The claims of Mercedes marketing of being the best or nothing at all is pretty subjective, however, there is no doubt that the refreshed E450 sedan exudes high-quality materials and the satisfaction from thoroughly engineered systems that undoubtedly place the mid-size sedan at the upper crust of the luxury car segment.
Fast not Flashy
The E-Class offers a complete engine lineup for 2021 that ranges from the base four-cylinder turbocharged engine to a boisterous and electrically-boosted V8. This E450 is equipped with an all-new inline six-cylinder engine and also benefits from an integrated mild-hybrid system, termed EQ Boost. It helps the hefty 4,500-pound (est.) sedan jump off the line with immediacy as the turbocharger needs time to spool up.
The hybrid system also provides the familiar role of improving fuel efficiency by taking various auxiliary-power roles away from the engine such as running the air conditioner compressor and water pump. It also allows for highway-speed engine-off coasting and immediate engine restarts. With the electric power, the engine’s 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, and a smartly-geared 9-speed automatic transmission, the E450 is downright fast and its standard all-wheel-drive system helps ensure that it’s drama-free, as well. It will gracefully pull ahead of other traffic from a stoplight, react within a couple of heartbeats to deliver a downshift that will throw your head back, and deliver a sustained acceleration well past 80 mph.
Overall fuel economy is very good too. In fact, the EPA-estimates that it is just as efficient as the non-hybrid four-cylinder at 26 mpg combined. During my week-long stint, the E450 returned nearly 28 mpg, despite riding on soft winter tires.
The powertrain’s only discernible downsides are a lack of meaningful engine braking and any sort of invigorating sound – something that’s left to the thrilling AMG models.
Tuned for All Roads
The E450 is standard with five dynamic settings that relax or tighten the powertrain and chassis settings and actually deliver significant differences in the overall driving feel. The ultra-rigid chassis – comprised of high-strength steel and aluminum – allows the standard adaptive dampers and optional air suspension to perform at their best. Large and small bumps, smooth dips, and sharp impacts are managed with incredible coordination whether at high speed or around town, and the E450 never feels caught off-guard or needing time to reset its balance.
The air suspension has the additional advantage of lowering the car for increased high-speed efficiency or raising it for steep driveways or deep snow. Hiding behind the optional 19-inch wheels are cross-drilled ventilated disc brakes which feel as if they have endless stopping power but the braking system struggles to provide precise control during light pedal-force applications, especially at low speeds – likely due to the hybrid’s quest to recapture energy that, otherwise, would be lost.
The 2021 E-class model receives Mercedes’ iteration of driving assist systems and quickly earned my trust in its ability to safely and predictably negotiate low-speed traffic jams and act as a faithful guide during a night-time highway return trip through the mountains.
Beyond the driving assist systems, this E450 was also equipped with adaptive headlights with automatic high-beams which go beyond simply turning on and off. They first brighten the night directly ahead and then widen their coverage which not only demonstrates expertise in lighting control but also seems to allow one to stay focused on the road ahead by not being distracted by everything that is now, suddenly visible.
A Life of Comfort and Convenience
The E450 is equipped with a solid foundation, however, there are a few optional packages that continuously lead the conversation when describing the car’s lasting impressions.
The $2,300 Premium Package consists of the surround-view system which provides not just high-def images but also conveys easy-to-interpret and detailed outlines of objects that are encroaching into the car’s “safe” zones and the premium Burmester sound system that has incredible clarity and endless volume. It even utilizes the space within the instrument panel to act as a bass amplifier which also frees up more space on the door panel (and eliminates a frequent rattle-source).
The $1,320 active multi-contour seats with massage package features eight massage programs, rapid heating, and, my favorite, active side bolsters. They can rapidly (and independently) inflate to counter the force of one’s torso during moderate turns and other situations that would otherwise cause one’s head to be tossed from side to side. Furthermore, the bolsters communicate with body sensors to detect if a side-impact is imminent and then quickly inflate to push the front occupant closer to the middle of the car.
The $350 augmented video for navigation may seem a bit frivolous for those who don’t frequently use navigation, but for those that do, it’s easily worth the cost. Especially in densely packed areas where the streets may not be easily identifiable or it’s unclear if the next turn is the right one, the augmented video displays arrows and the street name to provide more confidence in the right path. Simply put, this is the next level in navigation-system user-friendliness.
A lasting impression of luxury
The E450 is an example of engineering excellence, however, the starting price of $67,000 quickly creeps up to $80,000 with a few of those tempting option packages. It is an expensive vehicle, no doubt, but at least it feels expensive. There are some obvious areas where the money was spent, such as the fit and finish and quality of the materials, but other areas where the engineers spent extra hours (and money) are less obvious but equally contribute to the feeling of luxury.
A handful of examples include special door hinges that allow for better-sealed enclosures, a heated front radar cover to foil the blocking effects of snow, a sun-roof whose position is speed-dependent for better cabin pressure control, rear seatbacks with built-in sensors to alert the driver if they are unlatched, and sunvisor clips with metal springs for more consistent holding force. It feels as if every part has been designed to make the car better to use and built with precision and solidity that makes it feel like it will withstand the test of time.
As the brand’s best-selling model of all time, the E-Class most represents the image of Mercedes. And while describing the E450 may not be as simple as the mantra in the commercials, “the best or nothing at all”, it is an incredible example of just how good the results can be with that as the driving objective.