Though its look may not fit with the latest swoopy Benzes, the revised 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 is graceful, powerful, more luxurious than before and still an excellent luxury sedan.
Mercedes-Benz has refreshed its entire midsize E-Class lineup for 2014 — a sizable roster of cars including a coupe, convertible, sedan and wagon, most of which are offered with rear- or all-wheel drive. There are a half-dozen powertrains, and even a high-performance AMG option for both the sedan and wagon. The previous E-Class was good, but fell short in a couple of areas — notably interior luxuriousness. After being a mainstay of the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand for decades, the E-Class didn't feel special anymore. With fellow German competitors like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 gaining fans — and refreshed domestic competitors like the outstanding new 2014 Cadillac CTS winning awards — it was time for an update.
The changes for 2014 are mild, but they touch on areas of the car that needed to be touched (compare the 2013 and 2014 models here). The question is, did Mercedes-Benz go far enough to restore the E-Class to desirability in a market that's more competitive than ever? The car we drove to answer this question was a new, V-8-powered E550 4Matic sedan with all-wheel drive.
Exterior & Styling
Exterior styling changes are subtle but significant. The overall look isn't as dramatically swoopy as other Mercedes sedans; while the big S-Class, compact C-Class and subcompact CLA-Class all have a more aerodynamic, sculpted look, the 2014 E-Class is a refresh of the previous generation's style, which should do until the next all-new one arrives.
It's still an attractive car, with classic rear-wheel-drive proportions of long hood and short trunk. The unusual fenders that graced the 2013's rear flanks are gone, replaced with a straightened character line that runs from the front wheels to the rear taillights — which are, of course, LEDs. Most immediately noticeable are the cleaner single-unit headlights on each side of a lower, wider grille opening. There are still four headlights, but the new treatment makes the whole front end look wider and lower. A choice of a lay-flat Mercedes-Benz star or an upright hood ornament is available to suit your desire for either a classy ride or a sporty look.
How It Drives
The new E-Class can be had with a dizzying variety of powertrain variants in the U.S., from a four-cylinder turbo-diesel to an Autobahn-burning twin-turbo V-8 AMG. My test car was the E550, meaning it came equipped with a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8. It makes 402 horsepower and 443 pounds-feet of torque — monstrous numbers for a midsize luxury car.
The engine fires to life with a delicious burble, and while trundling around town it provided instant speed whenever called upon, accompanied by a throaty yet refined roar that will bring a grin to the face of any auto enthusiast. It's mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and, in my tester, 4Matic all-wheel drive. The seven-speed is well-matched to this engine, never hunting for the right gear and delivering smooth, jolt-free shifts up and down the range of gears. Pressing the button to put the car into Sport mode will keep the transmission in a lower gear, resulting in even more immediacy to the power delivery.
Steering is biased more toward luxury than sportiness, but pushing that Sport button makes for some positive changes in feel and feedback, firming things up just a tad. The E550 is a neutral handler, meaning it feels balanced and level when pushed through sweeping turns, but will push into understeer if you go into a corner too quickly.
The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system aids in both wet and dry weather, working in concert with the four-wheel electronic traction control system to meter torque out to the wheels that have the most grip. The brakes are strong and fade-free, with excellent pedal feel and easy modulation, even when cold. Overall, the E550 feels balanced and solid, words that used to be readily associated with Mercedes-Benz, and now are once again.
Fuel economy is, frankly, not good, which is to be expected with such a big engine. The E550 I drove was rated 18/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined, though my week of testing netted about 19 mpg overall thanks to my judicious use of the go pedal. Still, the E550's fuel economy numbers are better than its competitors, like the BMW 550i xDrive (16/24/19 mpg), the Infiniti Q70 5.6 with all-wheel drive (16/23/18 mpg) or the Cadillac CTS Vsport (16/24/18 mpg). If you prefer better fuel economy in your big luxury sedan, go for the E250 diesel; its outstanding numbers (28/42/33 mpg) best even the E400 Hybrid's ratings (24/30/26 mpg).
Slide into the driver's seat of the E550 and the first thing you'll do is accidentally hit the parking brake, which is awkwardly located where most American cars had it 30 years ago — in the driver's footwell, left of the brake and accelerator pedals. Nearly every time I got into the car I'd nudge it accidentally, requiring me to manually pull the release lever so as not to be yelled at by the car for attempting to drive away with it engaged.
Once that matter is settled, you'll be able to look around and appreciate the interior improvements for 2014. Its design hasn't changed much — this is not the curvaceous interior of the newest Mercedes-Benz, like the S- or C-Class — but the materials are a step better than the outgoing E-Class. Real wood trim with an attractive depth to it, bordered in tight-fitting satin metal, looks classy. There are no unfinished surfaces, unusual cut lines or any unpleasant areas to gaze upon. It feels like it should cost as much as it does.
