The opposing sales trends of large luxury cars and large luxury SUVs are perfectly encapsulated by two Mercedes-Benz models.
The E-Class for now remains the German manufacturer’s signature model, and also its biggest-selling model series in its history (counting back to the 1940s and its W-prefixed predecessors).
And this tenth-generation E-Class has still shifted more than one-million units since its release in 2016, while in 2020 it was again Australia’s most popular large luxury car (if not as far ahead of the BMW 5 Series as usual).
So, not only does a new-generation E-Class warrant plenty of attention as a result, so do major updates such as the one introduced for MY21.
Exterior revisions include newly designed LED headlights and tail-lights, a reshaped grille, and new-look bumpers and boot lid. New wheel-rim designs and paints are also introduced.
There’s also new technology in the areas of safety and infotainment, plus a tweak to the E-Class range. Diesel models have been removed and there’s the arrival of a petrol-electric E300e variant.
Our focus here is on the regular petrol 2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 that carries over. Priced from $117,900 before on-road costs, it now costs exactly $10,000 more than it did in 2016. There are more features today, though, including an AMG Line bodykit and 20-inch AMG wheels that were part of an option pack back then.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 Sedan|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||190kW at 5800–6100rpm, 370Nm at 1800–4000rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10.0L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2016)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Genesis G80, Jaguar XF|
|Price as tested (before on-roads)||$124,500|
Inside, the change from 2016 to 2021 E-Class is subtle. The key differences are a steering wheel with digitised buttons and the dual 12.3-inch screens that switch from a COMAND interface to the far superior MBUX.
For the latter, this means the welcome introduction of the MBUX system that first revolutionised the company’s multimedia interface in the 2018 A-Class.
The central infotainment touchscreen display and driver cluster are sharp, vibrant and graphically excellent. They’re simple to control, too – via the touchscreen or centre console touchpad (plus shortcut buttons) for the infotainment or via steering wheel buttons for the driver display.
The digital driver display is one of the most customisable currently offered in the car industry, with different layouts and presentation themes available. Voice commands can also be initiated by simply saying, ‘Hey, Mercedes’.
An optional MBUX Interior Assistant feature uses a camera in the overhead console to read hand gestures from a front occupant for certain cabin functions, such as changing the media display or turning a reading light on/off.
This is part of a $1300 Innovation Package that also allows the navigation to be enhanced with augmented reality, where route-guidance graphics are placed over the view provided by a forward-facing camera.
If seat comfort is an essential part of any luxury vehicle, the E-Class doesn’t disappoint with nicely judged cushioning and bolstering. There’s plenty of electric adjustment, too, via Mercedes’s trademark door switches.
There’s good space in the back, though not a particularly generous amount for a car that’s almost 5m long (4955mm). Genesis’s new E-Class rival, the G80, is only 40mm longer yet its rear cabin seems palatial in comparison.
The bench cushion could be longer for improved under-thigh support, and the optional panoramic sunroof is a worthwhile investment to introduce more light into the cabin, especially if you opt for the all-black interior of our test car. Headroom is still plentiful with the sunroof.
Rear occupants are also served with ventilation, dual USB-C ports, and an armrest with pop-out cupholders.
Despite the E300 badge, there’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol under the bonnet rather than a 3.0-litre six-cylinder. It produces 190kW and 370Nm to offer more power and torque than the entry-level E-Class, the 145kW/320Nm E200, and also a bit more than the 185kW/350Nm found in BMW’s $119,900 530i (185kW/350Nm).
The E300’s 6.2-second 0–100km/h claim is a tenth slower than the 530i, though, and for similar money Audi’s $116,000 55TFSI offers both six-cylinder performance and all-wheel drive – a combination that also makes it a full second quicker in the standard acceleration test.
In isolation, though, the E300’s turbo four feels anything but ill-equipped for the task of shifting a 1.8-tonne sedan, partnering effectively with a nine-speed auto.
Even with the E-Class set to its more relaxed Comfort vehicle-setting mode, the drivetrain responds commandingly from low revs before feeling enjoyably muscular in its mid-range. So, the E300 feels effortless whether you’re commuting out of the suburbs or cruising on the freeway.
The engine just gets a bit vocal when pushed for faster acceleration, while fuel efficiency on test was 20 per cent higher than the E300’s claims: 10.0L/100km compared with the official 8.0L/100km.
While testing included some performance testing (where we could achieve only a 6.7-second 0–100km/h time, half a second off the claim), there was also a healthy amount of freeway driving. It’s on freeways and country roads where the E-Class delivers classic Mercedes ride quality, delivering super-composed motoring via its multi-link, air-sprung suspension. This is a great big-mileage car, with limited tyre and wind noise on freeways a further bonus.
The E300’s urban ride is less polished, where the Benz’s 20-inch wheels – wrapped in thinly profiled and stiffly sidewalled Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres – contribute to struggles with surface imperfections both small (not sufficiently absorbed) and large (noisy over potholes).
It’s difficult to fault the E-Class’s steering, which is nicely weighted for a luxury car and linear in its response. And unlike some cars today, the E300’s steering quality isn’t interfered with by an overzealous lane-keeping system.
New active safety features for 2021 include an improved AEB system that helps you avoid turning across oncoming traffic, and a steering wheel rim incorporating sensor mats for the partially autonomous steering mode, so hands can be detected on the wheel (rather than steering wheel movements being required to avoid warnings).
The Mercedes-Benz E300 is not for luxury car buyers seeking the best value. Its entry price is relatively high for a four-cylinder model, and servicing costs are more expensive than most rivals (and especially Genesis where these are complimentary for five years).
Rolling refinement isn’t perfect, either, with the E300’s stiffly and thinly sidewalled tyres not helping its cause around town or on coarser surfaces.
The E-Class is at its best on longer journeys, where its air suspension provides wonderfully cushioned comfort, wind noise is impressively muted, and the four-cylinder is sufficiently effortless.
If you’re not fixed on the badge, it’s worth exploring the new Genesis G80. If you’re set on a German large luxury sedan, then the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series also have plenty of merits.