Sure, there are bigger models with limousine aspirations and sportier models with racetrack fantasies, but the E-Class strikes an optimal balance between size, luxury and performance. And for 2014, Mercedes is pouring it on, kitting out the E-Class with enhanced telematics and imbuing the cabin with the kind of opulence reserved for flagships.
While the E-Class family includes coupe, convertible and wagon body styles, it is the basic four-door sedan that seems to be an obligatory purchase with promotion to the corporate vice-presidency. In the United States, Mercedes offers the vehicle with a 302-horsepower normally aspirated V6, a V6 hybrid powertrain and a fuel-sipping, 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel (both new for 2014), and a 402hp turbocharged V8 engine. All are equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The car can semi-autonomously steer itself to follow in-line traffic on the highway. It can brake automatically to avoid hitting pedestrians in the lane of travel. It can be outfitted with all-LED headlights for a contemporary nighttime appearance. Its surround-view camera shows a birds-eye image of the area around the car on the dash display for easier maneuvering in parking lots. In sum, the E-Class has its driver’s back.
Outside, a character line climbs from the front wheel and arches forcefully over the rear fender, giving the appearance of greater length. Toss in a revised grille incorporating a large three-pointed emblem, and the E-Class is more visually striking than it has ever been; to think it would continue to be used as a taxi in its native Germany borders on the criminal.
Though aspiring to the vice-presidency, or at least to its automotive trappings, may inspire craven coveting of the E-Class, the smarter money may be spent elsewhere.
Chrysler builds a superb 300 sedan. Though the Pentastar may not carry the cachet of the Mercedes three-pointed star, the 300 has an ace in the hole: Mercedes-engineered hardware under its skin.
Fortuitously left over from Chrysler’s fraught partnership with Daimler, Mercedes’ parent, were a number of prior-generation E-Class chassis parts. These were brought to bear on the first-generation 300 in 2004 and were further refined for the car’s redesign. This lineage is still appreciable in details such as the location of the 300’s battery – in the trunk, just like in its posh German counterpart.
The 300 was face-lifted for the 2012 model year, receiving upgraded cabin appointments and more sophisticated handling and ride tuning. Now the 300 feels properly like a frugal sibling of the E-Class rather than a cut-rate cousin.
Though chassis hardware is shared, the 300 uses Chrysler engines. For the efficiency-minded driver, the 300hp 3.6-litre V6 is a fully contemporary engine, though it is not on the cutting edge, lacking direct fuel injection. A diesel is not on offer in the US, but the European-spec 300’s 3-litre V6 turbodiesel seems a likely option in coming years.
On the V8 front, Chrysler giddily obliges. The familiar Hemi engine of Nascar, drag racing and “That thang got a Hemi in it?” TV-commercial fame appears here. Although those blue-collar credentials might seem unbecoming of an E-Class aspirant, the 363hp, 5.7-litre Hemi V8 engine is a piece of engineering worthy of respect, with features like cylinder deactivation to conserve gasoline.
Also burnishing the 300’s reputation is its being named, along with the E-Class, a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The bottom line on a 300 purchase depends, of course, on the sedan’s exact configuration, but a well-optioned 300C, with that smooth Hemi V8, can be had for under $40,000. An E350 cannot be approached for under $52,000. So when that big promotion happens and the urge for an E-Class upgrade strikes, consider a stop by the Chrysler dealership first. Fiscal conservativism is, after all, in.