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After a 2010 redesign and the addition of a convertible for 2011, Mercedes-Benz continues to refine its midsize E-Class lineup with new engines, more models, and increased availability of its 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system for 2012.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class lineup includes sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons with diesel, V6, or V8 power.
The E-Class Cabriolet, or convertible, features an innovative soft top that's nearly one-inch thick with three layers of acoustic sound dampening. The design leaves good trunk space, and provides wind protection with the top down. The soft top disappears in 17 silent seconds, as Mercedes says.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E350, E550, and E63 AMG models are each a technological tour de force, yet none of the technology is intrusive. On the street, the cars are robust and exhibit the engineering excellence that has defined them for decades.
The E-Class sits in the middle of the Mercedes car line, between the compact C-Class and the big S-Class. It's the company's best-selling car worldwide, and as such it defines the brand's essence. Every E-Class model delivers an excellent balance of passenger space, luxury, style, and impressive performance in a practical, manageably sized package.
The E-Class looks more angular and technical than it used to, but it is quite pleasing to the eye. The chassis is strengthened to improve crash protection, reduce vibration and sharpen handling, without adding weight. Yet if this generation E-Class cars have a theme, it might be their high-tech control and management systems. That's not surprising for a car that introduced a host of now-familiar features, from antilock brakes to airbags, to mass production.
The 2012 E-Class represents the most electronics-intensive model line Mercedes has offered to date, and most of the computer-managed systems focus on safety. An Attention Assist system monitors up to 70 driving parameters to determine whether the driver is getting drowsy behind the wheel and uses both visual and auditory warnings to tell the driver to pull over for rest. The Distronic Plus cruise control option features both blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning technology, while automatic self-adjusting headlights automatically dim the brights. And those systems are just the start.
Beyond the technological wizardry, the E-Class remains what it has always been, only a little nicer. Every model is smooth, quiet and appointed in elegant, understated fashion, with comfortable space for four or five passengers and a substantial load of luggage.
The gasoline V6 in the Mercedes E350 models is new for 2012, though it displaces the same 3.5 liters. Power improves from 268 to 302 horses, and it is more efficient as well. Similarly, a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 in 2012 E550 models replaces the previous 5.5-liter V8. Though smaller, the new 4.6-liter engine is more powerful and more efficient, and it delivers the turbine-like, overpowered feel that characterizes Germany's best autobahn blasters. The turbocharged diesel engine in the Mercedes E350 BlueTEC sedan is the smoothest, quietest diesel available in the United States. It delivers amazing bursts of acceleration for passing, with mileage that surpasses most other cars in this class by about 30 percent.
2012 E63 AMG models also get a new engine. A twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 that cranks out 516 horsepower replaces the previous 6.2-liter V8. The E63 AMG comes standard with start/stop technology. The 2012 E63 AMG is also offered as a wagon.
Those seeking help through the worst of a northern winter can choose the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system for the E-Class sedans, wagon, and now the coupe.
The E-Class created a category of mid-sized luxury cars that has become one of the most competitive (and enjoyable) in today's automobile market. The 2012 E-Class models simply reinforce Mercedes credentials at or near the top of the class.
The 2012 E350 sedan ($50,490) comes with mbrace assistance system, dual-zone automatic climate control, interior air filter, power tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, MBTex faux leather upholstery, 14-way power front bucket seats, memory system (front seats, mirrors, steering wheel), trunk pass-through, burl walnut interior trim, heated power auto-dimming mirrors with turn signals, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, sunroof, 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with 6-disc CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth wireless cell-phone link, trip computer, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, rain-sensing variable-intermittent wipers, automatic headlights, theft-deterrent system, Agility Control suspension, and P245/45HR17 tires on alloy wheels. The E350 BlueTEC sedan ($51,690) is equipped similarly except for its diesel engine.
