It’s the question keeping product planners awake late at night: Do we keep designing and manufacturing coupes and sedans if the vast majority of vehicle shoppers are buying utility, extra headroom, a high seating position and, in many cases, rugged offroad-ability?
The trendline is clear, but American tastes can change on a dime so automakers must tread carefully before abandoning nameplates that established brand equity well before SUVs and CUVs became so popular.
In Stuttgart, Mercedes-Benz rightfully holds the E-Class, which dates to 1946, as the brand’s heart and soul. This month, a refreshed 2021 E-Class family arrives at U.S. showrooms, where it will tempt affluent shoppers who might need utility but deep down inside want a more dynamic coupe, convertible, wagon or sedan.
Each of these models in the E-Class portfolio plays an important role by drawing in consumers with top-down exhilaration (cabriolet), luxurious comfort (sedan), sporty style (coupe) and even three rows of seating (wagon). Throw in the high-performance AMG variants and, well, there’s something here for everyone with means.
The midcycle refresh even brings a member of the E-Class family to the U.S. for the first time: the taller, more rugged All-Terrain wagon (interior pictured below), for customers who want a stylized skidplate when they veer deep into the woods after a long highway jaunt.
The All-Terrain replaces the E 450 wagon for ’21, and it continues offering the same split rear-facing third-row seats – a throwback for anyone who grew up in the 1970s when station wagons offered this cozy seating option for little ones.
Shoppers stepping up to the thumping 603-hp AMG E 63 S wagon won’t get the hideaway third row, because the air suspension takes up too much space in the undercarriage.
Upgrades to the E-Class family are extensive, from the redesigned headlamps, taillamps, front bumper and grille to the bolstered driver-assistance technologies that now offer better visibility around the vehicle as well as blindspot assist that includes an exit warning for passengers.
On the powertrain front, the ’21 model year brings electrification to the E-Class for the first time in the U.S. as the 3.0L inline 6-cyl. uses a 48V onboard electrical system that enables the smooth-as-silk EQ Boost mild hybrid stop/start system.
This sterling 362-hp powertrain was all-new a year ago when it earned a 2020 Wards 10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems trophy for its application in the GLE 450 SUV. Driven recently in the ’21 E 450 4Matic All-Terrain (sticker priced at $87,830), this engine is equally impressive for highway cruising or spirited driving through winding roads.
In a separate test drive of a rear-wheel-drive ’21 AMG E 53 sedan (pictured below), this same 3.0L I-6 with EQ Boost gets a boost of another kind, to a stout 429 hp and a hearty roar from its AMG performance exhaust, which tacks an extra $1,250 to the sticker.
Both versions of this powertrain in these two vehicles are world-class and picking a favorite among the two is difficult: Yes, the wagon costs more but it comes with all-wheel drive and the extra space. But the E 53 sedan (sticker priced at $82,570) comes with the extra AMG gusto, better handling and a lower price. Decisions, decisions.
Whether shopping the E 450 All-Terrain or the AMG E 53 sedan, the interior is sure to impress, with warm, inviting materials, European style and an updated version of the remarkably intelligent and intuitive MBUX infotainment system.
Optional now in the refreshed ’21 E-Class is the MBUX Interior Assistant, which allows gesture or movement recognition to control various comfort and vehicle settings. The stellar voice-recognition system responds to natural speech, rather than scripted commands.
One of the most noticeable changes can be seen in the steering wheel, which replaces the small thumbpad controllers with new capacitive touch control buttons.
And there are two steering wheel designs, as well. AMG models get a beefier wheel (pictured left, above) with a flat bottom and controls arranged on two horizontal spokes to the right and left, along with programmable drive mode buttons.
Our All-Terrain test wagon came with a more familiar rudder (pictured right, above) and the same new capacitive touch control functionality without the flat bottom but it was the more handsomely styled of the two.
The fully redesigned 10th-generation E-Class arrived first with the sedan and wagon in 2016, followed by the new coupe and cabriolet the following year.
Within the Mercedes-Benz stable, so far this year the E-Class family is outselling the S-Class, CLA, G-Glass, GLA, GLB and GLS while it’s lagging behind the C-Class, GLB, GLC and GLE, according to Wards Intelligence data.
In the Middle Luxury car segment as tracked by Wards Intelligence, the E-Class is No.1 with 21,513 deliveries through November, edging out the second-place BMW 5-Series. No other rivals come close.
The E-Class has dominated this segment since 2009 – only in 2019 did the BMW 5-Series edge it out for the No.1 sales position.
Pricing for the ’21 E-Class family starts at $54,250 for the E 350 sedan, $64,950 for the E 450 coupe and $71,950 for the E 450 cabriolet, topping out at $112,450 for the AMG E 63 S wagon.