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BARCELONA -- While the baby-bear C-Class is the German automaker's bestseller globally and the papa-bear S-Class is the technological flagship, the E-Class has always been Mercedes-Benz's mama bear.
A staple in the Mercedes-Benz lineup for six decades, not only is the mid-sized E-Class one of the brand's bestsellers -- especially in emerging markets such as China -- it's also one of the most profitable vehicles in the industry. And for 2014, Mercedes-Benz is spending some of those funds on an unusually thorough mid-cycle refresh.
The current eighth-generation, five-passenger E-Class sedan and wagon have been around since 2009. And even with a new generation expected for 2016, Mercedes has this year wrought the type of changes we'd normally see on an all-new car.
For example, almost every piece of exterior sheet metal on the 2014 E-Class has been redesigned. The interior has been thoughtfully refined too, and many of the driver-assistance systems scheduled for the next S-Class luxo-barge are being introduced on the mid-line E this year.
What hasn't changed is one of the pillars of the E-Class brand: passenger safety. So, except for the built-to-order, rear-wheel-drive E 400 Hybrid, all Canadian-market E-Class models for 2014 come standard with the brand's 4Matic all-wheel drive -- even the high-performance E 63 AMG models.
The gas-fired 2014 E 300 sedan, E 350 sedan and wagon six-cylinder models and the turbocharged eight-cylinder E 550 sedan will use carry-over engines. Every E uses the automaker's seven-speed autobox. Canadian pricing for the 2014 E-Class range hasn't been announced, but I expect only minor increases across the model range.
Inside, the 2014 E-Class cabin's redesign is more evolutionary than revolutionary. If not as ergonomically correct as an Audi A6, build quality remains as solid as a Swiss bank. The centre console design has been redesigned with crisper lines and a new, large central screen sits at the top, with the unique Splitview technology that allows the driver to see the navigation and the passenger to watch a movie.
Ahead of the next S-Class, the new E-Class will offer the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive system, seemingly the next step toward autonomous driving. This includes the new stereo camera (which can "see" obstacles 50 metres away, including pedestrians, and stop the car if necessary), lane-keeping system (it can detect and avoid oncoming traffic in an adjacent lane), and braking assist (detects oncoming traffic from side roads), Intelligent Drive combines 11 safety systems into a cohesive safety net.
Later this fall, the current E 350 BlueTec 4Matic turbocharged-diesel six-cylinder gets replaced by the new E 250 BlueTec 4Matic. It uses the same 2.1-litre, turbocharged-diesel four-cylinder as per the GLK 250 BlueTEC 4Matic compact SUV, where it makes 190 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.
I didn't get a chance to drive the Euro-spec turbo-diesel E 250 during the media drive Mercedes-Benz organized just outside of Barcelona, but what I did get to pilot was another new power plant that's heading our way: the E 400, sporting a new, turbocharged V-6, speculated to be the eventual successor to today's E 550 V-8.
Not to be confused with the current E 400 gas-electric hybrid, this E 400 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0L gas six-cylinder engine. And after driving a Euro-spec E400 Sedan, I suspect typical luxury sedan drivers won't be slapping their heads saying, "Geez, I coulda had a V-8!"
The twin-turbo E 400 puts out 329 hp and 354 lb-ft, which is obviously down from the 402 hp and 443 lb-ft the twin-turbo 5.5L eight powering the E 550 generates. So it's a bit slower to 100 kilometres per hour than the turbo V-8, but will obviously be less thirsty at the pumps. Noticeable was the lower weight the E 400 Sedan had to carry around than the E 550 sedan I also drove.
Any non-AMG E-Class is comfortable, and won't be mistaken for a sports sedan. But the E 400 tackled the twisty Spanish two-lanes we were driving with more delicacy and precision than the heavier E 550. As well, the blown V-6 is smooth and refined when hustled. And like the V-8, the V-6 E 400 offers a carved-from-marble feel on the road. About the only thing missing was the mellifluous tone of the more pleasant-sounding eight-cylinder.
The E 400 turbo V-6 will come to Canada eventually, but Mercedes-Benz isn't saying when. I'm guessing for the 2015 model year, with the E 550 disappearing when the next-gen E-Class arrives for 2016, leaving the AMG versions as the only way to get a V-8 in the range.
With an all-new E-Class only a few years away, we would understand if Mercedes-Benz made less of an effort for this mid-cycle refresh. But with its updated styling, new power plants and state-of-the-art safety kit, feel free to tell your neighbours your 2014 E-Class really is all new.
-- Postmedia News