Empire State

As a new generation dawns, we must prepare to bid farewell. 

Image: Autocar

All of the great marques can be characterised by one core model. For Mercedes-Benz, it has largely been what has become known as the E-Class, its heartland product since the 1950s. For most people born prior to the millennium, it is the car (a conservatively styled three-volume saloon or estate) that personified the brand, be it luxurious status symbol, taxi, or ‘lifestyle’ load-bearer. That it could in effect be any of those things spoke volumes of Mercedes’ reach and appeal. The E-Class (in the present tense) also very much the sweet-spot of the Mercedes-Benz car range, possibly its finest, most rounded current product.

Furthermore, given that the flagship Sonderklasse is, for most European cities and towns at least, now something of a leviathan[1], it is nowadays the E-Class which best represents Mercedes-Benz’s values and ideals. It has, this past generation at least, also represented the closest approximation to elegance of line to see the light of day from the Sindelfingen dream factory. For even if the W213 was no Mercedes design for the ages, the outgoing model was at least coherent, and in non AMG-line form at least, restrained.

Image: Autocar

An auspicious model line therefore, one upon which an empire has been created, but time and tide await no man, and so a new generation of E-Class is upon us; this believed to be its last, in combustion-engined form at least, bookending a long and illustrious line of medium-large Mercedes motor cars.

Like the entire European industry, the three pointed star is hell-bent towards wholesale electrification, and currently offers the purpose-built EQE saloon[2] EV as its future-facing tilt at this metaphorical windmill, but while there remains a market for internal combustion engined products, Untertürkheim will continue to oblige. However, as befits a new entrant to the market, a good deal of electrification lies beneath.

The W214 series is underpinned by an modified version of Mercedes-Benz’s Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform. Mercedes state that  the mixed steel and aluminium platform has gained rigidity compared with its W213 E-Class predecessor and that the W214 now sits on an enlarged wheelbase[3]. Its conservative outward appearance however belies an impressive 0.23 drag co-efficient, largely it seems the result of careful attention to detail rather than any overt drag-reducing features[4].

With all European specification models offering some form of partial electrification, the engine range is centred around a range of of four longitudinally-mounted four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines all of 2.0 litres capacity. All mild-hybrid models feature 48-volt systems, with a gearbox-mounted integrated starter motor and a nine-speed gearbox. Plug-in hybrid versions are also to be offered; in this case, the 2.0 litre unit being mated with a 127bhp electric motor[5].

Image: Autocar

In time-honoured Mercedes-Benz fashion, W214 borrows a good deal of technology which made its debut in the S-Class; for instance continuously adjustable adaptive dampers for models fitted with air suspension and the option for the first time of rear wheel steering, to aid manoeuvrability.

Also borrowed to some extent from the Sonderklasse is the E-Class’ external style, embodying a similar sobriety of line and on those models not fitted with the ‘sport’ grille[6], a similarly formal treatment, complete with the traditional three pointed star affixed to the bonnet. Continuity too in that its appearance closely reflects that of its predecessor — clearly an intentional move on the carmaker’s part. This after all, is a deeply conservative market. Also inherited, in this case from the EQS’ conceptual forebear, is the three-pointed star ‘signature’ embedded into the tail lamp units[7], a handy aide-memoire for those times (and we’ve all been there) when one cannot recall what car one drives.

But overall, the shape is clean, relatively spare and (a couple of unfortunate detail decisions aside) quite elegant.

It costs a lot to look this cheap. Image: Autocar

That all changes when one beholds the cabin however. Because if the external style of the W214 is (broadly) restraint personified, the interior is its diametric opposite. For if this is Sindelfingen by night, migraines must be rife, such is the level of visual noise on offer. Now featuring the full-width ‘Superscreen’[8], which completely inhabits the facia panel, passengers can enjoy the full social media and streaming death-spiral, lest they actually deign to look out of a window and notice the scenery.

