If you're going to mess with a good thing, at least make it look better. That wasn't the spoken mission of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but it may as well have been.
The modern E-Class is an exercise in oozing competence, in maxing out all poles of the engineers' spider charts. It's also one of the most profitable ventures in the automaker's portfolio. No, the E-Class is not the right destination for risky, dramatic changes.
A Little Goes a Long Way
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a midcycle refresh, and the face-lift is most obvious in the front, where more gracefully contoured headlights perch above larger air intakes, softening the more severe, conservative look of the outgoing E-Class' nose. Sheet metal tweaks continue in the rear flanks (new stamping dies here make for an expensive face-lift at the manufacturer's end). Gone is the awkward, downward-sloping crease just ahead of each rear wheel arch, replaced with a subtler, straighter one. It's as though the designers took a mulligan on that one. You might not notice that the rear taillights and bumper are new, too.
As on the C-Class, two grille treatments will be available on the 2014 E-Class. Luxury models locate the three-pointed star in its traditional location atop the hood, while Sport models integrate a tapas-plate-size emblem dead center in the grille and two horizontal bars instead of three.
These are incremental alterations, then, but ones that collectively manage to add a splash of come-hither to the heretofore upright, all-business E-Class. We're told these changes were intended to harmonize the look of the E-Class with the design language of the upcoming all-new C- and S-Class, too. In the recent past, each class struck a unique design direction, but designers wanted to create a more familial look across the model range. The 2014 E-Class is the first fruit of that effort.
Carryover V6 and Hybrid, New Diesel
Beyond the visual enhancements, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class introduces a few changes under the hood intended to boost fuel economy. All models receive electric power steering, and the E350 Bluetec and its 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 make way for the E250 Bluetec, which sports a 2.1-liter turbodiesel-4. The normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 in the E350 carries over intact, as does the electrically augmented version of this powertrain in the E400 Hybrid. Every model carries the company's seven-speed autobox, and nothing else.
Get your V8-powered non-AMG E-Class while you can. The stonking, 402-horsepower twin-turbo V8-powered E550 will still be available in 2014, but it won't last long. In 2015 the E550 will be dropped. In its place will be the E400, powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that generates 329 hp and 354 pound-feet of torque.
Four Is the New Six
Until then, it's the E250 Bluetec diesel that marks the biggest departure in the 2014 E-Class. Churning up 195 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, this engine is said to deliver better fuel economy than the outgoing V6 diesel, though EPA numbers are still pending. And although the diesel didn't find its way Stateside in the wagon variant, for 2014 the oil-burner can now be had with all-wheel drive. Baby steps.
We spent some time running a European-spec version of the little diesel through its seven gears to get a flavor for the new mill. Caveat: This one does without the urea injection system that will be present on U.S.-bound models and makes a few more ponies in the process.
Although it gives up 31 lb-ft of midrange torque to the erstwhile E350 Bluetec, the four-cylinder turbodiesel makes for a surprisingly good facsimile of the bigger engine. Torque builds seamlessly even from very low revs and there's no shortage of thrust. Its indifferent soundtrack doesn't stir the soul, though many people may not be able to peg it as a diesel simply by the way it sounds. There's zero clatter and no smoke. Modern diesels have become remarkably refined, and this one's no exception.
Boost response is perhaps even sharper in the smaller diesel, and the lighter engine makes the front end feel a bit less leaden, so it's more eager to change direction. It's certainly no sport sedan, of course, as the steering ratio is too slow and downshifts don't arrive as quickly as they could.
Still an E-Class
Storming apexes has never been what the diesel Benz has been about. The bomb-shelter robustness that we've come to love about the current generation of E-Class is just as present as ever in the 2014 model. There's terrific isolation, from its imperviousness to violent crosswinds to the serene cabin and plush appointments. Revisions to the interior are minor, and rightfully so.
The electric power steering system does not feel appreciably different from the outgoing hydraulic rack, though the latter system could not be described as particularly involving. If mimicking the existing helm was the goal, we'd say Mercedes has achieved it. The new steering plays a key role in a new suite of technologies including a lane keeping function. Other tricks like automated parking didn't make the jump across the pond.
We also took a turn in the upcoming 2015 Mercedes-Benz E400 and found that the biturbo-6 moves it with authority. It transitions into boost imperceptibly, never feeling flat-footed, and strides to the redline with enthusiasm. It's no blown V8, though, and the E400's reduced urge (and more tepid soundtrack) relative to the E550 doesn't go unnoticed when you're behind its wheel. One-point-seven fewer liters will tend to do that. However, it is likely that the E400 will be priced somewhere south of the E550. It had better be, anyway.
Gasoline-powered models reach showrooms in May, while the diesel will be available a few months hence. Pricing for the nipped and tucked E-Class hasn't been announced, but we expect minor increases on the order of a couple hundred dollars here and there across the model range.
As successful face-lifts go, that's a bargain.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.