Coinciding with an E-Class mid-cycle refresh, Mercedes-Benz’ choice of a four-cylinder diesel for the new E250 BlueTEC is its first for a U.S. sedan since the mid-1980s, and it replaces the V6 of the previous E350 BlueTEC.
The all-wheel-drive 4MATIC we drove for over 1,300 miles also happens to be priced at the entry point of the E-Class range which spans from $52,325 for the rear-wheel-drive BlueTEC to $100,695 for the uber-powerful E63 AMG S 4MATIC.
And, the BlueTEC is the most frugal fuel sipper, surpassing even the E400 Hybrid and competitive with comparable sedans from BMW and Audi.
However, there’s another trade-off which other reviewers may not have made clear: EPA-rated highway mpg has alternately been reported in the mid 40s or upper 30s. Specifically, last year the rear-drive 2014 E250 BlueTEC was initially rated at 28 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, and now it is 27 city, 42 highway. Similarly, the 2014 4MATIC was 27 city, 42 highway, and is now 27 city, 38 highway.
Why the discrepancy? All 2014 E-Class sedans produced after January received extra reinforcement – thus weight – in the footwell area to improve small overlap crash results. The upside is the E-Class was recognized as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. The downside is highway mpg – a diesel’s normal claim to fame, and a chief advantage of M-B’s under-the-hood downsizing – suffered more than city mpg.
The E250 BlueTEC 4MATIC we drove was built before January and easily beat its number with upward of 44-plus mpg on the highway with cruise control set and varying speeds up to 70 mph. All else is unchanged for the E-Class however, so we’ll continue:
Small But Potent Four
With no offense to Mercedes-Benz – and indeed the contrary intended – the new all-aluminum DOHC 2.1-liter turbo four is like giving the E-Class a compact-sized heart of a Peterbuilt.
Common to a long-haul truck and the new BlueTEC is a low-revving torquey powerplant that just eats miles without a fuss – plus the accoutrements of the sedan make for a very comfortable interstate drive.
The 2.1-liter’s 195 horsepower is respectable, and its characteristically higher torque figure – 369 pounds-feet at 1,800 rpm – is a big number coming from such a modest-sized four.
Mercedes-Benz does this with sequential twin turbos, 28,400-psi direct injection, vane-type variable valve timing, and – lacking 900cc and two cylinders – it gives up little compared to the 210-horsepower, 400-pound-feet 3.0-liter V6 it replaced.
Channeling the power is a 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters which makes good use of the torque, usually revving very low to save fuel.
Despite the ostensibly big torque figure, 0-60 mph takes around the middle-7-second range, although once rolling, speed can build deceptively fast up to and beyond the limit.
Stylistically, the E-Class has a more aggressive face, and comes in a sport or luxury trim. The look is now crisper, intended to appeal to younger drivers. Ours was the sport model, and one giveaway to that is the lack of luxury model’s traditional silver star hood ornament replaced instead with a big star in the grille.
Accenting the front are bigger air intakes, LED daytime running lights with LED headlamps available as an option, and rear tail lights are LED.
The result is a sportier yet still dignified-appearing car with a presence a cut above the increasingly common C-Class Benzes but still not to be confused with the head-of-state-worthy S-Class sedans.
Inside, the materials and build quality are good, as you’d expect for a car priced as ours was, stickering at $64,554 including destination. Gauge arrangement is well thought out, and white-backed analog dials are clear, and aesthetically pleasing.
Along the dash centerline is a tasteful rectangular analog clock that borders on jewelry.
Seats were vented MB Tex – Mercedes-Benz’s super high quality vinyl that appears and feels like genuine leather but may wear better and is easier to clean. Other materials too were high-quality imitations – such as the wood that was not real wood, but looks close, and also ought to be lower maintenance and longer lasting.
Front leg and head room is fine for the over-6-foot crowd, and rear seating is adequate, if not as spacious.
In all, this is an extremely nice upper-mid-level luxury sedan, but the COMAND infotainment is only OK. It comes with a generation-behind 30-pin connector for your wireless device, and learning its idiosyncrasies is not the most intuitive.
Is it a deal breaker? Not unless this is the most important feature to you, and we could make use of it well enough while enjoying so many other positives in the balance.
The system also handles voice commands well, and we like the old-fashioned-looking HD Radio Receiver too. Mercedes-Benz makes a classy car.