Buyers can opt for the E350 sedan in Luxury or Sport trim at no cost. Luxury models are equipped as above, while sports get the Agility Control sport suspension, AMG-style wheels, a Sport steering wheel with shift paddles, larger perforated brakes with painted calipers, and P245/40R18 front and P265/35R18 rear tires with rear-wheel drive or P245/40R18 tires at all four corners with 4MATIC. The Sport wagon has 17-inch wheels.
The E350 coupe ($49,800) is equipped like the sedan, but it adds leather upholstery, split folding rear seat, panorama sunroof, and P235/45R17 front and P255/40R17 rear tires, while losing the mbrace system. Same goes for the E350 convertible ($57,720), but it also gets leather upholstery, a windblocker, a three-layer fabric power convertible top, and P235/45R17 front and P255/40R17 rear tires. The convertible also features AIRCAP, a pop-up slim wing over the windshield that directs air over the cabin.
The E350 4MATIC sedan ($52,990) and coupe ($53,675) come with all-wheel drive and a sunroof.
The E350 4MATIC wagon ($57,150) comes only with all-wheel drive. It gets first and second-row curtain side airbags with rollover deployment, rear park assist, mbrace, rearview camera, MBTex upholstery, second-row split-folding seat, third-row folding rear-facing seat that increases passenger capacity to seven, power sunroof, power liftgate, rear wiper/washer, adjustable Agility Control sport suspension with self leveling, and P245/45HR17 tires.
The E550 coupe ($55,590) and E550 convertible ($64,800) come standard with leather upholstery, sunroof, adjustable Agility Control sport suspension, and P235/40R18 front and 255/35R18 rear tires. The E550 4MATIC sedan ($59,760) gets that equipment, plus P245/40R18 tires and heated front seats.
The E63 AMG sedan ($88,900) features a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 that generates 518 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It has a 7-speed transmission with an automated clutch rather than a conventional torque converter. Standard equipment includes high-performance brakes, navigation system with real-time traffic information, heated/ventilated/massaging multi-contour front seats, second-row split folding seat, harman/kardon sound system, satellite radio, HD radio, iPod interface, 10-gigabyte music hard drive, power rear sunshade, power trunk, self-dimming adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers, sport-tuned version of the adjustable Agility Control sport suspension with self-leveling, and P255/35R19 front and P285/30R19 rear tires. The E63 AMG wagon ($91,500), one of the strangest offerings on the market, gets the sedan's equipment, plus side sunshades instead of a power rear sunshade.
Options include Premium Package I, which comes with a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information, harman/kardon audio with HD radio and Sirius satellite radio, 10-gig music hard drive, heated front seats, and a rearview camera. The E550 sedan also gets ventilated front seats, the convertibles add the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system, and sedans and coupes get a rear-glass sunshade. Premium Package II includes Package I plus ventilated front seats, keyless access and starting, LED daytime running lights, and bi-xenon active light system with automatic high-beam control and headlight washers. The sedan version also gets a power opening and closing trunk.
An Appearance Package for coupes and convertibles adds vented brakes with painted calipers, multi-contour front seats, adjustable Agility Control sport suspension, and 18-inch wheels. A Lane Tracking Package ($850) adds Active Blind Spot Assist and lane keeping assist, while a Driver Assistance Package ($2,950) gets Active Blind Spot Assist, lane-departure warning, Pre-Safe braking, and Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control. A Wheel Package for the E350 sedan and wagon comes with a sportier steering wheel and AMG-style 18-inch wheels. The AMG Performance Package for the E63 AMG ($7,300) ups horsepower to 550 and top speed to 186, and adds a carbon-fiber engine cover, a leather and alcantara steering wheel, and a performance version of the adjustable suspension.
Standalone options are numerous. Highlights include rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,910), Panoramic Sunroof ($1,090), matte designo paint ($3,950), heated steering wheel ($490), and carbon ceramic brakes for the E63 AMG ($12,625).
