Smooth and sultry sedan
THE GOOD
  • Exceptional ride quality
  • Silky-smooth straight-six
  • Impressive driver aides
THE BAD
  • Cramped rear seats
  • No full-screen smartphone mirroring
  • Ventilated seats aren’t standard

To drive the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 is to let the motoring masses know that you have your wits about you.

Sensibility reigns supreme in your world, and you aren’t afraid who knows it. No, it’s not especially sexy or exciting, but that’s what an AMG-tuned E-Class is for.

Even so, the E 450 is no slouch in its own right, and this version gets its power from one of the most sultry engines around while also benefiting from a mild hybrid electrical system. Fuel savings are marginal, but it serves up shuffleboard levels of smoothness – as if the engine wasn’t enough on its own already. Add in the optional advanced driver aides, and this executive sedan easily counts among the industry’s most impressive cruisers this side of six figures.

Power: 9/10

The biggest change to the E 450 for 2021 is what you can’t see, starting with what’s under the hood. It still gets power from a 3.0L six-cylinder, but instead of two turbochargers and a V configuration it relies on a single turbo and an inline cylinder arrangement.

Straight-sixes are known for their unique soundtrack, yes; but more importantly, they’re renowned for being balanced. This new engine is exactly that, with a harmony to the firing order that can’t be felt – and that’s the point. There’s simply not even a hint of vibration or imbalance no matter the engine speed, making this one of the smoothest motors on the market.

The engine on its own makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, identical figures to the V6 it replaces. It’s only the arrival of torque that’s been tweaked, and the full serving hits at just 1,600 rpm – 200 revs sooner than before. The mild hybrid system, meanwhile, can chip in with as much as 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of instantaneous torque, helping this E-Class smoothly sprint to 100 km/h in less than five seconds.

Driving Feel: 9/10

While that’s plenty quick, this isn’t a car built for short bursts of speed – it’s made for long-distance cruising comfort. Even without its optional air suspension ($2,450), among all the cars on the market that cost less than $100,000 the E 450 counts as one of the most satisfyingly civilized and smooth. It glides down the road like a baby S-Class, while the standard adaptive dampers counter all but the most severe road imperfections without disrupting the serene ride quality.

The suspension also reacts to driver input, adding firmness during spirited driving. It’s not sports-car sharp, mind you, and the steering feels more relaxed than race-tuned; but given the overall composure on display, those are sacrifices worth living with. It’s only the tuning of the nine-speed transmission that could use some work, with occasional bouts of clunkiness around town and a tendency to respond slowly when initiating passing manoeuvres, failing to downshift in a timely manner.

Safety: 9/10

The highway really is where the E-Class is most at home – particularly with its optional advanced safety and driving aides ($3,000). Those features have also been improved for 2021, with the steering wheel now featuring capacitive sensors that detect whether hands are grabbing hold when adaptive cruise control is engaged.

Remain in control and the system handles most of the heavy lifting, keeping the car centred in its lane of travel even around sweeping bends with subtle steering inputs. The upgraded systems also work in stop-and-go traffic, while the car can manage lane changes on its own with little more than the turn signal activated. It was a good system before, but it’s been refined to the point of being among the best out there.

Beyond the optional equipment, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a self-parking system are standard, as is automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. There’s also rain-sensing wipers, seven airbags, and a so-called pre-safe system that can tighten the seatbelts, close the windows and sunroof, and even emit a sound from the stereo in order to mitigate the effect of a collision on the human body.

Comfort: 9/10

Ride quality is spectacular, especially on the highway, with the adaptive dampers doing away with most bumps and cracks in the road. Add in the beautifully sculpted front seats and the E-Class has the right stuff to gobble up hours of driving with few complaints about comfort.

The front seats offer all kinds of adjustability, as well as a kinetics program that moves the cushions to keep occupants stretched and attentive, while the dual-zone automatic climate control pumps air quietly to heat or cool the cabin as requested. Outside interference from the road and wind is dulled before it’s even noticed, too – though Mercedes will gladly sell you a $1,500 package that includes acoustically insulated glass and more sound deadening.

Styling: 9/10

Mercedes tweaked the front and rear ends of the 2021 E-Class, but this is mostly the same as the car that came out about five years ago. It’s also undeniably a Mercedes-Benz sedan, with the same shape and proportions as the smaller C-Class, just stretched slightly. It’s stylish yet unassuming, a tasteful one-two punch that isn’t easily executed.

Inside, flowing lines create a two-pod design for driver and passenger, while classic and modern touches abound. Open-pore wood trim on the dash, doors, and console is accented by ambient lighting with some 64 colours to choose from, while the round HVAC vents and speaker grilles front and back break up flat surfaces.

Features: 9/10

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the massive digital displays that adorn the dash, with Mercedes opting for twin 12.3-inch screens. The one in front of the driver stands in place of a conventional gauge cluster and is fully reconfigurable, while the one in the middle of the dash is touch-responsive and houses a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, built-in navigation with augmented reality, satellite radio, and a voice-recognition system.

The steering wheel is heated, as are the front seats, but they lack standard ventilation; to get them, expect to shell out $4,100 for a package that also adds massage functionality, as well as cabin air purification and fragrance systems. Heated rear seats aren’t standard, either, and come in a separate $3,400 package that was fitted to this tester and also includes a 13-speaker stereo, heated front armrests, keyless proximity entry, a foot-activated trunk release, and a surround-view monitor.