Mercedes makes much of the car’s ability to allow users to generate selfies, and play electronic games, but the German carmaker we must assume, understands its market[9]. Indeed for those inhabitants of South East Asian megacities, inordinate time spent in stationary traffic must inevitably lead to idle hands (and eyes). In addition, for those who are unselfconscious enough to address their vehicle thus, the E-Class carries the latest iteration of its ‘Hey Mercedes!’ voice-operation control[10].

Ah yes, now I remember… Image: Auto Express

With the W214 likely to see out the decade — when Mercedes-Benz is believed to phase out combustion engines entirely — we can expect both it and EQE to merge into a single model line; model nameplates such as these not generally being relinquished lightly. But regardless of what form (or name) it will likely take, this generation of E-Class bookmarks a noble line of cars which did more to further the star of Sindelfingen than any other. What replaces it will by dint both of its powertrain and the market requirements of 2030 have to be a very different product, even to today’s EQE. And so the world turns.

An old order, one which had once felt eternal is fading. Its passing when it comes will be quieter than it deserves, but with a roar or a whimper, pass it must. It is the way of empires.

[1] And to a large extent, yesterday’s flagship benchmark. It too is probably  not long for the world.

[2] Mercedes’ range of EQE and EQS fully electric saloons are very impressive vehicles and clearly represent the three pointed star’s centre of gravity for the future. But do they have to look so ungainly? 

[3] Mercedes claim that the W214 has grown in most dimensions.

[4] Apart of course from flush fitting door handles and an active grille shutter.

[5] The E300 e generates 308bhp and 406lb ft of torque, while the E400 e offers 375bhp and 479lb ft. While previous E-Class models were available with the option of six-cylinder power, it’s unclear whether this option has been definitively dropped for the model or retained only for selected markets and performance models. Presently, it’s four-pots all the way, which fortunately for Mercedes, sits comfortably  with their heritage. 

[6] This now features a black plastic surround, anchoring it visually to the EQ models. You can also have it in lights, if you so desire.

[7] No really Gorden, you shouldn’t have…

[8] At least it isn’t a ‘Hyperscreen’. Small mercies. The passenger side display is optional.

[9] This isn’t necessarily for the likes of us (although one expects there will be plenty of takers nevertheless).

[10] Aside from the holy mortifying shame of actually uttering those words, isn’t all somewhat beneath one’s dignity?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

48 thoughts on “Empire State”

  1. Good morning Eóin. The new E-Class prompts one to ask if Gorden Wagener is (a) convinced he has already reached the apogee of automotive design, or (b) is just very lazy. Let’s compare the new W214 with its W213 predecessor:

    It is, to all intents and purposes, the same design, to the extent that it could easily be a light reskin rather than an all new model. The differences, such as they are, are all to the detriment of the new model; the fussier creases at waist level, oddly shaped flush door handles and, in particular, all that shiny black plastic surrounding the grille and headlamps, which looks cheap and nasty.

    Look at the W124 and weep for all that has been lost:

    (Still grumpy, it would seem…😁)

    1. Hi Mike. By ‘grumpy’, I was referring to my mood, certainly not the sublime W124!

    2. Daniel, I’m with you regarding Sacco’s Benzes.

      One can not move any line one inch, one can not alter any radius 3 degrees without worsening the design.

      You can not better it, it could be a proof of God’s existence

    3. As much as I like the Sacco’s Benzes, I’ve never been a fan of the plastic cladding and the way the color doesn’t match the paint.

    4. I agree with Freerk about the cladding. I much prefer the appearance of the W201 and W124 as they were at launch.

    5. Hi Freerk and Joel. Regarding the lower body cladding, I don’t think that Mercedes-Benz could precisely match the colour of the plastic with that of the paintwork, so they instead chose complementary colours. Most worked pretty well, but the exception was the colour chosen for cars with red paintwork, which looked a bit raspberry-ish and became increasingly so as the cladding aged and was exposed to U.V. light:

    6. If any W124 was fitted with bumpers like the W214’s, you’d see it laughed at on the Barry Boys forum as “Shed Of The Week”.