Safety features start with advanced antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability program (ESP) with traction control. Active safety systems include Attention Assist drowsiness monitor. Standard passive safety features include nine airbags: dual frontal, driver's knee-protection, front-passenger side-impact torso, front passenger side-impact pelvis, and full cabin head-protection curtains. Rear passenger side-impact airbags are optional ($440). Also optional are Night View Assist PLUS ($1,780) and front and rear park obstacle detection with parking guidance ($970). 4MATIC all-wheel drive enhances safety, particularly in slippery conditions.
The latest-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class models are generally more angular than their predecessors, with sharper creases. Automotive styling is a subjective process, to be sure, but this latest E-Class (2010-present) has been lauded from many corners for its character and pleasing design.
Besides the familiar sedan and wagon, the line-up includes an E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet (or convertible), which replace cars that had been known as the CLK since the mid-1990s. All E-Class models have nearly identical exterior dimensions.
The E-Class is offered with standard Sport or Luxury trim, at no charge for either. The Coupe comes only as a Sport. Sport trim includes a bolder three-bar grille, more aggressively flared rocker panels, perforated front brake discs with painted calipers, visible through five-spoke AMG-style wheels.
Styling for all E-Class variants is quite similar, too, at least from the windshield forward. Every design cue, panel, lamp, and piece of glass was changed for 2010. And although they tend to look bigger than their predecessors, more like the premium S-Class, they really aren't. The E-Class has a larger grille, and a trapezoidal headlamp array with multiple elements and square corners instead of the traditional E-Class oval lamps.
From the windshield back, the various E-Class body styles differ, of course. The two-door Coupe's roof flows more evenly than the sedans, with a less prominent notch where the rear glass tapers downward. Yet all variants share a set of four character lines rising from front to rear. Rear lamps are similar on the Coupe and sedan, as are the rectangular exhaust tips built into the bumpers, rather than hung below them.
Mercedes designers took great pains managing airflow through, under and around the E-Class, producing a sedan with a drag coefficient of only 0.25, despite its big, brawny appearance. That makes the E-Class the most aerodynamically efficient four-door car in the world, according to Mercedes. The company claims that the Coupe's Cd of just 0.24 is the best overall figure for any series-production car anywhere. Other things equal, a lower coefficient of drag means less interior noise and better fuel mileage. The wagon's roof creates a dramatic teardrop shape in profile, with LED taillights that wrap around the rear corners of the car. It has a 0.30 Cd.
The E-Class Cabriolet comes closest in appearance to the Coupe. The lower half of the body of the E550 Cabriolet is designed by AMG, Mercedes' partner in high performance, and its sleek edginess reflects that attitude. The power convertible soft top is one-inch thick, and performs like a hardtop, so well insulated that it actually dampens sound more effectively than the steel roof on the coupe, according to Mercedes. It lowers and rises in 17 seconds.
The lines of the soft top are not as sleek as the lower half of the car. The rear glass is not expansive, so it could fit in the trunk without taking up too much space. This means more area of fabric around the window, making it look thickish back there, losing some of the beauty of the Coupe. And for all its edges in the sheetmetal toward the front of the car, it has fairly round hips, especially noticeable in the Cabriolet.
Seat-shaped seat controls high on the door panels and seat heating/cooling controls at the very bottom of the center stack make it easy to adjust important things quickly. Textures and color schemes are familiar Mercedes, too. With the darker interior colors and standard burl walnut trim, the E-Class can create a slightly somber tone inside. Yet in all cases the cabin exudes a classy, understated elegance.
The dashboard in all E-Class variants is identical. The forward door panels and center console are similar as well, though they're trimmed a bit differently depending on the model and equipment ordered. An i-dash, six-disc CD/DVD changer is standard, as is a Bluetooth interface that allows phones to be operated through the car's audio system, even if they remain in a purse or pocket.
The instrument cluster consists of five analog gauges, including two pairs that overlap each other. All are exceptionally crisp and easy to read at a glance. Nonetheless, the E-Class dash is dominated by something Mercedes calls its COMAND system, which sits front and center at the top of the center stack.
