There was a time when the E-Class sat in the middle of Mercedes-Benz's bread and butter zone. But more compact and affordable models from the German maker, not to mention an avalanche of SUV niche stuffers have gradually relegated it to a still significant, but lesser position in terms of volume and profile in the three-pointed star's local line-up.
For lovers of more 'traditional' Mercs, though, it remains the only way to go, and the current 'W213' version has been upgraded for 2021, with external cosmetic tweaks, revised trim combinations, the latest generation of the 'MBUX' multimedia system, and a new design steering wheel incorporating updated capacitive touch controls managing a variety of on-board functions.
And despite its relatively traditional form, the E 300 tested here boasts the latest dynamic and safety tech the brand has to offer. So, let's step into Mercedes-Benz's heartland.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2021: E300
Premium Unleaded Petrol
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
And as you'd expect, the standard features list is lengthy. As well as the dynamic and safety tech covered later, the highlights include: leather trim (also on the steering wheel), ambient interior lighting (with 64 colour options!), velour floor mats, heated front seats, illuminated front door sills (with 'Mercedes-Benz' lettering), electrically-adjustable front seats (with three memory positions on each side), 'open pore black ash' wood trim elements, dual-zone climate control, 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, an AMG Line body kit, privacy glass (tined from the B-pillar back), keyless entry and start, and 'Parktronic' parking assistance.
The sporty ‘AMG Line’ exterior treatment remains standard, bringing with it touches like 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels. (image: James Cleary)
Then there's the 'Widescreen' digital cockpit (twin 12.25-inch digital screens), the left-hand display housing the 'MBUX' multimedia system, and the right-hand screen carrying a configurable digital instrument display.
Standard audio is a seven-speaker system (including subwoofer) with four-channel amp, digital radio, and smartphone integration, as well as Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth connectivity.
There's also satellite navigation, a wireless charging system, 'Multibeam' LED headlights (with 'Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus'), 'Air Body Control' (air suspension), and metallic paint (our test car was finished in 'Graphite Grey Metallic').
The headlights have been massaged into a flatter profile in this update, while the radiator grille and front bumper have also been tweaked. (image: James Cleary)
That's a lot of fruit, even for a luxury car in the $100K plus part of the world, and solid value, really.
The only option fitted to our test E 300 was the 'Vision Package' ($6600), which consists of a panoramic sunroof (with roller sunblind and heat-insulating glass), a head-up display (with virtual image windscreen projection), and a Burmester surround sound audio system (with 13 speakers and 590 watts output).
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
Daimler's long-time head of design, Gorden Wagener, has maintained a steady hand on Mercedes-Benz's design direction in recent years. And if any automotive brand needs to carefully walk a fine line between tradition and modernity, it's Merc.
Signature elements like the three-pointed star in the grille, and this E-Class's general proportions link it to it's mid-size ancestors. Yet, the tightly wrapped body, angular (LED) headlights and the E 300's dynamic personality also mean it aligns neatly with its current stablemates.
Speaking of the headlights, they've been massaged into a flatter profile in this update, while the radiator grille and front bumper have also been tweaked.
The tightly wrapped body, angular (LED) headlights and the E 300’s dynamic personality mean it aligns neatly with its current stablemates. (image: James Cleary)
The sporty 'AMG Line' exterior treatment remains standard, bringing with it touches like the twin longitudinal 'Power Domes' in the bonnet and 20-inch AMG 10-spoke alloy wheels.
New generation tail-lights are now illuminated by an intricate pattern of LEDs, and the bumper and boot lid have been subtly revised.
So, on the outside it's a case of gentle evolution rather than daring revolution, and the result is sleek, contemporary, and instantly recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz.
Inside, the star of the show is the 'Widescreen Cockpit' - twin 12.25-inch digital screens, now featuring the latest versions of Merc's 'MBUX' multimedia interface on the left and configurable instruments on the right.