      By the way… Has Mercedes-Benz realized that it’s not convincing anyone as a maker of “quality” cars when it refuses to equip its ludicrously overpriced vehicles with double-shot buttons on its switches? Even my 2009 Lancia Delta III, which is rightly lampooned for its unacceptable fit and finish, has them: fourteen years on, they haven’t faded or peeled, which I can’t say for the vast majority of other cars nowadays – including much younger ones.

  2. Since Mercedes is a first name, I assume some owners, their partners or their siblings share their names with the cars. The consequences of the voice recognition responding in an inappropriate way to a heated family argument are quite terrifying.

    It looks a bit incongruous, but I still welcome the return of the bonnet mounted star, and it’s preferable to the black plastic surround on the ‘sport’ models. Although I agree with Daniel about it looking like a simple reskin, the rest of the car is pleasantly inoffensive from outside and, since this will be the bit I see, I don’t need to be too concerned about the interior. But how does contemporary legislation deal with infotainment displays that are visible to the driver? At one time I believe that any TV showing videos had to be out of the driver’s view, but the borders of what is relevant information and what is entertainment are now blurred. I’d find someone in the passenger seat playing games or watching TV whilst I was driving pretty distracting, and I think I’m reasonably disciplined.

    1. “pleasantly inoffensive”? I’m sure that’s not quite the reaction his Gordenness was hoping for!

    2. Daniel. It’s long been know that The Lord Gord prefers DTW’s style of Chaste Impurity to all other uninfluential websites, so I put that in just to tease him.

  3. An interesting statistic for any motor vehicle would be the internal volume from the bottom of the DLO up. I imagine that of the W214 is almost 50% of W124’s. Looking at W124, I may need to concede that fashions move on, but people stay pretty much the same. So what I really weep for is the loss of light airy cabins.

    1. If you look at the front door glass of the 214, the opening is much smaller than the glass area. This is not progress….

  4. As far as I’m aware, UK legislation covering TV screens visible to the driver has not been updated. Nor, it seems, is it enforced. But it certainly should be!

    Daniel, take a look at W120 to see what has really been lost……

    1. Hi John. It may be a function of my age, but my favourite era of Mercedes-Benz design was ‘late Sacco’ in the 1980s. The W201, W124, W126 and R129 are wonderfully ‘technical’ designs with minimal exterior ornamentation. The earlier models were undoubtedly fine cars, but now look dated by their brightwork, whereas the four abovementioned still look as fresh as daisies, in my humble opinion.

  5. Or perhaps it was the last seventy years that was the real dead end when it comes to the form factor and packaging of cars?

    With the pontoon-styling of the fifties and the “longer, lower, wider” mantra of Detroit. The last of what came before it was the ultra conservative Dodge of the pre-Exner era. Take away the longer front ends and separate fenders and the cars of the twenties to the forties had their passenger compartment to the same height and size of a modern suv. I say good riddance to the cars you sit yourself down in instead of just walking into.

    1. Ingvar, you could well be right. I shall have to give the idea some thought before I start looking for a decent W136. But there have always been Mercs into which you can walk – my choice would probably be a classic O3500, or maybe an O302. I’d be slightly wary of a Citaro – too prone to self-immolation. Allegedly.

  6. To me the seminal Mercedes-Benz model is (was, actually) the S-Class. For many years it was the Mercedes model other Mercedes models aspired to be. The W123? A smaller W116. The W201? a mini-W126, down to using the same big steering wheel, which looked giant on the narrower W201 cabin.

    The W116 and to an ever so slightly lesser extent the W126 were driver-oriented big Benzes. The W140 changed all that and only the W220 sort of reversed the trend for a while, as an act of contrition. For many years now and at least in Europe, the S-Class has evolved into nothing more than a chauffeur-driven, almost always black VIP carrier, whose natural habitat is reduced to the reserved parking in front of five-star hotels, patiently waiting for their rich users (seldom are they owners); suit and tie chaffeur boringly leaning against its front wing. Sorry for this rant, but it’s only to help me state that the current driver’s/owner’s big Benz is definitely the E-Class, but for how long?… It’s now almost as big as previous S-Class models!