COMAND is a control interface with a seven-inch color display screen. Using a point-and-click controller on the center console, this central display can be controlled by either the driver or front passenger to adjust audio and other functions. Most features, including climate controls, can be adjusted with their own separate switches lower in the center stack. The COMAND display also shows the optional navigation screen, the back-up camera image, and the Night View Assist PLUS infrared display. It comes with its own 212-page manual, hinting at how complicated it can be. We've found that it works well once you get used to running the controls, but that can take some time and some simple operations take longer than they would with a single button.
The E-Class sedan front seats are quite comfortable and supportive, but the sportier seats found in the Coupe and Cabriolet might be on the firm side for long stints at the wheel. There's plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel to accommodate nearly any sized driver. The Sport steering wheel is lovely, wrapped in stitched leather, with buttons to control audio and phone and driver information. The center spokes have indents for your thumbs, a perfect fit. Much thought went into this steering wheel.
Mercedes' familiar stalk-mounted cruise-control switch remains, and it still looks too much like, and is too easily mistaken for, the turn-signal lever. The gear selector is a lot like a turn signal, too, on the right side of the steering column. E-Class cars ordered in Sport trim have nicely shaped paddles behind the steering-wheel spokes for manual gear selection.
All E-Class variants come standard with several active safety features. One highlight is Attention Assist, which constantly monitors up to 70 driving parameters to determine whether the driver is getting drowsy behind the wheel. If it decides a driver is at risk of dozing, Attention Assist uses both visual and auditory warnings to tell the driver to pull over, get some rest, or get a cup of coffee.
The Distronic Plus cruise control option is offered with both blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning systems built in. An intelligent self-adjusting headlamp system uses cameras to detect both oncoming cars and the traffic ahead, and raises and lowers the headlamp beams accordingly. The idea is to put the most light on the road most of the time, without disturbing other drivers. The Intelligent Nightview option throws infrared light in front of the car and uses high-resolution video cameras to spot the higher temperatures coming from otherwise invisible pedestrians and animals.
The middle seat in back of the E-Class sedan is reasonably comfortable for a small-to-medium-sized adult on a short trip. The outboard rear seats in the four-seat E-Class Coupe and Cabriolet are actually a bit more inviting than those in the sedan, even though they're more difficult to climb into in the absence of rear doors. The Coupe and Cabriolet's rear seats offer marginal head- and legroom, but they're sportier than those in the sedan, which offer more space. The car can be ordered with split folding rear seats for additional cargo flexibility.
The sedan's trunk capacity of 15.9 cubic feet remains at the top of the class, surpassing the Audi A6 (14.1), BMW 5 Series (14.0), Acura TL (13.1 cubic feet), and Lexus GS (14.3). The E-Class Coupe has as much trunk volume as the sedan.
The E350 wagon expands cargo capacity even further, and its standard all-wheel drive and self-leveling rear air suspension allow a decent towing capacity of 2,500 pounds. The wagon features a power-fold mechanism that lowers the split rear seatbacks with buttons near the tailgate, as well as an automatic tailgate that can memorize a desired opening height. The wagons come standard with a folding, rear-facing third seat in the cargo area.
The E-Class Cabriolet has good trunk space for a convertible, with 11.5 cubic feet. Even with the top down, there's room for two bags of golf clubs. Trunk space and lower weight is the reason for the soft top, rather than a hard top like many others are doing. A soft top also allows more room for the rear seats. If it can do what a hard top can do, it's a winner.
The soft top for the E550 Cabriolet introduces a big blind spot made by the roofline where it drops down to the rear quarter panels. Visibility out the backlight in the rearview mirror is also tight, because of the small rear glass and the screen to block the wind into the cabin when the top is down; it doesn't lower all the way. The structure of the top is so sturdy, and its motor so strong, that the top can be raised with the car traveling 25 mph, for when the rain comes fast and you can't pull over.
