Home Reviews 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Review: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Review: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

The redesigned Mercedes-Benz E450 targets a younger market while still catering to its traditional clientele with looks, tech, and mild hybrid performance to match. 

Out of Spec Score: 74/100

Styling 7.5/10

I’ve said this once and I will say it again; overdesigned doesn’t necessitate better. Mercedes-Benz is one of a few manufactures that hasn’t fallen victim to this paradigm, as its current design philosophy is fantastic. The new E450 follows suit with some welcomed visual updates. Starting at the front, sharper LED headlights are complimented by a redesigned opulent grill that brings it up to date. These small changes yield a much more suave and elegant look than that of its predecessor. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an AMG based on the front bumper, as the E450’s air inlets are actually larger. When the AMG receives the same update however, that may change. Wrapping up the front end improvements are power domes on the hood, an upmarket touch that may be telling of improvements under the hood, more on that later. 

Though the front end looks better than ever, the most obvious changes can be found at the rear. One thing that’s always seemed off with the previous E-Class was the rear end design, specifically the tail lights, and while the design looks great on the smaller C-Class, it didn’t flow naturally when applied to its larger sibling. Fortunately, new trapezoidal tail lights, a redesigned trunk lid, and rear bumper make that a thing of the past. The E450 isn’t a small car, and these changes help it look more comfortable in its own skin. While the car does look sporty, the 18” winter wheel and tire package that ours was equipped with don’t do it any favors. The E450 is sharp, earning a 7.5/10 score.

Interior 8.5/10

If there’s one thing you expect from a Benz, it’s a luxurious interior that leaves little to be desired, and the E450 is no exception. Erring on the side of simplicity, the short dash houses a 12.3” digital gauge cluster that sits beside a modern touchscreen infotainment system that is the same size. A new steering wheel allows the driver to control the display of both the cluster and infotainment system, and a column mounted gear selector stalk (usual per Mercedes) is easy to use and out of the way, though it does take some getting used to if you’re used to a more traditional center console mounted unit.

Moving towards the center console, you find ergonomic and minimalist air con and heating controls for the dual zone setup, which help keep the interior tidy and no nonsense. It looks great and is easy to use, however Mercedes purists will notice something is missing….no analog clock! This is a first for the E-Class, and frankly not a huge deal as for the past twenty years it’s been more of a novelty than anything else. Also nestled conveniently in the center console is the updated MBUX infotainment system controller, which is now a haptic touchpad. It’s a slick system, but a little bit confusing to use, which I will get to in a bit. 

Soft leather is abundant throughout and compliments the wood on the dash, center console and door cards very well. In addition to the premium surface materials that grace the E450 interior, it has 64 LED color options for the ambient lighting that swoops through the dash and ends at the doors. Adjustable through the infotainment system, it’s a luxurious touch that makes the cabin a relaxing place to be at night, especially with the large panoramic sunroof. As the kids would say, ‘big flex’. Seat controls are mounted on the door cards in a typical Mercedes fashion, as are the heating and cooling controls.

While we are here, the seats, oh my goodness the seats. They look and feel the part, wrapped in premium perforated leather, one would be considered arrogant if they asked for more unless you were comparing them to those found in the S-Class, and even then you’d be grasping at straws. In addition to being both heated and cooled, they offer “hot stone” massage capabilities that do a fantastic job after a long day at the office or a hard workout at the gym. Another trick feature is that they will increase side support via bolstering in cornering situations. It catches you off guard at first, but it is a very handy feature in spirited driving situations. The new E-Class is anything but a chore to spend time in, and is reflected by its 8.5/10 score.

Performance 6/10

Recently, anything without an AMG badge has been brushed under the table in the realm of performance, and while the E450 certainly does not have the brute acceleration of its more athletic AMG sibling, it’s no slouch either. New for 2021 is a turbocharged 3.0 liter inline 6 power plant, that in combination with a 21bhp electric motor, pumps out 362bhp in combination. A 48V pancake style hybrid drive system between the engine and transmission, dubbed ‘EQ Boost’, helps with any would-be turbo lag, though when coupled to an uber smooth inhouse 9-speed G-TRONIC torque converted automatic, complete with paddle shifters, it’s almost non-existent to begin with.

It’s an improvement over the previous twin-turbo V6, though it’s not quite as smooth as its Munich rival’s (IE BMW) unit, due to a mechanical harshness on the top end and not being as much as an aural sensation. Using the paddles is certainly more involving, though there is a slight delay that can be frustrating when trying to gear down coming into a corner. I let the computers do the work for me and found it more enjoyable. Small gripes aside, with its 4Matic AWD system it is enough to propel the 4,222lb German slag to sixty miles per hour in under 5 seconds.

No doubt matting the skinny pedal in a big horsepower Merc is always a good time, though I enjoyed it even more in the twisty canyon bits west of Fort Collins, Colorado where I tested it. Set the E450 to ‘Sport +’ mode and you’re ready to rip, as it tightens up the air suspension, loosens traction control, increases throttle response, and shortens shift times. Turn in is crisp for a car that tips the scale at over two tons, and you immediately notice that the notion of non-AMG Mercedes being ‘soft’ in the corners is no more. As an analog guy, I despise most modern electric steering systems due to the lack of feedback, but the weighting of the E450’s steering does manage to impress. It feels like it’s a smaller car.

