The midsize Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes in for a significant refresh this year aimed at adding some sexiness to its sober image. While it's as competent and vault-solid as ever, the Benz now has a softer personality, not so businesslike, as has been the case for decades. Buyers who considered the previous version too uptight or even severe can visit the showroom without reservation.
Mercedes didn't skimp on the facelift. Most of the exterior sheetmetal is new, as are the exterior lights, grille, bumpers, and wheel designs. Both the taillights and daytime running lights are now full LED. Inside, there's a more organic dashboard with a three-pod instrument cluster and retro analog clock. Revised metal and wood trim choices complete the new look, which approaches the flagship S-Class in fit and finish.
As before, the E-Class comes in Luxury and Sport flavors with no "base" model. Luxury variants retain the classic Mercedes grille and standup hood ornament, while Sport versions run with a slatted grille, three-spoke steering wheel, 18-inch wheels, sportier body trim, white-face gauges and a mildly firmer suspension. Electric-assist steering replaces the former hydraulic setup across the board, a change necessitated by new lane-keeping technology.
The most popular E-Class model in the U.S., the E350 is powered by the carryover 3.5-liter V6 with 302 horsepower, matched to a seven-speed automatic. It's the most mainstream power plant in a roster that includes a diesel, hybrid, and turbo V8. Ample power and commendable fuel economy -- 21 mpg city and 30 highway -- make the conventional V6 the logical choice for most drivers.
The sedan body style leads in sales, by far, but there's enough line volume to justify a coupe, convertible and wagon. Mercedes-Benz's 4MATIC all-wheel drive system is standard on the wagon and available for about $2,500 on all other models. The coupe cuts an elegant profile thanks to its fully retractable rear windows and pillarless design.
The net effect of this mid-life freshening is almost as powerful as a full redesign. The E350 comes off as a more approachable car that can be easily enjoyed by drivers accustomed to other makes. That alone should help the midsize Mercedes-Benz find more loving homes in 2014.
Standard equipment at this level of Mercedes-Benz luxury is substantial: in-dash CD/DVD changer, wireless streaming Bluetooth audio, 14-way power seats with memory, multicolor ambient lighting, sunroof, wood trim in your choice of three grains, and automatic brake-hold for when you're stopped on a hill or in traffic. Interestingly, leather seating is optional. The standard MB-Tex upholstery is said to look and feel like the real thing while offering superior wear qualities.
The Premium 1 Package takes the E350 to the next level of luxury with hard drive-based navigation, 10GB of audio storage, Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound, SiriusXM radio, enhanced voice controls, heated front seats, a power rear sunshade, and a rearview camera.
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