Mercedes’ popular mid-size gets a few tweaks for ’13.
There’s just something about the way you feel as you sit behind the wheel of the latest E300 and gaze out over classic three-pointed-star emblem that just gives you that feeling that you’re in a sterling piece of machinery. A car whose heritage reaches back what may as well be eons (what’s widely accepted as the first car ever available to the public—the 1886 Patent Motorwagen–is a Benz, after all) so that you know that hat you are driving is the product of over 100 years of development. Or something like that.
Of course, the ’13 E300 4Matic is a thoroughly modern engineering expertise, especially considering it’s got a trick all-wheel-drive system (whose previous generation got its start on—you guessed it—the W124 E-Class in 1986) that uses three differentials and smart electronic traction control to keep everything copasetic when the going gets greasy.
Powering that AWD system is a 248 horsepower V6 that makes 251 pound-feet of torque and channeling all that power is a seven-speed “7G-TRONIC PLUS” auto transmission which you can shift on your own via steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The only issue here is that unlike pretty much every other automatic transmission you’ll find in cars today, in the E300 the shift lever is actually mounted to the steering column as opposed to the center console. When you take into account that the cruise control, indicator stalk and paddle shifters all join the shift lever there, it can get a little crowded; the most frustrating aspect is the fact that the cruise control stalk actually sits above the turn indicator—I ended up engaging cruise control as opposed to indicating a lane change more than once, before I got used to it. Mercedes is aware of this, so look for future models—including some from the 2013 model year—to have a changed alignment. Plus, no shifter provides more room for storage and yours or your passenger’s arm to rest on the center console.
Otherwise, the ergonomics are good; ours was the sedan body style, one of three available (there’s also a coupe and wagon) but even in our tester there’s room enough for four adults comfortably, trunk space is ample and, at 540 litres, more than what’s provided by a BMW 5 Series sedan or Audi A6 and your overall interior dimensions are generous. At 6’3”, headroom is important to me and thanks to the E300’s traditional three-box shape and tall (1,474 millimeter) roofline, there’s plenty of that here both front and back. More than being an advantage solely for rear seat passengers, the ample headroom in the back also means that as the driver, you get a better view of the goings on behind you because the passenger’s heads don’t take up as much of your field of vision. The view forward, meanwhile, is mostly unobstructed thanks to some nice, thin A-pillars and tall windscreen.
Styling-wise, other than being a tad Germanic inside (plain-faced—yet clear and new for 2013—gauges, no fancy bluey lighting, etc.), the E300’s interior is a classy affair. Leather covers a healthy amount of interior surfaces—at least, all those surfaces frequented by stray elbows and knees and what isn’t leather is either high-grade plastic or real wood; as modern as some of Mercedes’ products are, some good ol’ fashioned wood paneling still has its place on the dash and door panels. Then again, go ahead and swap the wood (of which there are three types) for some brushed aluminum—at no extra charge—if you want to modernize the proceedings inside.
On the Infotainment and creature comfort fronts, our E300 was as loaded as you can get, with a whopping $5,900 dollars in various interior add-ons including the $800 Driving Assistance Package (lane keeping assist, blind spot assist), $1,200 Entertainment Package (14-speaker harman/kardon surround sound, Sirius sat radio) and $3,900 Premium Package (Parktronic parking guidance, rear window sunshade, heated steering wheel, COMAND navigation, rear-view camera, power trunk).
The one option package here I’d leave out is the Driving Assistance package; as cool as it is to have the steering wheel vibrate when you wander out of your lane without signaling, and as common as blind-spot assist systems are becoming, I feel that these “aids” handle issues that can a properly engaged and alert driver should be able to avoid on their own. Seriously; if you’re too tired to drive and begin wandering out of your lane because you’re either losing focus or dozing off, you should be stopping, whether your steering wheel tries to vibrate you back to consciousness or not, or whether or not a big green coffee cup blinks at you from the center of the speedometer, which is what occurs when the car really senses that you’re simply too tired to drive. Then again, none of this is Mercedes’ fault; if their competition has these features, then they have to as well. The merit of all these electronic aids is perhaps fodder for another story unto itself.