It's comfortable, too, with big seats that have plenty of support and adjustability, plus sufficient length to support one's thighs. Thanks to the upright passenger cabin and big windows all around, visibility is good despite the rather high belt line that's common to modern Mercedes-Benz cars. Sufficient legroom in the backseat means even rear passengers will be satisfied with their accommodations. A powered moonroof is standard in the E550, as is dual-zone automatic climate control, real leather seats (unlike the imitation stuff in the E350) and ambient lighting that can be adjusted to a number of hues to suit the driver's tastes.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The E550 I tested came with Mercedes-Benz' Comand multimedia control system, and as in other models I've tested, it works relatively well and with a minimum of fuss — once you get used to how it operates. There is no touch-screen in the E550, only a single, rather small display mounted high in the dashboard. It's clear and easy to use, but when one can get an 8.4-inch screen in the average Dodge Dart economy car, something this dinky in a big luxury sedan seems like yesterday's technology. It features a full complement of electronic capabilities, however, with the company's Mbrace2 concierge service and remote monitoring program standard for a six-month trial, plus Bluetooth connectivity, a media player and more.
Cargo & Storage
The E-Class has a sizable trunk, giving customers 15.9 cubic feet of cargo room — more when the optional 60/40-split folding rear seats are down. This puts it a full cubic foot greater than the Infiniti Q70, 2.2 cubic feet more than the Cadillac CTS and 1.9 cubic feet ahead of the BMW 550xi. In fact, the E-Class has only marginally less trunk room than the much larger S-Class sedan, which comes in at 16.3 cubic feet. Compare all these competitors here.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class was crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and scored four out of five stars overall. It did slightly better in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's testing, with scores of good across the board. The E-Class was also named an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus. See its crash-test results here.
The E-Class' automatic braking function is not standard equipment, but the car does include standard forward collision warning, which Mercedes-Benz calls Collision Prevention Assist. It detects the possibility of an impending forward collision, and both warns the driver and prepares the car for significant braking, though it does not actually hit the brakes itself. For that, you must add the Driver Assistance Package, which brings Pre-Safe to the party. That system can independently brake the car in the event of an impending collision. At speeds up to 35 mph it can even detect pedestrians who wander into the car's path and automatically apply the brakes at full strength. As with most Mercedes-Benz cars, a long list of safety features are optional, including adaptive high beams and cornering headlights; active parking sensors; a surround-view camera; lane keep assist; blind spot detection; and more. See all the E-Class' safety features here.
Value in Its Class
The "low" end of the E-Class lineup starts with the E250 BlueTec diesel, which comes to market at $52,325 (all prices include destination charges). That's just a few hundred dollars less than the E350 with the gasoline V-6 engine, which starts at $52,825, making it a painless choice to go with either fuel. Stepping up to the E550 model I tested will cause the sticker to jump to $62,325, but it doesn't stop there. My test car had a considerable options list: $1,080 for its lovely Cardinal Red paint, $440 for the split-folding backseat, $1,090 for the bigger panoramic moonroof, $660 for the massaging multicontour driver's seat, $250 for a heated steering wheel, $350 for a rear spoiler and $250 for special high-performance tires.
It also featured several packages, including the Premium 1 Package, which included Comand with navigation, voice controls, a Harman Kardon sound system, heated and ventilated seats, a rear-window sunshade and a backup camera for $4,320. The Lighting Package brings full LED headlamps, active cornering lights and an automatic high beam dimmer for $1,500. The Keyless-Go Package costs $990 and brings hands-free access, an electronic trunk closer and push-button start. The Parking Assist Package, at $1,290, includes active parking assist and a surround-view camera, while the Driver Assistance Package includes distance-keeping cruise control, blind spot assist, lane keep assist, cross-traffic alert and an automatic braking system with pedestrian detection for $2,800. The grand total for my tester came to $77,345. That's roughly $15,000 over the car's base price, but if this car doesn't have it, it probably doesn't exist in nature. Option one up how you would do it here.
There are a number of competitors for the E550. The most obvious choice is a fellow German, the BMW 550i xDrive, which is also equipped with a V-8 engine and all-wheel drive. The Bimmer's V-8 is more powerful by 43 hp and it has another cog in the gearbox (eight speeds versus the Benz's seven), but starting at $67,125 and rapidly climbing from there, it's not a better value.
A Japanese alternative might be the new Infiniti Q70, which is about to get a refresh for 2015 that will include a new extended-wheelbase model. The 2014 model can be had with a big, 420-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 engine, a seven-speed automatic and a starting price of $65,505. And here's a surprise — there's a viable American luxury competitor these days, as well: the 2014 Cadillac CTS. The version that matches up best against the E550 is the impressive Vsport with its twin-turbo V-6 that pumps out 420 hp, but it comes only in rear-wheel drive — all-wheel drive is available only on lesser models. It starts at $59,995, however, and comes very well-equipped at that price.
The E-Class is a staple of the luxury sedan world and one of the mainstays of the segment. The revised 2014 version makes a good thing better, and despite its not quite fitting into the new look at Mercedes-Benz, it's still an excellent upscale sedan for luxury buyers.
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