2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- Around $56,000
- Fall 2020
What to expect
- Refreshed exterior design
- New steering wheel
- MBUX infotainment system replaces COMAND
- E 450 now powered by an inline-six mild hybrid powertrain
- A refreshed version of the fifth-generation E-Class introduced for 2017
What is it?
Though the fifth-generation E-Class has been on sale since 2017, Mercedes-Benz has done an admirable job making its midsize sedan feel new at every turn. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class takes these constant updates even further, with a refreshed exterior and a slightly restyled cabin. Overall, some additions will likely elevate the E-Class' standing even further, while one has us scratching our heads in confusion.
Up front, the headlights are redesigned to look a little less bulbous, while the taillights are slimmer than before and invoke the sleek design of the A-Class small sedan. Mercedes also rotated the grille 180 degrees for a more traditional trapezoidal shape and gave it a new pattern design similar to the one found on other new Mercedes models such as the GLE SUV.
The cabin features the same basic layout, though there is a new touchpad controller. The touchpad coincides with touchscreen functionality and the integration of Mercedes' MBUX infotainment system. A winner of Edmunds' Tech Driven Awards, MBUX is quite easy to use and features a robust voice recognition system.
We think MBUX is superior to the older COMAND interface, so its inclusion is more than welcome. But we're concerned about the new steering wheel, which features an extraordinarily unusual design. At first glance, it looks like a traditional three-spoke setup, but each spoke is split in two. This is typical for the bottom spoke, but the split sides are downright odd. With buttons on all of these split spokes, the entire wheel looks like a bit of an ergonomic mess. We'll have to drive the refreshed E-Class to find out, but sliding your hands up and down the wheel to access the controls could be distracting.
How about cool new techy stuff?
The refreshed E-Class has a few new tricks to differentiate it from other illustrious sedans. One neat feature automatically adjusts the seat to an optimal position after the driver's height is entered into MBUX. Other enhancements include traffic integration with the adaptive cruise system, so the car can begin slowing from highway speeds far in advance. When the car is stopped, the blind-spot monitor can now warn passengers if they are about to open the door into traffic coming from behind.
Finally, drivers using the E-Class' semi-automated driving features simply have to hold the wheel to keep the systems active. Previously, the driver would have to tug at the wheel to let the car know the driver was still in control.
Why does it matter?
While this E-Class generation has consistently ranked highly since its introduction, newer competitors made it clear there was room for improvement. The addition of MBUX gives the E-Class a more modern, robust infotainment system, and one with excellent voice controls that can help reduce driver distraction. Also new for E 450 models is a turbocharged inline-six engine paired to a mild hybrid system. This mild hybrid system has an electric motor that provides a bit of extra power when leaving from a stop and allows for slightly more fuel-efficient operation compared to the previous V6.
What does it compete with?
The E-Class' primary competitor has long been the BMW 5 Series. This newest model (also released for the 2017 model year) keeps the pressure on with a wealth of features and a plug-in hybrid variant for those looking for carpool access. The Audi A6, meanwhile, was recently redesigned and counts a high-tech cabin among its many strengths. And buyers looking for something sleek and stylish might want to check out the new Cadillac CT5 sedan.
The E-Class also offers itself as both coupe and convertible, which receive the same comprehensive updates as the sedan for 2021. None of the aforementioned competitors offers those body-style variants. Getting a drop-top BMW requires a move to the less prestigious 4 Series Cabriolet or moving up (significantly) to the 8 Series convertible. The only Audi option is the A5 or S5 Cabriolet, both of which lack the luxury and panache of the E-Class. And as for a convertible Cadillac, well, we stopped holding our breath a long time ago.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has long been our favorite midsize luxury sedan, and the new additions will only extend its lifespan. Now about that steering wheel ...