In its first model year the E-Class sported a turbo-4 engine, a 9-speed automatic, and rear- or all-wheel drive.
Now the family’s fleshed out with E400 twin-turbo V-6 variants, E43 AMGs that amp up that arrangement with more boost, and delicious V-8-powered E63 S cars with nearly as much raw musclecar power as a Hellcat.
We give the 2018 E-Class a score of 8 for performance. Its range of ride and handling is exceptional, while the powertrains in popular models deliver effortless acceleration. If we broke out AMG models separately, the E43 and E63 S would be nearly perfect here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2018 E300
The base E300 Mercedes sedan sports a 2.0-liter turbo-4. It sends 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque to the rear or to all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic. Worried about its ability to propel a 4,000-pound sedan? No need. The responsive drivetrain paddles through its gears with a strong surge of power from a torque peak down at 1,300 rpm. It doesn’t rummage much through all those ratios, and in its lightest trim, can run to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds on its way to a 130-mph top end. It’s a tick slower with all-wheel drive, which splits power 45/55 front to rear and adds a couple of hundred pounds. From an all-season perspective, the AWD model’s a no-brainer.
As for ride and handling, the E300 sedan connects to the road through a multi-link independent suspension, in base or sport state of tune, assisted by dual-mode or by adaptive air dampers. Wheel sizes for the all-season tires range from 17 to 20 inches.
The air dampers are a worthwhile upgrade. The system has multiple air chambers and can inflate and deflate those chambers continuously to provide a very smooth, very controlled ride. They also lower the car at speed for better gas mileage, or raise it for better ground clearance. They combine with a set of driving modes, from comfort to Sport+, that can fine-tune the steering, suspension, transmission, and throttle.
All those systems knit together into an exceedingly adaptable vehicle, one that’s good at carousing through Portugal’s winding back roads and coursing down the Bay Area’s foul stretches of the 101. We’d leave it in Sport mode for a well-controlled ride that’s not jittery or nervous as it can seem in Sport+. In Sport the E-Class has assertive manners and reasonably gentle damping. In comfort mode it waddles its way around with lots of suspension travel and languid steering.
Mercedes E400 coupe and cabriolet
We’ve driven the E400 drivetrain in two-door form. It’s a smart setup that gives coupes and convertibles a distinctive driving feel, though the setup is shared with the sedan and wagon.
The Mercedes E400 is a grand-touring two-door with few compromises. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 develops 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, which drops 0-60 mph times of 5.5 seconds (in RWD form; AWD launches better, and hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds). The E400 feels quicker than that. Lag is almost nonexistent since peak torque arrives at 1,600 rpm. The 9-speed pulls off quick and extremely smooth shifts in every drive mode. It’s an accessible but brisk drivetrain that’s quiet and refined.
The coupe and convertible have a slightly lower ride height than the sedan, and also offer air springs and adaptive dampers. The money’s well spent: again here, the base car’s ordinary handling opens to a much wider range of possibilities with the air add-ons. Stable and poised in comfort mode, it begs for Sport mode on winding roads and on-ramps. Sport+ is a bit too brittle for everyday driving, and isn’t worth the agita.
The Mercedes-AMG E43
If you’re shopping for more power, the E43 sedan offers a half-step to the heavens.
We’ll leave longer impressions over at our sister site Motor Authority, which drove the Mercedes E43 sedan in an extensive first drive. A sketch of the highlights? We’d start with the 396-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. With 384 lb-ft of torque, it couples to a high-strength 9-speed that rifles off shifts like a racing gearbox. It’ll vault the car to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, hit 155 mph, and will do so with a more pronounced 39/61 power bias to the rear.
It never lacks for power, and shifts come off seamless unless the drive-mode selector spins into Sport+, where lightning-quick throttle and abrupt shifts are the order of the day. It holds a gear through tight esses, or can be put in manual-shift mode by a console-mounted button. Sport mode, or better yet individual mode, lets the driver alleviate some dialed-in weight that leaves Sport+ steering with an unsettled feel.
Ride quality is very firm, but comfortable enough thanks to isolated front and rear suspensions. The E43 generates a twin-turbo soundtrack that’s a bit more graunchy V-6 than we might like.
Peak power: the AMG E63 S
Wrapped in its big wagon or sedan body, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S can easily be confused for a hormone-addled teenager instead of the suited executive it caters to.
Take the idea of the E43 and plug in more go-fast parts. Start under the hood, rip out the V-6 and throw down a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V-8 with 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. Fit a beefier 9-speed automatic and give the AWD system the ability to move all its power to the rear end, even let it get into a full drift. Just about everything in the driving character of the E 63 S can be tailored to the maturity level of the driver, which is both great and frightening. Sixty mph happens in 3.3 seconds, and it rushes up on 180 mph without much drama.
It’s both a world-class cruiser and a big bruiser. The hefty E 63 S can flick off corner apexes thanks to a taut suspension with four links in front and a multi-link rear with more bracing and stabilizer bars crafted as thick tubes. The brakes are nearly 16 inches across in front, and carbon-ceramics are an option. The Pirelli P Zero tires wrap 20-inch wheels in kamikaze form, ready to give up chunks of themselves as the driver spins the E 63 S through three modes of stability control, each one more permissive than the last.
This is a car built for the deep knee bends the Nurburgring can deliver, but it’s docile as can be on American public roads, thanks to those air springs and adaptive dampers on loan from the S-Class.
But it’s never far from its peak. Press deeply on the right pedal, listen to the V-8 build up a frantic howl, unlock the brakes, and the E 63 S cauterizes the road with relentless power and grip.
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