Inside, the star of the show is the ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ - twin 12.25-inch digital screens. (image: James Cleary)
The MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) uses AI to align with your preferences and can be accessed via touchscreen, touchpad, and 'Hey Mercedes' voice control. Pretty much the best in the business right now.
A new, three-spoke steering wheel looks and feels great, although the same can't be said for the latest iteration of the small capacitive controllers it contains. To quote my road test notes, "Tiny little swipes suck!"
Small, touch-sensitive pads on each of the wheel's horizontal spokes are designed to be thumb-swipeable, taking over from small, raised nodes in the previous generation of this tech.
A hands-on alternative to the centre console swipe pad, they can control a range of on-board functions, from media, to instrument layouts, and data read-outs. But I found them inaccurate and fiddly.
All E-Class models feature, ambient lighting, heated front seats, electric front seats with memory on both sides. (image: James Cleary)
In general, though, the interior is a model of carefully considered design, mixed with just the right amount of styling intensity.
Open-pore black ash wood trim, and brushed metal highlights accentuate a carefully controlled mix of gentle curves across the dash and broad front centre console.
Distinctive touches like multiple circular air vents and ambient lighting add extra visual interest and warmth. It's all expertly conceived and executed.
How practical is the space inside? 8/10
t nearly five metres long, the current E-Class is a substantial vehicle, and close to three metres of that length resides between the axles. So, there's ample opportunity to position occupants with plenty of room to breathe. And that's exactly what Benz has done.
The driver and front passenger enjoy ample head, leg and shoulder room, and in terms of storage there's a pair of cupholders in the centre console, sitting in a lidded compartment also housing a wireless charging matt for (compatible) mobiles, a 12V outlet and a USB-C port for connection to Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
A generous centre storage box/armrest includes a pair of charge-only USB-C jacks, big door bins provide space for bottles, and the glove box is a decent size.
In the back, sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm (6’0”) position, there’s lots of leg and headroom. (image: James Cleary)
In the back, sitting behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm (6'0") position, there's lots of leg and headroom. But the rear door aperture is surprisingly tight, to the point where I found getting in and out a struggle.
Once in situ, backseaters are provided with a fold-down centre armrest including a lidded and lined cubby with two pop-out cupholders emerging from the front, as well.
Of course, a centre rear passenger knocks that out of action, and although it's the short straw for foot room thanks to the driveshaft tunnel in the floor, (adult) shoulder room is reasonable.
Adjustable air vents in the rear of the front centre console are a welcome inclusion, as are a 12V outlet and another pair of USB-C ports, sitting in a pull-down drawer underneath. Plus, rear door bins also have room for bottles.
The boot offers 540 litres (VDA) of volume. (image: James Cleary)
It's also able to fit the substantial 'CarsGuide' pram, or the largest suitcase and pram combined! (image: James Cleary)
It’s able to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (124L, 95L, 36L) with room to spare. (image: James Cleary)
The boot offers 540 litres (VDA) of volume, which means it's able to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (124L, 95L, 36L) with room to spare, or the substantial CarsGuide pram, or the largest suitcase and pram combined!
The 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat backrest liberates even more space, and there are tie-down hooks to help secure loads.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The E 300 is powered by a version of Benz's 'M264' 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, an all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection, variable valve timing (on the intake side), and a single, twin-scroll turbo, to produce 190kW from 5500-6100rpm and 370Nm from 1650-4000rpm.
Over a week of city, suburban, and some freeway running we recorded a (dash indicated) average of 9.1L/100km. Thanks in part to the standard stop-start function that number isn't a million miles away from the factory claim, and not bad for a roughly 1.7-tonne luxury sedan.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded (although it'll run on 95 at a pinch), and you'll need 66 litres of it to fill the tank. That capacity translates to a range of 825km according to the factory claim, and 725km using our real world result.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 10/10
The current E-Class received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2016, and although the assessment criteria have been toughened up since then, it's hard to fault the 2021 version of the car.
