By Mark Elias
Wednesday, Aug 28th, 2013 @ 11:45 am
 
Time for a change sometimes means that things don't have to be discarded on a wholesale basis. Take the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for instance.

Subtle alterations to the sheet metal by themselves hardly warrant a parade with a marching band to herald its arrival. But that would not really have been Mercedes-Benz's style.

Instead of simply nipping and tucking its bread-and-butter range, the three-pointed star brand has provided a thorough mid-cycle makeover with a new diesel engine and a host of safety technology - and it comes before we even really thought the old model needed a refreshening.

First, the obvious
The E-Class sedans and wagons have been the mainstays of the Mercedes fleet for years, waging marketplace battle against against the BMW 5-Series in particular.

For 2014, they now feature a more refined appearance that cleans things up, yielding a sleeker, more defined design. Starting at the front end is a new SLS AMG-inspired grille. For those desiring more of a luxurious appearance, with less sporting attitude, a traditional hood-mounted star and three-louver grille opening is available.

The Ponton-inspired rear fender flares have been toned down for a simpler appearance, although it's worth noting that two-door versions of the E-Class keep their sensuous curves.

The hood and front bumpers received a good seeing-to, with more elegant styling across the top, while the front bumper retains a bit of sportiness. An AMG body kit (pictured on our wagon tester) toughens things up even more when so-equipped, but we were more intrigued by the new LED head and tail lamps that really separate the 2014 model from its immediate predecessor.

The interior receives a freshening too, by way of aluminum bling bits throughout. Strictly evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it tends to give a higher quality appearance to the inside of the vehicle, firmly ensconcing it in the luxury segment that this brand competes in on this side of the pond.

As seen on TV
The real star of this E-Class extravaganza is the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive system, which recently debuted on the 2014 S-Class.

Heralded by Mercedes as the point "where comfort and safety merge into one," it is headlined by Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. Through the use of a multi purpose camera near the rearview mirror, the system now has stereo-view lenses that act as two "eyes," seeing a 3D view that reaches out as far as 550 yards. The system can detect vehicles, determining their speed and position as well as the presence of pedestrians within the camera's field of view. We know it's hyperbole, but thought it humorous when the Mercedes official said, "it almost sees in 6D."

Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, when enabled, allowed us to release our hands from the wheel momentarily while the car actually controlled itself at highway speeds by reading lane markers.

Next up, Brake Assist Plus boosts braking power when its sensors "see" another vehicle or pedestrian in its way. If necessary, it applies the brakes in the process to mitigate or avoid an impending collision. Then there's the Pre-Safe Plus with Rear-End Collision, a technology that can also identify the likelihood of a wreck by observing the vehicle two cars in front of you.

Finally, Active Lane Keeping Assist watches lane departures, where it will apply inside braking to pull a car back into its lane should it cross over without signaling or attempt to change lanes with someone in the vehicle's blind spot.

Have it 15 different ways
For 2014, the E-Class lineup (including Coupe and Cabriolet sampled earlier) is loaded with variations, but only one is new: The E250 BlueTEC, which borrows the GLK250 BlueTEC's 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel engine.

Producing 195 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, it replaces the old V6 to achieve what we estimate will be nearly 40 mpg on the highway (EPA figures are pending).

Otherwise, mere mortals have a choice between 302 pony, 3.5-liter V6-powered E350 or the 402-horse 4.6-liter turbocharged V8-powered E550. An E400 Hybrid with 302 gas horsepower and 27 electric ponies will arrive later this year.

Regardless of engine, all of these "standard" E-Classes use a seven-speed automatic transmission.

For those with the need for an extra shot of espresso, there is always the E63 AMG, which is now standard with 4Matic all-wheel-drive. Topping out at 155 mph, it achieves zero to 60 in 3.6 seconds. Those who simply must have something a little bit extra can now choose from the high-speed AMG S-model, which tops out at 186 mph with a zero to 60 mph time of 3.5 seconds.

Notably, Mercedes-Benz will only sell you an E-Class wagon in two flavors: E350 4Matic or E63 4Matic.

Wheel time
The bread and butter E350, which we tested in wagon form, is well suited to the vehicle and most likely the powerplant of choice for most E-Class buyers. Power arrives smoothly from the 302 ponies delivering their twist to the seven-speed automatic transmission, which we thought to be geared a touch too high for our travails up and down mountain logging roads about two hours outside of Portland. We did enjoy counteracting that effect through the use of the new short-term manual-mode, which allowed temporary use of the standard paddle shift levers to drop a gear for quicker acceleration. Once a proper cruising speed was achieved, it again reverts to fully automatic mode.

Speaking of levers, the drive select lever that was formerly mounted on the center console is now located on the steering column. While most drivers will likely find the available sport setting a little harsh, it was our click of choice for its firmness. Economy, the standard mode, provides a more coddling feel more expected of a Mercedes-Benz.

Always a fan of hot wagons, we were instantly enamored by the AMG trim package that equipped our mount, even if it was just using the standard 3.5-liter V6.

But what really got our attention was the E250 BlueTEC. It might lose 15 horsepower compared to last year's E350 BlueTEC, but we found that, even driving using our worst behavior, we achieved an impressive 34.1 mpg. Moreover, the engine is buttery smooth and plenty powerful in real world situations.

Regardless of engine, the E-Class' electric power-assisted steering returns, offering progressive, accurate road feel. In other words, it adapts to all vehicle speeds and needs. Naturally, the E proved more nimble and planted in Sport mode, but more luxurious in Economy.

Leftlane's bottom line
Mercedes-Benz continues to take nothing for granted in the luxury mid-large segment. With the addition of a new, more efficient E250 BlueTEC, there's a new, more compelling way to have your cake and eat it too.

Fans of big V8 power had best hurry as this will be the last go round for the E550; limited demand has Mercedes-Benz sticking with its more efficient - and more powerful (read: AMG) models.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC base price, $51,400.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 base price, $51,900.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic (sedan or wagon) base price, $54,400.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid base price, $56,700
2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic base price, $61,400.

Photos by Mark Elias.