The Cabriolet's AIRCAP is especially inventive. It has 20 patents and 211 parts, and has been tested in the wind tunnel at 150 mph with the wind full of bugs. We got our E550 Cabriolet out on a high-speed two-lane Nevada road, and opened her up on a hot day. The AIRCAP, along with the rear screen, works to screen out buffeting. Its mesh allows some air to pass, thus reducing cabin pressure and with it wind noise. It is most effective with all of the side windows up, blocking so much wind and noise that it almost feels like there is an invisible top above you. The problem is car guys think you look like a geek in a convertible with the windows up.
A host of electronic systems present themselves once you're underway. The Active Blind Spot Assist system lights up a triangle in the side mirrors whenever a vehicle enters the blind spot. The lane-departure warning system vibrates the steering wheel when you cross or creep toward the lane marker before activating the turn signal. The optional Night View Assist PLUS screen image is large, crisp and clear, and so bright and detailed at night that it can distract the driver from the task at hand.
Still, most of these systems are less intrusive than those in many E-Class competitors. Most functions and features can be adjusted with the point-and-click dial on the center console, or with more conventional, separate switches on the dash, whichever the driver finds easier or less distracting while driving.
In terms of driving character, the E-Class is amazingly solid, quiet, and powerful. It is fairly agile, too, but it trails most of its competitors in this regard. The Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Lexus GS are all more agile and fun to drive.
We particularly like the diesel-powered E350 BlueTEC sedan. Mercedes' V6 turbodiesel is the smoothest, quietest diesel engine available, so virtually all the smoky, clattering drawbacks of more traditional diesel power are gone (though the oily diesel smell during fill-ups remains). Performance is quite close to that of the new 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine, and the diesel engine gets better fuel economy than it and nearly every other car in this class. That's good for the pocketbook and the environment. The BlueTEC 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel engine is rated at 210 horsepower and a more impressive 400 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph arrives in 6.7 seconds, according to Mercedes, but testing by Edmunds.com added a second to that figure. Still, passing power at highway speeds is quite willing and the engine is impressively smooth and quiet. Drivers coming out of gasoline-powered cars will find it odd that the diesel doesn't rev much past 4500 rpm, but they will be pleased that it makes a lot of torque at low rpm.
As for the E-Class gasoline engines, both the more economical 302-horsepower V6 and the more powerful 402-horsepower V8 are smooth and powerful. Better still, the 7-speed automatic transmission frequently chooses the perfect gear for the prevailing driving circumstances, and both up or down shifts come quickly. Or the driver can choose the desired gear with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and the transmission will stay in that gear right up to the engine's redline without upshifting automatically. It's responsive for everyday driving, but not as lightning quick as the dual-clutch automated manuals out there, including the one in the E63 AMG.
Acceleration performance is impressive, regardless of the model, and none of the E-Class variants is light. Packed with all the technology, all the luxury touches and all those airbags, an E350 sedan weighs in at 3,825 pounds and the E550 4MATIC at 4,145 pounds. Given these figures, the spry acceleration seems even more remarkable.
2012 E350 models are powered by a new 3.5-liter V6. It changes from a 90 degree angle to a 60 degree angle, which is ideal for a V6, and adds direct injection. Output increases from 268 to 302 horsepower, and from 258 to 273 pound-feet of torque. The V6 is a bit gruffer than the diesel, but it is quieter in the E-Class than in other models, most notably the SLK and C-Class. It offers plenty of punch down low and has good passing response as well. If it weren't for more being better, the V6 would be plenty for everyone. The E350 will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, which is about the same as the last engine, though it feels a bit stronger.
2012 E550 models use a new 4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that generates 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, up from 382 and 391, respectively. Also outfitted with direct injection, the V8 shows no signs of turbo lag, and is tuned to emit more of a rumble than the V6. It has more power everywhere, getting the car moving from a stop quicker and making passing a breeze. The E550 V8 rockets to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 20/30 miles per gallon City/Highway for the E350 sedan. The E350 coupe rates 19/29 mpg. The E350 4MATIC coupe gets 19/28, as do the E350 cabriolet and E350 4MATIC sedan rates 19/28 mpg. The E350 4MATIC wagon gets 19/27 mpg. The E350 BlueTEC is rated 21/32 mpg. The E550 4MATIC sedan 16/26 mpg, the E550 cabriolet is rated 16/25 mpg. The E63 AMG sedan is rated 16/24 mpg and the E63 AMG wagon is rated 15/23 mpg.
