The 10th-generation E-class sedan is lighter, longer and roomier than prior versions. It also boasts the most advanced suite of semiautonomous driving technologies ever by Mercedes-Benz. The entry-level E300 and E300 4Matic just began arriving at U.S. dealerships. More variants and body styles will go on sale later, including the high-performance Mercedes-AMG E43 sedan and E400 4Matic wagon in early 2017.
Powertrain: The E-class sedan gets a 4-cylinder engine for the first time in the U.S. The 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 in the E300 models produces 241 hp and is paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Though it has 61 hp fewer, it has the same amount of torque compared with the outgoing six-cylinder, and Mercedes says the vehicle's lighter weight means comparable performance, plus fuel economy gains.
Technology: Mercedes bills the redesigned E class as the most intelligent car on the road. It can change lanes on its own, stop on its own and operate hands-free for up to a minute at a time. It has touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel so drivers can control vehicle functions without taking their hands off the wheel. A built-in wireless charging pad can charge devices on the go.
Safety: Mercedes has loaded the E class with features to prevent a crash or mitigate injury in the event of an accident. The Drive Pilot package includes advanced adaptive cruise control, the lane-change feature and assisted steering that recognizes lane markings and can boost evasive steering inputs. If a lateral collision is detected, side bolster bladders on the front seats inflate rapidly to move passengers inward away from the impact. A new feature can help prevent hearing damage when an imminent collision is detected by emitting a signal that triggers a protective reflex in the ear.
U.S. sales target: At least 50,000. Mercedes says it will top last year's sales.
Competitors: BMW 5 series, Audi A6, Lexus GS and ES
Strengths: Sleeker exterior styling pairs with a beautiful interior with an optional wide dual display made of two high-resolution 12.3-inch screens. Even downsized to a 4-cylinder, the powertrain is responsive. The level of safety features is impressive.
Weaknesses: With the semiautonomous driving features, it can be confusing to determine when the driver should take over. The car didn't recognize two cars merging from two lanes down to one, so my driving partner needed to jump in and brake. When strong lane markings guiding the steering were broken up by a wide driveway on one side, the car started to drift toward the edge of the road. Hooking up Android Auto proved difficult.
Bottom line: The E class is the brand's biggest launch of the year in a segment that is slumping as consumers increasingly turn to crossovers and SUVs. Mercedes-Benz executives say E-class sales in 2016 will top last year's mark of 49,736 and then increase again next year. The aim is to regain segment leadership.