Other standard fare includes a panoramic sunroof with a separate fixed pane in the back, LED exterior lighting, and a companion smartphone app that provides remote alarm, start, lock and unlock, as well as real-time trip-related data like fuel level and driving range.

User Friendliness: 8/10

It’s not as if the smartphone app is flawed, per se, but it’s certainly finicky. Want to initiate a remote engine start? A series of 10 conditions must be met first, including that the windows and sunroof be closed and the alarm isn’t active. The same goes for locking the doors via the app, which can only be done if the windows are sealed.

The steering wheel controls could also be described as fussy, with touch sensors on either side that can be used to run either display. Except they aren’t the Blackberry-like thumb sensors found in other Mercedes models, including the GLA-Class, and are challenging to move delicately on the go. Even the cruise control system’s speed adjuster can be controlled via touch, with one km/h at a time added or subtracted with the slide of a finger or thumb up or down (pressing the top or bottom, meanwhile, adjusts the system by 10 km/h). Except an accidental brush from a hand can unknowingly adjust the speed, which isn’t exactly ideal.

The controls on the right side of the steering wheel are also redundant given the infotainment display is responsive to touch – and the same goes for the touchpad on the centre console. The interface is big, bright, and easy to use, however, while the navigation system features augmented reality that can overlay directions on a live camera view of the road ahead. There are also those smartphone-mirroring systems, though neither of them fills the entire display, with dead space on either side instead.

Practicality: 7/10

From the driver’s seat, controls are placed logically, while even the farthest corners of the touchscreen remain within reach (and there are those steering wheel and console controls, should you prefer them). The climate system uses physical switchgear down on the console, though it can also be called up on the infotainment screen. Either way, it’s a simple and uncluttered space, while large windows provide good visibility in all directions.

And while there’s an adequate amount of room to get settled up front, the rear seats aren’t quite as generous. With the driver’s seat positioned to accommodate your author’s 6-foot-3 frame, the footwell behind it required an awkward step-in, while headroom is lacklustre due to the slope of the roofline. It’s somewhat surprising given the size of the E-Class, with the rear accommodations feeling like those of a smaller car.

Cargo room also betrays the size of this executive sedan, though not on paper. According to Mercedes, the trunk measures some 540 L – more than the Honda Accord’s, for instance. Except while the space itself is long it’s rather shallow, with AutoTrader.ca’s cargo-testing pedal car barely fitting in the back, likely a byproduct of the packaging required to accommodate the all-wheel drive system’s rear differential. Not only does that pedal car fit with ease in the back of the Accord, but it does so in the much smaller Nissan Versa, too.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

Given the size of the E-Class, and its standard all-wheel drive and six-cylinder engine, it’s fairly efficient. Officially rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to burn 10.4 L/100 km, 7.8 on the highway, and 9.2 combined, the six-cylinder-powered E 450 does slightly better than the base version and its four-cylinder motor. It’s also similar to the Accord with its upgraded 2.0L engine – though this Mercedes runs on a diet of premium-grade gas. Even so, during an initial evaluation drive spanning 225 km skewed slightly in favour of the highway the fuel tally stood at exactly 8.0 L/100 km, while a full week of testing ended at 9.1 over some 620 km.

Value: 8/10

Like most premium brands, Mercedes is known for stashing good stuff in expensive upgrade packages. That’s the case with this car, though it’s not as bad as others – even within the automaker’s own lineup. That makes the $74,900 before freight and taxes for the E 450 rather reasonable, with the similar BMW 540i priced in the same ballpark before extras. While Genesis has undercut the entire segment with an updated G80 that looks and feels as premium as any of the others, including this E-Class, there’s a price to be paid for the understated sensibility of this Mercedes.

That price is $85,550 for the tester you see here, which includes some – though not all – important upgrades like the excellent driver-assistance suite and other creator comforts like a head-up display, heated rear seats, and soft-close doors. The package that includes ventilation and massage functionality for the front seats would push that price to nearly $90,000, but that’s not unreasonable even next to the $76,000 G80.

The Verdict

Given all the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 does right, the few areas it’s wrong are forgivable. Ventilated front seats really should be standard in a premium sedan that starts at $75,000. So, too, should heated rear ones. The touch controls on the steering wheel are also a little finicky, while accessing remote features shouldn’t feel like a missile launch order that needs to meet so many conditions first.

However, those really are minor complaints about a car that’s loaded with lots to like. There’s nothing pompous about the E-Class – it’s just well-reasoned and logical across the board. It’s so easy to live with to the point of feeling predictable, yet it also manages to be incredibly pleasing in the process.

The engine and mild hybrid system make for a deliciously smooth drivetrain, the ride quality is impeccable, and the semi-autonomous systems are among the best in the segment. It all makes this the kind of car that leads from the back, never turning heads but always impressing.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L   Model Tested 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450
Engine Cylinders Turbo I6   Base Price $74,900
Peak Horsepower 362 hp @ 5,500–6,100 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 369 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm   Destination Fee N/A
Fuel Economy 10.4 / 7.8 / 9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $85,650
Cargo Space 540 L  
Optional Equipment
$10,650 – Premium Package, $3,400; Intelligent Drive Package, $3,000; Technology Package, $2,400; 19-inch AMG 10-Spoke Alloy Wheels, $1,000; Soft-Close Doors, $550; Dash Cam, $300