Driving The E250
Rounding out an overview of what’s inside, our car came with 11 airbags, and was laden with the company’s Intelligent Drive safety tech, now a suite of over 30 active and passive safety technologies that work together. The $2800 Driver Assistance Package includes a multiple-radar and stereoscopic camera enabled adaptive cruise control system verging on self-driving capability in certain situations, though officially, that’s discouraged.
Its proper name is Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, and it’s intended to relieve stress in bumper-to-bumper traffic, maintain safe following distance, and more. It might also let you survive inattentive driving, and even – we are not recommending it – texting at the wheel.
Stereoscopic cameras read 1600 feet in front to sense traffic patterns. At 160 feet in front a constant profile is read at 17 times per second to assess whether the car needs to react to other traffic or pedestrians:
• DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist: radar-based cruise control system with semi-autonomous steering inputs that can work from 0-124 mph depending on road conditions.
• PRE-SAFE Brake: Autonomously brakes the vehicle up to 31 mph with or without driver input, and can partially mitigate accidents up to 45 mph.
• PRE-SAFE PLUS: rear-facing radar that senses possible rear collisions and prepares the vehicle for a possible secondary incident into an active intersection.
• BAS PLUS with Cross Traffic Assist: reads cross-traffic encounters with stereoscopic cameras and adds appropriate brake assistance to prevent an incident in an active intersection, also using rear-facing radar.
• Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Protection: one-sided braking.
Of course the driver is responsible, but this is what we have: automakers are making the machines do some of our thinking for us, and where this evolution will stop, nobody knows. Mercedes is already developing the next-gen that is essentially autonomous capable today.
Other safety technology terms in the E-Class as tested are ATTENTION ASSIST, and COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST. Yes, Mercedes-Benz does spell them in all caps like that, as it does also ADAPTIVE BRAKE Technology.
We had plenty of time to test all these on a highway drive from Pennsylvania to Indianapolis and back, and it is like having a ghost at the wheel at times.
Hauling down one of the sweeping bends of the westbound PA turnpike, the lane-centering capability lets you take your hands off the wheel and the car senses painted lines and steers reasonably well, if not as smoothly as you might be able to manually.
Of course this is strictly verboten and not the idea, so M-B makes it so you’ll soon get a dashboard warning to put your hands back and drive the car like you’re supposed to.
And, the car will only fix your mistakes a few times before schooling you with a life or death decision. After a certain point of hands-free driving, it disables the system and you effectively have two choices: 1) put your hands back on the wheel and steer the car, or 2) crash into a dividing wall, center median, or oncoming traffic.
Being that we had to get back to write this review, and otherwise having a sense of self-preservation, we picked option 1.
And, we’re happy to report, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The Autobahn-worthy E250 is well-controlled, feels like it is just loping at U.S. speeds, and could do this all day and all night and all day … If you want a highway car, this one is eminently qualified, and might come close to 800 miles per tank, if not 700-some.
On secondary roads, the vehicle is also adroit, and balanced, though an M5 it is not. The watchwords are competent and confidence-inspiring, and cornering and braking capabilities are entertaining if not conspired to bring out your inner hooligan.
Mercedes-Benz has been putting diesels in sedans since the 1930s, and the company has also long-since mastered constructing a no-excuses car. We really like this one, but city driving is where the mpg is only OK, and falls behind hybrid alternatives like the Honda Accord Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, and Lexus ES Hybrid.
These gas-electric cars tend to do better in the slow-going because they make use of their electric motors around town while consuming no petroleum.
The E250 BlueTEC is very comfortable in city driving, does decently in the combined cycle, but its forte is the open road.
Compared to actual competitors, this comes down to your priorities.
Stylistically, the newly refreshed Mercedes is in the same league as a BMW 535d xDrive, and Audi A6 TDI quattro but both those cars use more potent 3.0-liter V6s like the former BlueTEC did.
If the highway mpg rating were still in the 42-45-plus league it would be more of a contrast, but Mercedes’ post-January 2014 safety engineering adds complexity to the decision, and the EPA numbers for the three German competitors are closely matched.
It is a Mercedes-Benz, after all. And, it objectively nails most criteria with drive experience, performance, comfort, and refinement one would expect for the class. Overall, it’s satisfying to a degree which few other cars can claim.