The rest of the additions provided by those option packages are mostly worth the price of admission, especially what Mercedes calls the “Media Interface” included in the Premium Package. It allows you to simply grab your iPhone or iPod, plug it directly into the wire provided that connects it to the infotainment system and you’re off to the races; all your audio, video and photo files can be navigated by spinning the wheel mounted on the center console, just as you would with an iPod Classic. There’s no need to ask the system to upload anything; it is, quite literally, a plug-and-play affair—it even charges your device. And thanks to that harman/kardon set-up, your MP3’s sound great (and look great—album art is automatically displayed), almost regardless of quality. You can also navigate your sat radio with said wheel, but the fact that you have to pay such a price for Sirius when many cars are offering this as standard at certain trim levels (that start lower than our car’s $58,300 basic price), sticks in my craw a little.
If you want to use your phone, however, you still have to pair it with the car’s Bluetooth interface, just as you would in any other car or if you didn’t spec the Media Interface option in your E-Class.
Of course, all of this is just window-dressing if the car in which it sits doesn’t perform well, or doesn’t have the chassis dynamics to cash the check all that fancy Infotainment is writing. Luckily for Mercedes, the E300 is an immensely able driver and one I rather enjoyed throughout my week with it.
For me, the way a wheel feels in a driver’s hands is of utmost importance, as this is the main connection-especially in an automatic—the driver has with the car. In the E300, as is the case with a number of Mercedes products, the leather-wrapped and chunky wheel with its nice dimples for added grip and indents at the nine and three o’clock positions for your thumbs is a real gem. Like many electric-power steering set-ups, steering feel is a little numb, but I’ve felt much worse in some of the competition. Overall, I loved this part of the driving experience.
Equally responsive is the paddle-shifter system, which I used more than I usually do in other similarly-equipped cars I’ve tested. This is perhaps because the engine powerband—peak torque is available from 3,400-4,500 r.p.m.—is a juicy one that compels you to maybe kick down a few cogs more often than you would in other cars, if for nothing more than to feel the surge of power you get when doing so. There are three, more powerful, engine options—one V6 and two V8s—on offer in the E-Class line-up (there’s also torque-rich turbodiesel), but the E300 needn’t feel at all emasculated. Having said that, the BMW 528i actually makes more power, and from a four-cylinder engine…
The overall ride is good to ensure that things stay comfortable as you’re dipping into that powerband; independent multi-link suspension set-ups both front and rear make for a comfortable ride, if one that may be just a little aloof when you’re trying to push it through the bends. That being said, the E300 is not so much about an all-out assault on the twisties as it is about making sure that the ride is confidence-inspiring, smooth and comfortable on the daily grind and that’s exactly what it does. However, if you do start hoofing it a little, then rest assured that the E300′s excellent four-wheel disc brakes–featuring rotors that are both vented and cross-drilled–are more than up to the task of hauling the 1,815 kilo sedan to a stop in short order.
Having said that, if you want a little boost in the power department, there’s also an E350 available which brings the hp count above the 300 level, but stats at over $6,000 more than the E300 seen here.
Regardless of the power, you can rest assured that you’ll look smart in your E300 while you’re piloting it; it’s a fairly handsome car thanks to that proud chrome grille, dual headlight lenses and a set of creases on the sides and hood that add a touch of muscle to the proceedings. The optional Performance Package ($1,300) fitted to our car, meanwhile, provides a snazzy set of 18-inch five-spoke alloys as well as a new bodykit; ride height is also reduced.
It is a properly sorted car, the E300, to the point that it’s pretty obvious almost as soon as you sit in it why this is one of Mercedes’ best sellers. I enjoyed my time in the car and even though I would have liked just a little more excitement—a tweaked exhaust not here, a little more feel through the wheel—I would have to consider this car pretty seriously when shopping for an up-market mid-to-full sized sedan.
2013 Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic — Specifications
Price as tested: $65,750
Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, DOHC, 32 valves
Horsepower: 248 @ 6,500 r.p.m.
Torque (lb-ft): 251 @ 3,400-4,500 r.p.m.
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Curb weight: 1,815 kg (4,001 lbs)
Observed combined fuel consumption: 12.2L/100 km (19.3 US mpg)