Most people know that Mercedes-Benz has been responsible for a lot of automotive firsts, but may not realize that it is the brand responsible for inventing the first truly capable car. This feat was followed shortly thereafter by the first long distance road trip in 1888, when Bertha Benz took her inventor husband’s “motorwagen” for a quick 66-mile jaunt up the road with her two teenage sons to visit their grandmother. As word of the trip spread, a media blitz ensued, thus rocketing the invention into the limelight, and changing the world of transportation forever.
Flash forward 128 years and the Mercedes-Benz brand remains one of the most revered automotive manufacturers on the planet, an unstoppable success story that creates everything from the capable G-Class to the twin-turbo V8 C63 S. But the competitive world of luxury automotive sales has grown tougher than ever before, as everyone from Hyundai and Infiniti to Lexus and Jaguar dispatch new models into a stagnant sedan segment. So in order to gain some ground against its adversaries, Mercedes-Benz has taken the iconic E300, ditched its V6 for a turbo four-cylinder, and topped it off with a multitude of luxurious finishing touches and semi-autonomous tech.
First introduced in 1993 as an “Executive” alternative to mid-size luxury sedans, the E-Class has seen its fair share of successes, and the 2017 E300 4Matic offers a compelling reason for affluent buyers to revisit the chassis. It’s a very well thought-out automobile that features an abundance of top-notch touches like a 12.3-inch display screen, selective dampening suspension, and a tech safety suite that turns it into an almost entirely autonomous vehicle. It also is 100% made in Germany, can be outfitted with an array of add-ons that are surprisingly free of charge, and it all starts at $54,650.
A lot has transpired since Bertha Benz first took that little jaunt down the road with her two teenage boys, and yet one thing remains unchanged: Mercedes-Benz’s unrelenting interest in taking what works and making it better. While the latest E300 may not be the new kid on the block, it certainly has an impressive array of standard features and additional amenities to make it a worthy alternative to the Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, and Audi A6s of the world, and it all starts with its cabin.
With all options added to an already loaded chassis, the E300 transforms into both an interior designer’s dream machine and a tech-centric oasis. Things like an intelligent LED lighting system, active massaging seats with rapid heating features, and lacquered black piano note wood trim pieces are used to remind you of what German luxury looks and feels like. Everything is adaptive and extremely responsive, from the automatic LED headlamps and electronic trunk closer to the power-folding mirrors and the way in which the touchpad snaps to attention when you awaken it. It’s a very German approach to engineering and design, that is tasteful, well crafted, and punctual in its approach, which leads us to our next topic: performance.
Although the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder motor is a far cry from what we experienced in the C63 S moments prior, the way in which all 273 pound-feet of torque propel you forward is still quite compelling. Despite its sheer bulk (4,060 pounds of it, to be exact), the 241-horsepower engine builds boost nicely and in sport mode gives the optional high performance tires a bit of a workout alongside the selectively dampening sport suspension.
Muhammad Ali’s statement about how in order to be effective in the ring one must “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” comes to mind when you drive this sedan. It’s all lofty autonomous intentions, opulence, and ornate Burmester surround sound speaker covers when you’re cruising along the interstate, but the minute there’s a detour and a winding road, out come the stingers.
But power still doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have some control to keep it all in line, and it’s this portion of the performance report card that gives the E300 a solid A+. Outfitted with Mercedes-Benz’s finely-tuned 4Matic all-wheel drive system, a seamless pair of paddle shifters for its nine-speed automatic, and a sport package that includes cross-drilled rotors, performance calipers, and lightweight alloy wheels, the driving feel one gets is both precise and potent.
The dampers feel firm and yet are still refined enough as to not cause discomfort, and we found that snubbing the brakes slightly and downshifting is all that is needed to take turns in rapid fashion thanks to the 4Matic all-wheel drive system. If one of the vehicle’s many computers senses you might slide too far, traction settings and steering loads are quickly set to task, while inside the cabin adaptive seat bolsters emerge to offer rib cage support.
While it may just be a beautiful “Selenite Grey Magno” mid-size luxury sedan on the surface, the E300 is a unique alternative to everything else out there that always tries to be true to its heritage, which is always a commendable attribute. Although Jaguar’s XF certainly crushes this particular model of the E-Class in the powertrain department with its supercharged V6, and both the Lexus GS and the Audi A6 may appear more menacing, there’s a lot about the Benz that will make complete sense to the average mid-size luxury sedan buyer. While hype surrounding new and different luxury options will never dissipate, there’s something to be said for going with a tried-and-true approach to auto manufacturing, something few know better than the German company that pioneered the automobile itself.