” The sensors, not the driver, decide what is a close call. The system says it's protecting you, but it's also regulating you. Governments love these systems. We can't help but wonder whether there will be a sea of lawsuits in the future, over the unintended consequences.

So what if you're in a freeway jam and the guy in front of you slams on his brakes? You react quickly and swerve into a hole in the other lane, but the system thinks you're cutting it too close, so it swerves you back into your lane, and you rear-end the guy in front of you, going too fast for PRE-SAFE Brake to help.

Mercedes-Benz says the idea of Intelligent Drive is to relieve driver stress. In other words, let the car worry about it. We worry about that.

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