    1. Daniel is probably right – it’s an age thing. Having dragged my 1969 edition of Auto-Universum off the shelf (a charity shop lucky find) I realise that for me Mercedes design peaked with the W114. There was some dubious other stuff around at the time but some very pleasing 3-box saloons: Rover P6, Lancia Flavia, Hillman Minx (LJKS praised it), Mazda 1500, NSU RO80, Wartburg 353, BMW 2800…… All way beyond my means at the time of course (even the Wartburg!) but they still stand up well to critical examination.

    2. Hi Cesar,

      W201 introduced the five link independent rear suspension, which in the context of its time was a significant advance on the semi-trailing arms used on W126. Historically speaking it was groundbreaking.

      W124’s unit body featured outstanding torsional rigidity, which suddenly became a significant metric for the industry. The then-distinctive angle of its boot lid cutlines would seem to reflect this, which is to say that while the matching trapezoidal wheel openings may have been purely an aesthetically motivated design choice, it was informed by an engineering-led design choice.

      “Engineered like no other car in the world” wasn’t an empty boast. But if four wheel steering and Angry Birds on the screen are the current bragging points, then that slogan still would be meaningless today. Unfortunately, or perhaps consequently, neither the exterior nor interior design of the new E-Class even hints that the former tag line might apply.

      Because of its smaller size, W201 was by necessity more planar, less curvy and flowing than a W126. The designs differed for practical, engineering based reasons, as well as fashionability. I recall from 1983 being on a date with someone knew next to nothing about cars exclaiming “Ooh look, it’s the new baby Mercedes!”.

      “Baby” does not just mean small, but implies a different and special personality and demeanor than “miniature”, “shrunken”, “compact”. It also imbues certain universal affinity which transcends social and class distinctions. I think the public reaction to W201 was a case of mission accomplished in terms of expanding perceptions of the brand’s reach and newly minted accessibility. But unlike the (W168, Gen1) A-Class it did not dilute or distort perceptions of the brand. Nowadays they are all “adult” regardless of size, excepting the AMG versions which are merely “immature”.

    3. Very well argued and persuasive. Nicely put, gooddog. 👍

    4. Absolutely, gooddog. The W201 was Mercedes’ towering achievement. One can quibble about details, but that car remains a giant in everything but size. I drove one not long ago and it still stands up. This was a Mercedes for the ages.

    5. I agree, gooddog. The W201 was technically more than just a miniature W126, but as a concept it definitely was. It represented the very same values of the larger Benzes but in a smaller package and with all the technical and design innovations needed to make it work. The fact that it broke technical ground with its multi-link rear suspension and aero design was also a consequence of its time (more generalized awareness of aerodynamics and of good vehicle dynamics). The original A-Class on the other hand was not meant to follow the traditional Mercedes-Benz values and part of its failure was because people thought it should.

      It pains me to see how Mercedes-Benz current values (and actually, those of all the other high-end manufacturers too) are now bells and whistles, shiny screens, connectivity, and LED ambient lighting with 14 different shades of purple. I wonder how anyone is going to be able to restore all that in 40-50 years, if the current Mercedes-Benz cars ever become classics.

      Maybe all this is just part of the beginning of the end of the car era as we know and love. Sorry for the gloomy ending, especially on a Friday!

    6. Cesar. I’m guessing that the producers of today’s cars are aware that in 50 years time, the idea of restoring old cars will be on a par with restoration of antique farm carts. A slightly eccentric fringe activity carried out by a small coterie of people to the general bemusement of the rest of the world.

      Most of the restorations will be entirely cosmetic, little time will be spent on the mechanicals since they may only be run on private ground for a maximum of 2 hours a year following issue of a permit which must be applied for 3 months in advance. The only thing that they will ensure functions perfectly will be the dashboard screens so they can sit in the stationary vehicle viewing old videos of busy A roads.

      I’m not grumbling by the way, just pointing out the inevitable.

