The 10th generation of Mercedes-Benz's venerable E-Class comes to market with new styling, a nicely upgraded interior, a fuel-efficient engine and a boatload of high-tech features. It's impressive that a model that has been around since 1947 was the segment sales leader in 2015, outselling such mainstays as BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. As with past E-Class models, Mercedes-Benz hasn't shied away from technology, and this generation of the luxury sedan is the most forward-thinking Mercedes yet.

The previous generation E-Class offered four engines: a 4-cylinder diesel, 3.5-liter gas V6, twin-turbo V6 and AMG twin-turbo V8. So far, Mercedes has announced three for the 2017: a 2.0-liter, 241-horsepower turbo-4 (in the E300), a 329-horsepower twin-turbo V6 (in the E400 wagon) and a 396-horsepower AMG twin-turbo V6 (in the E43). Our test drives over two days focused on the E300 4MATIC, backed by a 9-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain is analogous to the previous 3.5-liter V6/7-speed automatic, which put out 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and delivered fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 29 mpg on the highway in rear drive. For the new engine in the 2017, horsepower is lower (by 61) and torque is the same, but the peak for both is now at lower rpm. Mercedes anticipates that EPA ratings for the 2017 E300 should show an improvement of up to 20 percent thanks to the smaller, more-efficient engine, and the lighter, stronger aluminum-intensive body.

Plenty of power

Those who are skeptical when they read that the E-Class is powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder need not worry. Mercedes' 0-60 times show an improvement over the V6, which confirms what we felt on the drive. The E-Class is quick off the line, and at highway speeds has plenty of power in reserve for passing. The new transmission, which is controlled via Mercedes' familiar slender column-mounted stalk, offers smooth, well-timed shifts. The stop/start system is smoother than in any other Mercedes we've driven. The only things you lose with the powertrain change are the V6's sound and some refinement.

Sedans in this segment walk the line between cornering performance and ride comfort. The E-Class does an admirable job of achieving both. It doesn't have the tautness of the BMW 5 Series, instead taking a more middle-of-the-road approach. The ride is compliant but not numb, and when it comes to suspension tuning, the driver can choose from several settings in the standard Dynamic system. Comfort felt too soft, and Sport + was great fun on curving mountain roads. But Goldilocks would've approved of the Sport setting. When it came to throttle, steering, ride and transmission response, it was just right.

The E300's cabin uses high-quality materials in pleasing color schemes. Ours mixed brown leather on the center console, black leather seats and black lacquer on the dash with wood lines. The supportive buckets were easy to adjust through the controls on the door panel, and we sampled the seat massagers and heaters on our extended drive through Northern California. There was a perfume throughout the car that emanated from a device in the glove box; everyone has different tastes, so it's nice that you can swap it out or remove its glass vial entirely. The optional Burmester audio system offered excellent sound quality in the pleasantly quiet cabin. The only unwanted sound we noted was some tire noise.

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New Levels of Technology

Another clear change in the interior is the abundance of new technology. Our Sport model came with the optional 12.3-inch high-definition display, which has a reconfigurable virtual gauge cluster. The sharp resolution and flat layout made it very easy to read with a quick glance. A traditional gauge cluster comes as standard equipment. Also easy to see is the 12.3-inch high-def COMAND screen, which served us well when using the navigation system and the multiple-angle cameras, which included a view showing the front wheels while you park. Many of the systems are noticeably easier to navigate and control, thanks to the new touch sensitive buttons on the steering wheel. They use an intuitive swipe and click motion, much like with a smartphone, to toggle between navigation, audio, phone and more. Another cool new feature is the Parking Pilot. Once you activate the system, you'll see a display on the screen that shows the car is looking for a space. After it finds it, it'll give you the choice of pulling in or backing in -- and the car takes care of the rest. We got a little nervous when it got close to one of the two cars we were backing in between, but it will pull forward and adjust the angle as needed. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and wireless phone charging is also available.

There are numerous safety features in the E-Class, but the real headline grabbers are driver aids that could be considered steps toward autonomous operation. The car has 360 degrees of radar and 2D and 3D camera coverage, which come into play with adaptive cruise control (Distance Pilot Distronic). There's active emergency stop assist, active brake assist with a cross-traffic monitor, a speed limit pilot (when activated, it'll make sure you don’t speed), and a really cool feature that will change lanes for you if you have your turn signal on -- just be sure to shut the signal off once you're in the next lane. Active Lane Keeping Assist will do just what the name suggests, even around curves, but the system can get confused by an off-ramp that splits off from the slow lane. These are not features that will allow you to take a nap while the car shuttles you through rush-hour traffic; rather, these innovations are safeguards against distracted driving, severing as a welcome safety net.

Pricing and Availability

When the E300 goes on sale in late July, it will be offered in Luxury and Sport trims. Pricing will start at $52,175 including destination, and another $2,500 will get you 4MATIC all-wheel drive. At least one AMG variant will follow, as will an E-Class wagon. And if our first impression the standard engine is any indication, E-Class buyers are in for a real treat.


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