2021 Mercedes-Benz E350: The Understated Luxury Sedan
The updated E-Class is really good, even in non-AMG form.
Refreshed for 2021, the perfectly-sized Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan offering may get overlooked by buyers who opt for the bigger SUV offerings. Mercedes still bangs out a damn good sedan with the E-Class, and you don't have to drop a ton of cash on an AMG model to enjoy one.
Recently I have had a go in a couple other E-Class models, but wanted to see how the normal sedan got on. With the most basic engine option selected, checking out how well Mercedes' middle-of-the-road sedan pleases an enthusiast driver should be a good challenge.
The Key Numbers
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E350 gets the popular 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) of torque. There are also two other E-Class variants that offer a 3.0-liter turbo inline-six with the EQ Boost system, one of which gets 362 horsepower--in E450 guise--and the other is the AMG E 53 model, that gets even more power. If that's not enough, there's a 600+ horsepower setup in the E 63 S sedan that I reviewed last winter.
Hooked up to a 9-speed automatic, this E350 sedan is opted with Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, and can sprint from 0-60 MPH in 6 seconds flat. EPA fuel economy estimates are 22/30/25, and there are four dynamic drive modes--including a custom setup--to suit your economic or sporting preference.
Competing with the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Genesis G80, the E-Class is in a packed field of luxury sedans. With a base price of $56,750, the options list can take things up as you'd expect, and my Selenite Grey Metallic tester racked up some extras you'd expect on a press car to have a total MSRP of $71,990.
The Classic Luxury Sedan Experience
I think the E-Class is the perfectly-sized Mercedes, with just right proportions inside and out, perfect for four adult occupants. The 2021 exterior refresh sharpened up styling, with more subtle headlights and taillights matched with plenty of revisions inside. My tester had the acoustic comfort option box ticked, to give the E350 more cabin insulation matched with heat and acoustic absorbing side windows, which were great for noisy city conditions while cutting out some of the Texas summer heat. I also appreciated the optional ventilated front seats.
Driving the E-Class in the city is calm and composed, with just enough connection to the road while preserving a luxury sedan feel as you cruise along. The turbocharged 4-cylinder is reasonably responsive, but it's not intended to please the enthusiast as much as it is the driver who wants the E-Class for its refinement. As part of the AMG Line package, the E350 gets better brakes with cross-drilled rotors up front, clamped down on by silver monoblock calipers, and a set of sportier looking wheels.
Equipped with Mercedes' optional Air Body Control air suspension, the E350 also boasts adaptive damping to give the occupants a steady ride in a big sedan that exhibits great control. I set up the individual drive mode to keep the chassis sporty yet the engine economical, as my week-long test included a lot of highway driving. On the toll road, the E350 covers faster miles smoothly, and is a great Autobahn cruiser.
With dynamics dialed in for the sportiest sensations, the E350 was still refined and responsive enough, but this isn't an AMG model. I don't suggest selecting the comfort mode for the steering and suspension settings if you try to have any fun during city driving, as the feedback and response are a bit muted.
The Balance Of Tech And Luxury
Mercedes has always kept its focus on new tech in cars, and the E-Class is treated to the latest kit. Sporting a pair of 12-inch displays for the instrument cluster and the MBUX infotainment system, the E350 continues the Mercedes trend of being a bit upscale and tech-focused. The E-Class gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, and this E350 I tested was treated to the upgraded Burmester audio system and a full slate of aids to keep the driver in check.
Cabin appointments are refined yet cool, with a nice blend of soft leather, wood, and metal trim. I love the contrast of the nut brown leather against more black trim throughout the cabin, matched with a black headliner. This E350 also ticked the option box to add MB-Tex trim around the upper dash and door trim, to give the cockpit a bit more style.
As is the case in nearly every new Mercedes I've tested, the E350 also gets the cool ambient lighting system. Included in the optional exterior lighting package, this E-Class sports LED intelligent headlights with an adaptive assist. What's new in the 2021 E-Class are new steering wheel controls that ditch the expected buttons and wheels that get replaced by touch control buttons that require a certain adjustment period.
The Good Stuff
The refreshed 2021 E-Class styling is attractive. Everything was sharpened just enough to make it look as refined and luxurious as it is cool. Inside the cool factor carries over, yet everything is intuitively designed. Touch points are great, while continuing placement and interaction you'd get in Mercedes models from generations back. I appreciate that level of continuity. The level of fit and finish is exceptional too, but you expect that from Mercedes.
Also smart is allowing MBUX to be controlled via trackpad or touchscreen, in case you have a preference. I tend to gravitate toward touchscreens, and the 12-inch display in the E350 is great, not making a driver reach too far to use it. The natural language understanding feature within MBUX is great. You can simply tell Mercedes things in context, and the car can adjust. For example, you can say "Hey Mercedes, I'm cold." and the car will acknowledge and announce that the temperature is being adjusted up.
I need to make it a standard test in more reviews, because the Whataburger 32-oz cup (that's a medium, according to the Texas-based company) fit is important. The E-Class does well, keeping the big cup secured, but using the cupholders closes off access to the spot Mercedes designed for you to store your phone.
Not So Great Things
Appreciating that more OEMs are focused on increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions, this engine isn't juiced up enough for a car of this size and weight. In E350 trim, the turbocharged 2-liter isn't as responsive or as powerful as the 48v mild hybrid-upgraded inline-six you get in the E450, which is the engine I'd spend more to get.
Getting used to the new touch controls on the E-Class steering wheel definitely takes some adjustment, and fortunately Mercedes allows drivers to adjust the taptic sensitivity. Having reviewed a few 2021 E-Class models in the past year, I've gotten more adjusted to using these steering wheel controls.
Average drivers won't notice much of a difference, but Pirelli's Cinturato P7 tires are some of the worst I've tested. Pirelli makes plenty of great tires, but these are louder than they should be, and offer so little grip and feedback considering the class and cost.
A Great Luxury Sedan For The Middle-Aged
Reasonably-sized luxury sedans are getting overlooked for SUVs these days, but I still prefer the proper four-door. In non-AMG guise, you're more likely to spot an E-Class at your dentist or lawyer's office, but that doesn't make it any less great. Mercedes continues to sell an exceptional luxury sedan in the E-Class, and this 2021 model is better than expected. Versus an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes easily gets my nod.
As far as performance goes, the E350 isn't enough for me, but thankfully Mercedes offers several engine options to satisfy any driver. Once you've selected the power plant that makes you happy, the rest of the E-Class will smoothly move you along on your commute, road trip, or weekend run along a fun route, and will do so with high levels of luxury.