A broad suite of active safety tech, designed to keep you out of trouble includes, forward and reverse AEB (with pedestrian, cyclist, and cross-traffic detection), traffic sign recognition, 'Attention Assist', 'Active Blind Spot Assist', 'Active Distance Assist', 'Adaptive High Beam Assist Plus', 'Active Lane Change Assist', 'Active Lane Keeping Assist', and 'Evasive Steering Assist.'
There's also a tyre pressure loss warning system, as well as a brake priming function (monitors release speed on the accelerator pedal, moving pads factionally closer to the discs when required), and brake drying (when the windscreen wipers are active the system periodically applies just enough brake pressure to wipe water off the brake rotors to optimise wet weather efficiency).
But if an impact is unavoidable the E 300 carries nine airbags (dual front, front side (chest and pelvis), second row side, and driver's knee).
It includes hi-vis vests for all occupants. (image: James Cleary)
It even comes with a first aid kit. (image: James Cleary)
On top of that, the 'Pre-Safe Plus' system is able to recognise an imminent rear-end collision and fire up the rear hazard lights (at high frequency) to warn following traffic. It will also firmly apply the brakes once the vehicle is stationary to minimise the risk of whiplash injuries if the car's then hit from behind.
If the potential crash is coming from the side, 'Pre-Safe Impulse' inflates air chambers in the side bolsters of the front seat backrest (within a fraction of a second) moving the occupant to the side towards the centre of the car, away from the impact area.
There's an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, an auto emergency call function, 'Crash Response Emergency Lighting', even a first aid kit and hi-vis vests for all occupants.
Three top-tether hooks are installed across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions for safe installation of baby capsules or child seats.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Mercedes-Benz Australia's new car range is covered by a five year/unlimited km warranty, with 24-hour roadside and accident assistance included for the duration.
Recommended service interval is 12 months or 25,000km, with pricing for a three-year (pre-paid) plan set at $2450, a $550 saving overall relative to its three year, pay-as-you-go 'Service Solutions' capped price program.
And if you're happy to fork over a little more up-front, there's a four-year service deal at $3200, and five years coming in at $4800.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
At close to 1.7 tonnes the E 300 is pretty trim for its size, especially given its level of standard equipment and safety tech. But the ability to sprint from 0-100km/h in a little under seven seconds is still impressive.
The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four delivers its maximum torque (370Nm) across a broad plateau from 1650-4000rpm, and with nine ratios in the slick-shifting auto transmission, it's generally operating somewhere in that Goldilocks zone.
So, mid-range pick-up is satisfyingly strong and the twin-scroll turbo helps with rapid, linear power delivery, from step-off or in-gear. The only odd sensation is six-cylinder performance arriving with a relatively high-pitched four-cylinder soundtrack when accelerating enthusiastically.
A double wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension set-up is classic E-Class, and thanks in no small part to the selective damping system and standard air suspension, ride quality (especially in 'Comfort' mode) is exceptional.
All E-Class models feature, ambient lighting, heated front seats, electric front seats with memory on both sides. (image: James Cleary)
Despite 20-inch rims and sporty Goodyear Eagle rubber (245/35fr / 275/30rr), the E 300 irons out small corrugations, as well as bigger bumps and ruts, effortlessly.
The electrically-assisted steering points accurately and turns progressively (as in, it's not overly sharp or darty) and road feel is good. The brakes (342mm fr / 300mm rr) are progressive and reassuringly powerful.
Some auto brands have a reputation for doing seats well (Peugeot, I'm looking at you) and Mercedes-Benz is one of them. The E 300's front seats somehow blend long-range comfort with good support and lateral stability, and the rears (at least the outer pair) are neatly sculpted, too.
In short, this is a quiet, comfortable, long-distance touring car as well as a civilised city and suburban luxury sedan option.
It may not be the shining star it once was in terms of sales, but the Mercedes-Benz E-Class can hold its head high for refinement, equipment, safety, and dynamic performance. It's beautifully put together, and technically impressive - a sleek update of Benz's traditional mid-size formula.
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