  7. Talking about something else: the only current new cars I love seeing on the streets are Mazda’s 3 hatch and MX5.
    Everything else seems to me senseless.
    I wonder if they are hand-sculpted by some automotive Michelangelo whilst every other cars are computer-designed (or AI computer-generated)

    1. Mazda are making magic. Hyundai and Kia are also doing some remarkable work. Volvo´s S90 is a delight (almost French). Some credit to Peugeot for aspects of their work.

    2. Hello Richard

      You are right, I forgot Kia, they are doing a great job.
      I only see it as a little below Mazda’s level because I think their beautiful lines can be drawed and developed bidimensionally. In my mind, Mazda’s 3 can only be sculpted by hand.

      Regarding Hyundai, I must be distracted, I haven’t noticed them.

      About Peugeot, I would say LED technology allowed them to show their claws (un constructeur sort ses griffes), but it is mostly a detail job

    3. Gustavo: I agree wholeheartedly that Mazda’s current car designs are sublime. It is, I believe the work of a dedicated and very talented team of designers working intensively in full-size clay to optimise the shapes. Comparatively few rival studios take such care, or work as intensively in this way any more.

      But while this current design theme is most effective with relatively low-slung cars, it fails in my view to translate well to the considerably taller-sided CUV/SUV form. I looked at a CX60 (the first I’ve seen in three dimensions) the other day and was struck by how it looked just as blunt and heavy-handed as it did in photos. Even the CX5, a more compact vehicle looked better wrought in its previous iteration.

      I feel that this sinuous form language is too subtle for such large and tall canvases. But to return to your point, the current 3 and MX5 are indeed a pleasure to encounter.

    4. Hello Eóin

      Let me make your words my own words.
      I’ll clarify though that I don’t see the bigger Mazdas you mention around here. They may be around, but the short-sighted me automatically puts SUVs and CUV’s in the ‘visual obstacles’ category…😉

    5. If I had had the trouble to research, think and write about a new Mercedes only to see someone steering the discussion towards small Mazda’s aesthetics, I would not be pleased.
      My apologies

  8. Am I the only one here to see too much metal in the C-pillar/rear quarter panel area of the Mazda 3? I find it makes the design look too heavy in the back, compared to the relatively slim front and side.

    1. You are not the only one, if you are referring to the hatchback version. The saloon looks fine.

    2. Yes Mervyn, I was refering to the hatchback Mazda 3. The 4-door looks nice, but I don’t think I’ve seen one in the metal.

    3. No cesar, you are not. I’ve never understood the almost universal praise for the 3, to me it looks like the front and back had two different design teams.

    4. You are not, César

      The 3’s hatch C pillar has a lot of metal.
      It’s aesthetical evaluation is first and foremost a matter of personal sensibility.
      I view their rear 3/4 design as being good, you view it as not so good.
      But what I was praising above all was another thing: the delicacy and complexity of the surfaces, impossible to catch in a picture.
      Somehow, pardon me, on the footsteps of Jaguar’s founder.

    5. I’d probably go as far as saying the current Mazda 3 is the best looking car on sale today, no matter what price point. The only thing I don’t like is the dark tinted rear windows on the more expensive trim levels. If I had to chance anything I’d give it frameless windows and take away the model designation on the rear hatch.

  9. I’ve had a look at all of their saloons (A, C, E and S Class) and they all look the same. Inoffensive, but lacking ‘gravitas’. The EQE and EQS just look soap bar-bland to me.

    The option of being able to play Angry Birds, etc, isn’t my sort of thing, either, but I guess they’ve done their research, as the article says.

    I shouldn’t be too miserable – I expect that they’re nice cars to travel in and I guess they look nice in the metal.

    Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that it was obsolete, even before it was launched.

  10. Looking closer, I notice the previous model’s straightforward, easy-to-grab-and-yank door handles have been replaced by smoother, more fiddly looking items. Is this another blessing we must thank Saint Elon for?