There's a nice balance of comfortable ride and good handling response, even in the Luxury models, which put a bit more emphasis on the ride. All E-Class variants have a variable damping system that changes the rebound rate of the shock absorbers according to conditions. This allows a softer, quieter ride on smoother roads, but retains full shock damping through dips, or for spirited driving on twisting two-lanes.
The E-Class brakes are world-class, with the latest electronic controls and built-in automatic braking with the Distronic radar-controlled cruise option. These brakes are consistently powerful at the wheels, progressive and reassuring at the pedal, and they always come back, no matter how hot they may get in a spirited drive.
The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is a great choice for buyers in northern climates, especially considering rear-wheel drive is the other option. The 4MATIC system is rear-biased in normal driving conditions, sending 55 percent of the power to the rear. When the system detects slip, it can send up to 70 percent of the power to either axle. It's a light, compact system that is integrated into the transmission and it doesn't cost too much in terms of fuel economy.
Mercedes demonstrated its 4MATIC system with a winter drive in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The street drive was held on a snowy day and 4MATIC was up to the challenge, delivering sure-footed traction even on fresh snow. The event also included drives on a special snow track, which the E350 4MATIC handled quite well, too. Mercedes had its whole 4MATIC car lineup there, and the E-Class dealt with the ruts of the deteriorating track better than anything other than the ultra-luxury S-Class. Yes, we drove S-Classes on a rutted snow track.
There are some minor differences between the various body styles. The sedan and coupe handle and ride very much the same, and the wagon is similar, but it feels bigger. The E-Class Cabriolet isn't quite as solid or nimble. Minor cowl shake can be felt over bumps and the vehicle doesn't rotate through turns or respond to steering inputs quite as quickly as the other models.
The Cabriolet is also loaded with features to extend open motoring throughout the year. One is AIRSCARF, which uses neck-level heating vents under the headrests. Another is a new device called AIRCAP: an aerodynamic deflector mounted at the top of the windshield.
AIRCAP contains 211 separate parts with 70 patents, and it can be raised roughly 2.5 inches at the driver's discretion to redirect airflow over the top of the E-Class Cabriolet's open cabin. The point? AIRCAP virtually eliminates buffeting (not to mention wind noise) for front-seat passengers when the convertible top is lowered. It reduces buffeting for rear-seat passengers to levels comparable to that experienced by front-seat passengers in other four-place convertibles, according to Mercedes. And it does so without the drawbacks associated with more familiar, screen-type wind blockers raised behind the front seats: reduced visibility, and elimination of rear-seat passenger space. Unfortunately, it works best with the side windows up, which just looks goofy.
There's at least a slight payback with AIRCAP. When the airfoil is raised, the E-Class Cabriolet's roof-open drag coefficient rises from 0.33 to 0.38, and that could have a measurable effect on fuel economy. Nonetheless, AIRCAP works as billed, and allows the quietest, buffeting-free open motoring we've experienced.
The suspension in the E550 Cabriolet we drove might be too firm for some, though; over patchy freeway roads you can feel the jolts, as if the car is trying to defeat the bumps rather than absorb them.
Few automobiles deliver as satisfying a mix of passenger space, luxury, style, and performance in a vault-solid, practical package as the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. From convertible to wagon, there's an E-Class variant for nearly every taste, an available high-mileage diesel engine or an ultra-performance, 516-hp V8, and optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive for drivers who can use it. Mercedes-Benz also claims the E-Class is the safest car of its type ever built. Based on all the standard safety equipment that's built in, that's likely true.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Madrid, Spain, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit, Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles, Sam Moses in Portland, and Kirk Bell in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
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