The stretch of road known as the I-5 from, say, Bellingham all the way to Portland is at certain times of the day a basic rush-hour situation, except at speeds that top 100 kilometres an hour most of the time. It can be a little stressful, unless you happen to be driving a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Coupe or cabriolet, wagon or sedan, take your pick, but the trip becomes a pleasurable exercise in quiet control, responsiveness, and agility, and, yes, plenty of acceleration when needed.
The E-Class comes in six configurations including a wagon and a hybrid, and the extensive updates available in Canada comprise some dramatic safety and performance features as well as some stylistic innovations that, while true to the DNA of the vehicle’s history, really do step up the visual presentation. It is an eye-catcher, whether you are on the I-5 or tooling around the forest roads that lead, in due course, to the Pacific Ocean.
Style, efficiency, intelligence, and for the sporty models, Mercedes-Benz likes to add the word athletic. But the devilish beauty is in the details. It’s not enough to have the adjectives; what is the new E-Class really about?
The sport-style hood has a sports grille, integrated star, and flowing lines for the bumper and slightly elongated hood, making the overall effect sleek, while sustaining some classic lines, complete with large air intakes and aluminum trim. New headlamps strike the right notes, all functions coming through a single lens while retaining the superb, almost iconic “four-eyed” look that remains an E-Class hallmark.
There are virtually limitless design features for the interior that can be specially ordered. However, a two-part trim on the dashboard, three-tube instrument cluster, and analogue clock are all standard. It is an exceedingly comfortable driver space, with everything in easy reach.
You may have heard about all the new technology, predicated on safety standards and, to some degree, driver ease, including such now-elementary things as self-parking options. Mercedes has long been a technology leader, with such programs as Pre-Safe and Distronic Plus. The whole thing is labelled by them as Intelligent Drive, and for all intents and purposes, the future is now. Futuristic sensors and their sets of algorithms are here, all part of the new Stereo Multi-Purpose Camera. It is located near the rear-view mirror on the windshield, and it has two sets of eyes, set at 45-degree angles, which yield a three-dimensional view of the surrounding area up to a distance of 50 metres. The camera gathers data for many of the vehicle’s systems, including detection of other vehicles to the front, either oncoming or crossing, and pedestrians also.
Enhanced versions of the existing Multi-Mode Radar sensory system include Collision Prevention Assist. Driver inattentiveness, even drowsiness, all elicit warnings from the system. A Pre-Safe brake boosts braking power if the system determines the need, as a result of either other vehicles or pedestrians. Imminent rear-end collisions trigger a wholesale release of occupant safety measures to reduce impact force on passengers.
So, while it is comforting to know that there is, in effect, no blind spot in these cars, since lights and sounds will warn the driver of any proximate vehicles in dangerous positions, there is still the sheer exhilaration of driving an E-Class. Diesel and hybrid options are available, and the fuel economy on all models is exemplary. But nothing quite beats the feeling as you take a series of hairpin turns on the way to Chehalis Lake as if they were nothing more than an on-ramp to the Trans-Canada, or knowing that passing the lumber-laden semi-trailer in front of you will be a matter of three seconds, tops. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel, but know that the entire system in the car is doing the same.