  11. I guess it looks posh, like a new kitchen with an island looks posh, which is probably exactly the market it needs to appeal to.
    But let’s hope it doesn’t rust like their vans appear to – my friend’s Sprinter on a 2017 plate looks shocking, whilst my humble Citroen Relay on a 2016 is bearing up remarkably well. So much for the fabled Mercedes Benz quality, albeit I realise vans are designed for a different lifespan. Still, they share the same badge, which has always rather surprised me – If I were a plutocrat, I’m not sure I would want the vehicle at the front to match the delivery vehicle at the service entrance.

  12. Also, and sorry, too many posts for a newbie, but the rear light graphic looks really after-market. It looks similar to those fake Audi lights one sometimes sees added to VW vans. Surely they could have crisped up the design? Or perhaps that were influenced by the melting chevrons that ruin all current Citroens?

  13. Okay, I’ll confess I had to Google most of these W-numbers that have been whooshing around these comments. 🙂
    Since I’ve come to live in rural Australia, I haven’t seen an S-class in the metal since the local SES brigade decapitated a W126 for emergency rescue training. Wonder what went wrong that they got their mitts on it? So sad. And on rare visits to the city, the newest one I’ve seen was a W220 – I had to check Wikipedia for the code number. That’s at least eighteen years old now (gosh), so there’s three generations I have not seen. I haven’t missed them.
    Two thoughts. Firstly, the Germans seem to have set the basic visual pattern for their big sedans about fifteen-twenty years ago, and have just been fiddling the details since then. From the bystander’s point of view this is fine for brand recognition (it’s a big Merc, not a BMW or Audi), but from the marketing point of view where is the impetus to get the new model? If you’re BMW it seems you add on gorped-up detailing with a trowel; if you’re Mercedes it seems you make such incremental refinements to the existing shape as to pass unnoticed by the casual bystander. Audi? I can’t even think what a current big Audi looks like; does that mean I have to hand in my car enthusiast card?
    And secondly, when so much of the market seems to be turning to more practical packaging of passengers and their impedimenta, I wonder how much market remains for these high-end sedans? Will these be the final generation? Will the world end?

    1. Hah, you’re not the only one who has to look up those codes, Peter. But then I have a terrible memory for any kind of name: I once couldn’t direct someone to a certain street that I knew was nearby, but where? Until I turned around and looked at the street sign…

      I live in more urban environs and get exposed to current Benzes, BMWs and Audis regularly (too close for comfort sometimes, depending on the driver). For me, the way German large sedan design has evolved resembles butter: they carved the basic shape out of the stuff twenty years ago and then let it sit in the sun. The shapes seem to get ever softer, only propped up by overly aggressive addenda here and there.

      What also strikes me is that for the most recent generations, the “street presence” (the impression you get just when a car enters your lign of sight, but before you fully focus on it) of a C-class is remarkably similar to that of an A4 or a 3 series: aggressive or “sporty”. Mercedes used to be instantly recognisable out of the corner of your eye as a very different beast than a 3 series. Part of that are the much brighter (uncomforably so, sometimes) LED lights that adorn these cars, but the general stance is more alike as well across the Premium Three.

  14. The most important markets for the E-Class are China and South Korea. The clientele there regards Mercedes Benz as a luxury brand.

    They are not dreaming of a W124 or a W126 (i am not sure if they know these cars or Bruno Sacco), their dreams have the names AMG and Maybach because with them one can show that you are even a little bit more wealthy than the other wealthy people of Gangnam…

    In these markets, size and bling bling matters. German engineering is a marketing component, not an attitude.

    1. Another target group seems to be the overly testosteroned millionaires who always want the most agressive, most punishing, most powerful mega monster cars… in matt grey of course, to go with their giant luxo watches and bling bling macho jewelry.

      Case in point, the new 250.000 euro S63 with 802hp (!!):


  15. Freerk

    Your eyes may not like Sacco’s clading, but I guess your brain Will like it: it indicates and signalise the exposed, dirty and prone to small damage zone of the car. It protects it too. In a sense, it is as much engineering-led as everything else on those cars.

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