E300 only, for now
American drivers will get the new E-Class at first in only a few mechanical specifications. A turbocharged 4-cylinder is now the core powerplant, under the E300 badge.
Until they arrive, the E300 will fit all bills, and fit them well. On the spec sheet, the 2.0-liter turbo is rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It's coupled exclusively to a 9-speed automatic that's made its way into the new SLC-Class as well as the CLS-Class.
Since the days of the Lotus Esprit, car writers have been hand-wringing over the prospect of luxury cars with turbo fours. We're in a new era, and though the 4-cylinder doesn't try to hide its origins with active noise cancellation, it's a responsive piece that should answer any questions about its value.
Zero to 60 mph estimates sit at 6.3 seconds or less, on par with the vast sweep of uprated mid-size cars. With a flick of its paddle controls, the E300 calls up strong acceleration across most of its powerband, and the shifts don't betray any of the lumpy quality found in other 9-speed cars.
Of course there's more to come. Given the expanding AMG lineup in the smaller C-Class range, it's a sure bet that future, higher-powered E-Class sedans are coming soon, just as sure as their powertrains will involve more cylinders and more turbos. All-wheel drive is coming soon, likely with the AMGs.
As for plans for a turbodiesel and a plug-in hybrid model, they're both likely punted a few years. Turbodiesels, for obvious reasons. The hybrids likely are waiting for better batteries, which could give next-generation plug-in hybrids an electric-only driving range of up to 50 miles.
Two different suspension types are planned for U.S. E-Class sedans. The basic multi-link independent suspension gets augmented with adaptive dampers, and Mercedes will tune that hardware to Comfort and Sport specification. Those models weren't offered at the first drive event.
What was available were E300s with Air Body Control. Essentially a replacement for previous air suspension and active body-control systems, the new setup has air springs with two chambers per strut in front, three per strut in back, with the ability to selectively inflate and deflate bags based on ride and handling needs of the moment.
The system includes the adaptive dampers, and also incorporates automatic load leveling, and lowers the E-Class at highway speeds for improved fuel economy, while it can also raise the ride height for better ground clearance.
As before, the suspension--and steering, transmission, and throttle settings--can be cycled through comfort, economy, sport, and Sport+ modes.
Those driving-mode names don't quite give away the broader envelope of ride and handling coded into the E300. We drove through grinding traffic outside Lisbon, looped through tight esses that crashed into Portugal's Atlantic coast, and consumed big stretches of highways, sampling all the drive modes.
Switching into Sport and leaving it there is an acceptable protocol. It's the closest in feel to the latest tune of Mercedes sporty four-doors, with good ride quality and quick transient responses. Comfort mode has taken some sort of industrial-strength chill pill; it relaxes all the airbags you'd want relaxed, while the dampers keep the queasy small body motions at bay.
Beyond that? There's plenty of territory above Sport+ yet to be mined. In truth, it feels like a grippy set of tires and a slightly tweaked algorithm are all the E300 will need to gain AMG status. That, and another blower and another liter of displacement.
Room to spread out
The E-Class is the last Benz sedan to benefit from right-sizing, in the wake of the arrival of the CLA. In this case, it means growing a bit to put some distance between it and the compact C sedan.
By the numbers, this E's gained 2.6 inches of wheelbase and 1.7 inches of overall length to sit at 193.8 inches long, on a 115.7-inch wheelbase. Curb weight is barely lower, to just below 4,000 pounds in fighting trim.
In practical terms, there's a bit more front-seat space--and a pair of multi-adjustable chairs with lots of lumbar and optional massaging. The rear seat didn't lack for space, but there's more of it, despite a roofline that could have given up an inch were it not for a repackaged, reshaped bench.
That back bench is actually a three-piece cushion, split to provide access to the trunk, which at 13.1 cubic feet isn't vast.
The more welcome touches in the cabin include a new package of fittings for driver and passenger that warms the armrests and center console, as well as the steering wheel. The rear seats have a middle-section split that offers a storage armrest with its own cupholders and tablet holder--important in places where the E-Class is a chauffeur car, first and foremost.