One sausage, three lengths. I've seen the new E-Class, and while I can't show you a picture of the car's exterior, you've already seen it anyway if you've looked at the C-Class and S-class. Positioned between the two with typically Germanic precision, the E's a handsome beast, while simultaneously totally unsurprising in silhouette.
The new innards of the E-Class mark a definite departure for the M-B mainstay mid-sizer.
However, that's just the wrapping. Aside from sport-coupes and AMG products, Mercedes are more about interior comforts than exterior shouting. If the exterior is reserved apart from trickle-down S-Class touches like the LED-studded headlights, the new innards of the E-Class mark a definite departure for the M-B mainstay mid-sizer. So let's take a look.
The main element that immediately grabs your attention is the new high-resolution display replacing both the driver's instrument panel and central COMAND screen. The C-Class still has that unintegrated central screen, but the E-Class skews higher, basically giving off the feel of a lower-case-s-class. It looks great, bringing the car several leaps forward into the future, and allowing for three-mode configurability and better navigation integration.
The three modes – Sport, Classic, and Progressive – aren't wildly different in layout, just more a change in looks. Sport, for instance, apes the current AMG GT3 car's yellow and grey look, while Progressive ditches the tachometer entirely so that you can have fuel economy displays to the left and navigation to the right.
Along with the look of the driver's instrument panel, there's also several displays available to replace the right-hand tachometer. For instance, you can now embed a smaller version of the navigation display right in front, handy for urban travel.
While it's covered by a single piece of glass, the instrument panel and centre screen are actually two separate displays, each 12.3-inches on the diagonal with a resolution of 1920 x 720 pixels. Both are clear and bright, and while effort was made to give the same floating appearance that you see in the S-Class, it's a much more cohesive look than the C-Class currently offers.
New for Mercedes, and something not yet offered in the S-Class, is the introduction of two small capacitive controls on the spokes of the steering wheel. The leftmost one lets you scroll through instrument panel functions, where the right one is a short cut for the centre display. There's also the expected and familiar central controller with its touchscreen and dial. Voice command functions are also similar to what you already get throughout the Mercedes range.
The capacitive controls are a very helpful adaptation in making COMAND easier to, uh, command. Just a few minutes of fiddling is required to figure out how best to use them, and they make navigating Mercedes' wealth of menus and submenus quite easy.
The centre screen contains everything you'd expect to have for infotainment and navigation functions, with the ability to zoom down to 20m resolution for the latter. Mercedes also had an app for the European market that listed fuel prices underneath local gas stations – such a thing would be neat to have in the Canadian market, as an E-Class “knows” whether it's meant to be filled with gasoline or diesel.
Surrounding the display screens, embedded in the doors, and circling the centre console are strips of configurable LED lighting. You can change these into 64 different ambient lighting colours, from virile red to soothing white. They're not tied to any of the configurable drive modes or instrument panel modes, and you can certainly pick something to clash with your interior colour if you wish.
The centre console comes again in piano black, though it was indicated that a wood treatment would likely be available when the car comes to market. That's good news: the shiny black surface is prone to smudging and a couple of the display cars were already looking a little scratched up.
There are a number of materials you can pick to best trim your E-Class with the desired look. The sportiest-style variant is knitted aluminium, perhaps a subtle indication that the carbon-fibre craze has reached its apogee and manufacturers are now looking for something else.
Several wood styles are on offer, including a handsome matte-finish arrangement, or you can opt for the layered wood an aluminium look. Paired with a lighter interior, this last is a lovely break from the dour bleak black or grey interiors you often see on dealer lots.
The E-Class's seats are also uniquely restyled, all featuring a “collar” designed to hide the adjustment points for the headrest. All seats feature reasonably side-bolstering, with the AMG-look Designo seats hugely aggressive, perhaps more than any non-AMG E-Class driver will ever really need. Seat controls are still on the doors, a Mercedes hallmark, and the driver can hit a button to control a passenger's seat (either helpfully, or just to be annoying). Well-equipped vehicles get most of the massage functions you currently get in the S-Class, including something called hot stone massage, which will relax you to the point of passing out.
Also onboard but not yet tested out were all of the S-Class driver-assist functions, including lane-keeping and speed-adjusting cruise-control. Audiophiles will also have the option to order the same Burmester 3D audio currently available in the S-Class; actually, the E-Class gets an improved, second-generation version.
This latter is absolutely ridiculous. There's a VIP mode that targets premium sound to any of the four seating positions, and the sound quality is good enough to (as demonstrated) make it feel like Adele is right there with you yelling in your ear. The motorized deployment of the tweeters is undoubtedly more theatre than function, and the roof-mounted speaker does look a little tacked-on, but there's no denying the quality of the system.
Other miscellany: they've finally got rid of the plug-in key in favour of a push-button starter across the range; the multi-LED headlights and taillights now project further and brighter; and expect the same engine choices to emerge, save with the power updates we see in current 2016 models.
The proof of the sausage, as the saying goes, will be in the eating. Still, based on the strong performance of the C-Class and S-Class vehicles, and the way the E-Class mirrors its social better in a more compact, easier-to-handle package, this is one winner of a weisswurst. The full car reveal is planned for next month in Detroit.