Handsome ... and so is the price
The price is $145,900, a rise of $14,000 — you get more metal for your dollar as the previous model was based on the smaller C-Class. It’s $35,000 more than the E300 but there is added oomph from the twin-turbo V6 (245kW), all-wheel drive, very good 13-speaker Burmester audio, head-up display, sunroof and metallic paint. The interior design is top-notch, with two huge digital displays dominating the dash and a choice of colours for the ambient lighting.
The E400’s air suspension can be set up for boulevard cruising (comfort mode) or sportier driving. In comfort mode it soaks up bumps well but feels too floaty and wobbly over corrugations and bumps. Sports mode is an improvement but occasionally the suspension runs out of travel and thumps disconcertingly. The cabin is supremely comfortable, with supportive bolsters on the seats and a surprising amount of shoulder and kneeroom for rear passengers, once they’ve squeezed past the front seats.
You’d have to be pretty incompetent to crash the E400. On the freeway it can keep a safe distance between you and the car in front, slamming on the brakes if you’re not paying attention. Around town, it can prevent or mitigate the effects of a collision with a pedestrian. The Benz will keep an eye on you during longer trips, monitoring your steering inputs to recognise any signs of fatigue. If you have a microsleep, the car can steer for you if the road is properly marked. If you take your hands off the steering wheel it will warn you then slow the car if it gets no response.
The E400’s autonomous driving features are impressive and the temptation is to let it do all the work. But on a twisting road, it’s more fun to be in control. The big car feels agile. It’s no sports car but the steering is accurate and well weighted and there’s loads of grip through corners. The suspension feels more settled the faster you go. The V6 is a strong, silent type, although there is a hint of a growl at higher revs. Matched to a nine-speed auto, it gives effortless performance without pinning your ears back.
Lexus RC F coupe, $138,240 Cheaper and comes with 5.0-litre V8 that puts out 351kW. It’s not nearly as accommodating for rear passengers, though, and can’t match the Benz’s safety tech. Infiniti Q60 Red Sport, $88,900 More than $50,000 cheaper and delivers similar performance from its 298kW twin-turbo six, but as with the Lexus, the rear seat is cramped. Can’t match the elegance of the Benz’s cabin nor the safety tech.
Nothing comes near the Benz for cabin quality, hi-tech instrument readouts and semiautonomous driving . You’ll pay handsomely for the privilege.