Turning 40 offers both opportunities and challenges for most of us, so how has the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 dealt with the maturity milestone?
Shout it from the rooftops... life begins at 40.
It is the strapline of many a Hallmark moment, a significant and important milestone that celebrates four decades toiling away at the job of life. The payoff, for the most part, is that a level of maturity has been reached, that sets the tone for everything that follows.
To say then, that the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 is the E-Class 'matured', isn’t too far off the mark, as the model celebrated its 40th-anniversary last year.
The W213 is the culmination of 10 generations of large Mercedes sedan heritage, six under the E-Class banner (W123, W124, W210, W211, W212 and W213) and a rolling showpiece of the brand’s latest technology and safety innovations.
And while 40 years is by no means the longest model gestation in history, it’s a period, during which, the 'E has lived a regular life, learning from both success and failure, to become the experienced, sensible and mature car it is today.
It’s funny too, that during the reign of the E-Class, I have also turned 40 and, ironically, back when my father celebrated his own 40th, he owned a (then new) W123 E-Class 300D. The comment that the E-Class is ‘your dad’s Mercedes’ has never felt truer.
The mature nature of the E300 is most evident in the design, where the new E is undeniably an evolved sculpture. I’ve said before, even if you can’t identify it as anything more than a big C-Class or a small S-Class, you will never mistake the W213 for anything other than a Mercedes-Benz.
Sure the three-pointed star on the bonnet has gone (you can select the build-to-order Exclusive package for $1900 to see it, and the more traditional slatted grille return) but the middling E-Class seems to carry the current Mercedes design language well, and proportionally at least, it works.
Despite this though, our car, in Selenite Grey ($1990 option, one of eleven choices) further reinforces the sensible maturity of the E-Class. It’s a nice colour, but ultimately, restrained and conservative.
It is like the rest of the car; smart, clean and modern, but risk averse. Just like society suggests you too should be at 40.
Where things take a bit more of an eclectic step is inside, where our Nut Brown leather (a no cost option) is just different enough to show there is still a bit of youth inside this sensible adult yet.
I will say though, that finding one of the 64 interior lighting colours to match the coffee-esque trim was a bit of a challenge.
You are reminded this is still a mid-grade car too, and there are no upper-level level luxury items like a stitched-leather dashboard or ultra-premium feeling materials, but it is nice, and comfortable, and usable if perhaps a little cold (brown hide notwithstanding).
Everything is there, and it's all modern and efficient, it just feels that the mature part of the E-Class is more in charge than the exuberant part.
This is a Mercedes after all, and four-decades of experience and success obviously govern from a ‘this is what buyers want’ perspective.
As, in a broad way, the $107,900 E300 is ‘the’ E-Class. You can venture up or down the range depending on budgets or power requirements, but the '300 is the car which offers more answers than questions.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque available. It’s no tearaway powerhouse, but then the 'E doesn’t really need it to be. This is a mature executive sedan, so smooth and usable performance, is all you need.
The petrol engine claims a 7.1L/100km combined consumption figure, and we found we could keep things to the mid-8L/100km mark without too much trouble. Pretend the 19-inch AMG wheels (a no cost option) give you some extra performance though, and the consumption will quickly climb into the low teens.
But while the 2.0-litre turbo may be working hard when pushed, it moves the 1744kg E300 rapidly enough. Mercedes-Benz claims a 6.2-second sprint to 100km/h, but for mine, it’s the midrange response, where peak torque is offered between 1300 and 4000rpm, where the '300 works best.
On the open road, it is a smooth and effortless tourer. You could be forgiven for thinking there is a six-cylinder under the bonnet with the ease the E300 can pile on a bit of extra pace for country overtaking or steeper inclines.
Here, it is quiet and very competent, and very much at home on a longer touring drive.
There's a high level of standard equipment, including heated seats and adaptive LED headlamps, even a powered boot that can be raised and lowered from the driver's seat.
You have plenty of space, both for luggage (there is a 540-litre boot with 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats), and for passengers who are treated to their own vents, map pockets and a central armrest with cup holders, plus plenty of light from the optional (part of the $4990 Vision package) sunroof.
The latest iteration of driver assistance technology packed into the E-Class is the best in the business. From activating to using and adjusting, the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping aids work almost seamlessly. Traffic queuing is mostly smooth, perhaps a little heavy on the brakes, and the adjustments made to the wheel beneath your hands are measured and reassuring. These are assistance functions though, and as good as they are, don't represent a trustable autonomous system with their current software governance. Give it time though...
Using those giant 12.3-inch landscape screens quickly becomes second nature, the diverse range of information is presented in a clear and easy to digest manner, with the screens doing an excellent job even in direct sunlight.
There’s no impact on clarity when wearing polarised sunglasses either, only the head-up display (also part of the $4990 Vision package) suffers here.
We found the voice commands a little hit and miss, especially when giving navigation destinations, but the COMAND interface and software becomes more familiar and easier to use every time I drive a Mercedes, so for owners, it shouldn’t take too long to get the hang of things.
But it is the little things, like the constantly active proximity sensors that arm and show a top-down overlay when you are negotiating a narrow lane or packed traffic, and even the way the parking camera switches from front- to rear-view when manoeuvring into a space, that shows the E-Class is a very well thought-out car.
Commuting too is an absolute breeze. The live traffic information might not be as good as what BMW provides with its Connected Drive software, but navigation is clear, selecting a good radio station from the standard DAB+ tuner is easy and even the idle-stop function doesn’t feel intrusive.
Steering is light, visibility good and it’s a pretty relaxing place to spend time, even when bumper-to-bumper along Alexandra Avenue.
But, while at each end of the driving spectrum, commuting and touring, the E300 is a very accomplished car, it’s the middle bit, the sportier and more dynamic zone, where it falls a little short.
The air-chamber suspension, in the default Comfort setting, can feel under damped on undulating or choppy surfaces, the car wallowing and floating, and occasionally slapping around, more than you would like.
Drop it into Sport, and things become a bit more measured, but now the 2.0-litre engine feels strained and almost underpowered, especially if you are pointing the Merc at some twisting and climbing corners.
The nine-speed 9G-Tronic transmission, which manages more regular driving so smoothly and quietly, is now a little slow to react. Step on the gas out of a corner, and there is a definite response gap as the gearbox and engine try to figure out the best approach to your driving style.
That smooth, relaxed nature you were used to around town, now seems much more hurried and stressed. As tempting as it is, I don’t want to draw parallels to the result of me shifting from a perambulatory stroll to a guts-out sprint… as I’m sure you’ll do that on your own.
But thinking of the car like this, helps it all make better sense.
The more mature 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 is, at its core, a conservative and predictable executive sedan. If the car had a LinkedIn profile, you’d say it had been successful and was at the height of its career.
That said, being 40 means there is an expectation of sensible and conservative behaviour, but still an acceptance that you’ll step outside the lines now and then.
Sure, try too hard to be youthful, and some of the cracks will show, but it doesn’t hurt every now and then, nor does it spoil the overall experience if you occasionally let your hair down.
Even if you get to the point where you feel that you need a more definitively sporty E-Class, then Mercedes offers the AMG E43. This is, after all, the brand with an answer for all questions.
Regardless, the E-Class is still the benchmark executive sedan, this E300 the balance of the range, a comfortable and capable adult, with a twinkle of youth still hiding beneath the seams.
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