There’s something wonderfully calming about driving the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic sedan. The world outside might be going to hell in a handbasket, but here, in the cabin of the car that in many ways still defines the Mercedes-Benz brand, is a continuity that soothes the soul. Sure, there’s way more visual bling than there used to be—the engineers that created the Bauhausian W124 E-Class in the 1980s would be aghast at the glittery decoration adorning its 21st century successor, inside and out. But they would recognize the effortless competence of its powertrain, the studied confidence of its chassis, and the quiet efficiency with which its technology lends the driver a helping hand.
The E 450 4Matic is top dog in a four-model lineup of the face-lifted W213 E-Class Mercedes-Benz scheduled to arrive in U.S. dealers later this year. Apart from new interior trim, exterior paint, and wheel options, the 2021 model year visual upgrades include a new hood—with twin power domes that recall iconic Mercedes sports cars of the ’50s—and a new front fascia with a more aggressively shaped grille. At the rear is a new trunklid with a vestigial lip spoiler, new taillights, and a new rear bumper with the now obligatory fake exhaust outlets.
The redesigned panels have eliminated some of the flaccid surfacing of the current E-Class and subtly changed its proportions. The revised hood and forward-leaning grille aperture, combined with the new trunk that eliminates the awkward droopiness of the previous car, give the redesigned E-Class a more confident gesture that works better with the long dash-to-axle.
Inside is a new dash with the MBUX instrument and infotainment displays on a pair of co-located 12.3-inch touchscreens, a new touchpad control on the center console, and a new steering wheel, too, with touch-control buttons on the spokes. Standard equipment includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and heated front seats with memory adjustment.
Available options include augmented video navigation, which overlays instructions on a live video feed from the front of the car, and a driver assistance package that includes a route-based speed adaptation system that allows the adaptive cruise control to automatically adjust the speed of the car by referencing map data. Luxury options include a panoramic roof, Burmester audio system, and massaging seats.
While the entry-level 2021 E 350 and E 350 4Matic sedans are powered by the same 255-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 engine as the outgoing models, the E 450 4Matic has the new mild-hybrid M256 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 under its double-bubble hood. The same powertrain used in the CLS 450, GLE 450 and GLS 450, in E-Class spec it delivers 362 hp from 5,500 rpm to 6,100 rpm, and 369 lb-ft from 1,600 rpm to 4,000 rpm, the same peak outputs as the outgoing twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6.
Although Daimler has yet to release official numbers, expect the 0 to 60 mph acceleration time to be right on the V-6-powered car’s 5.0 seconds, and look for a noticeable improvement in fuel efficiency, especially around town. The 48-volt system means the air-conditioning compressor is electrically driven, so the stop/start system can keep the engine off for longer periods.
The M256’s inline layout and the maximum of 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of e-motor assist offered by Daimler’s EQ Boost system makes the redesigned E 450 a silkier car to drive than its V-6 predecessor. It starts from the moment you press the start button: The 2021 E 450 wakes up rather than fires up. Shift to drive, release the brake, squeeze the gas pedal, and the Mercedes glides away, the internal combustion engine humming smoothly into life.
While cruising, the EQ Boost system allows the E 450 4Matic to coast when you lift off the gas. And when you want to hustle, it helps sharpen the powertrain’s response to torque demand, improving acceleration in gears and out of corners. Old-school German inline-sixes were all about top-end bite and needed to be revved to feel their best. This one luxuriates in a warm ocean of midrange torque that stretches from 2,000 rpm to 5,000 rpm. It still revs, though, happily kissing the 6,250 rpm redline, a lovely muted snarl audible from 4,000 rpm up.
Standard wheels are 18-inchers with run-flat all-season tires, which is why U.S.-spec E 450 4Matics are electronically limited to 130 mph. Our German-registered tester was on 18-inch alloys shod with 245/45 Pirelli Cinturato P7 summer tires, which, despite the best efforts of the optional air suspension, occasionally thumped noticeably on the rough British back roads on our drive route. With their softer tread blocks, the all-seasons should be a little more forgiving of imperfections on U.S. roads.
As with all modern Benzes, the E 450 4Matic offers a menu of drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual, which allows enthusiastic drivers to mix and match powertrain, transmission, and suspension settings the way they want. Comfort is the default mode, and in truth, it’s the car’s happy place, especially in terms of all-around ride quality. Sport mode is a nice all-around compromise for a heaving, winding back road; it just takes the edge off the secondary body motions and crisps up the powertrain’s responses. Sport+ makes the ride too lumpy.
If you want a sportier E-Class, buy the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 53 with its 429-hp version of the M256 engine and AMG-massaged transmission, 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, and air suspension. But that doesn’t mean the E 450 4Matic is dull to drive. Indeed, like the old W124, this is an E-Class that will reward an enthusiastic driver; the more you ask of it, the more it gives back, revealing ever more layers of calm capability. And for those who don’t ask, it’s happy to quietly and comfortably mooch along.
The Mercedes-Benz lineup might be awash with SUVs these days, but the E-Class sedan remains at the heart of the three-pointed star. Daimler has built sedans like this since 1946—more than 14 million of them—and although fashions and technologies have evolved, the fundamentals have not. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic is a comfortable and accomplished four-door that feels built to last.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2020 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic Sedan|
|BASE PRICE||$63,000 (MT est)|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.0L/362-hp/369-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6, plus 21-hp/184-lb-ft electric motor; 362 hp/369 lb-ft combined|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,500 lb (MT est)|
|L x W x H||194.5 x 73.7 x 57.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||21/28/24 mpg (MT est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||169/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.82 lb/mile|
|ON SALE||Late 2020|