If you’re confident enough to reach the limit, it breaks away into predictable understeer and the electric nannies (which cannot be fully disabled) tidy up the rest. I found the brakes to be sufficient, though the ABS doesn’t seem calibrated for the supplied snow tires, which leads to an initial lockup before the computers figure everything out. It’s a car best enjoyed at 80%, so it’s never really an issue. It feels reminiscent of an older BMW 540i in terms of its dynamics. You’d never buy one for the performance outright, though it’s not a bad place to be should you find yourself flogging a backroad or giving it the beans from a red light, and as result thereof wears its 6/10 score with pride.  

Practicality 5/10

While it’s not a Toyota Sienna, the E450 is surprisingly practical, especially for buyers who are looking specifically for a  luxury sedan. It offers ample head, shoulder, and leg room, and the seats and steering wheel will actually adjust themselves if you enter your dimensions. I found manually setting them to where I prefer to be easier, though it’s a nice touch no less. Both front and rear ingress and egress are a breeze, a subtle note that Mercedes has not forgotten about their typical buyer which tends to err on the side of 50+. While advertised as able to hold five people, I’m not sure the rear occupants would be too comfortable. Bring that number down to four however and the E450 does a fabulous job as a people mover, offering more shoulder and headroom (if just) than both the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series, though it does trail the pack in rear legroom. 

Despite the redesigned rear end offering a longer trunk, rear cargo space is worst in class at just 13.1 cubic feet. There’s enough room for golf clubs and other country club necessities, but a trip to the Home Depot may require utilizing some of the backseat to do the job in one trip via putting down the rear seats, which is an easy task.

Despite the lack of space, the trunk line does swoop very low, which makes taking things in and out of the trunk much easier, a strong point for potential elderly buyers. The E450 also has storage hooks in the trunk which make hanging clothes or other items more ergonomic. It should also be noted that the 4Matic AWD system does a fantastic job in the snow, as it simply laughed at the 4” of fresh powder we had during the second day of our testing. All in all, I give the E450 a 5/10 for practicality.  

Comfort 8.5/10

You’d be hard pressed to find a more comfortable daily driver than the E450, save of course for the S-Class and its competitors. Luxurious seats, as talked about above, are among the most comfortable I have ever tested. Even the head rests are above and beyond, feeling both soft and supportive simultaneously. With both heating and cooling options, that’s likely to remain the same despite weather or climate differences for certain buyers. I found this feature very useful, as during the day in Colorado it can get quite warm even during winter, and you guessed it, plenty cold at night. Couple the heating and cooling options with the hot stone massaging seats and it’s easy to see why it scored so high.  

Our press car was equipped with the optional air suspension ($1,900), and as far as I am concerned it is absolutely worth it. In comfort mode you don’t feel road imperfections at all, think big body Cadillac but still dynamic should you need it to be. While the front seats are very comfortable and a great place to be, the rear isn’t quite as impressive, mainly due to the lack of legroom mentioned in the practicality section above (read: worst in class).

It’s not bad, and as this is really where the S-Class shines over its smaller sibling, not a huge issue. Other than rear seat space my only gripe was that the snow tires on certain types of pavement exhibited a disconcerting amount of  road noise. Though not likely to be an issue for cars without said snow tires, it is still worth mentioning. Small grumbles aside, the E450 excels in the comfort department, reflected by its 8.5/10 score.    

Tech 8.5/10

Mercedes has long been a trailblazer for new technology, both in the cabin and under the hood, and while the latter does have some neat tech with the EQ Boost hybrid drive system and new 9-speed automatic, the majority of the E450’s tech is at your fingertips, quite literally. There’s enough tech stuff to write a three part article on (we have a few videos on this if you’re interested in learning more), but I will do my best to cover the E450’s impressively long list of tech goodies. Starting with the new MBUX system, a haptic touch pad replaces the existing rotary dial that could ‘click’.

Swiping and pinching to change screens are reminiscent of using a smartphone, though it’s a bit more of a process. I preferred the old rotary dial system, but with the new dual 12.3” touch screens, you don’t have to use the touch pad for anything. Exploring the MBUX system and touchscreens is a bit overwhelming the first time. There are so many different screens to go through, feeling more reminiscent of a computer and an actual infotainment system.  While the basics such as connecting a phone, or playing music were easy to use, exploring the rest of MBUX hundreds of screens is a bit daunting. Other useful MBUX features include voice recognition and hand gestures, which allow you to do things such as turn on the massage function on the seats among other things. 

Though hand motioning for a hot stone massage from your car is impressive, the MBUX augmented reality system is the coolest bit of tech that the E450 has. Utilizing the front parking cameras, the right-hand infotainment system generates an image of what the road ahead of you looks like. The real utility of this comes to light when looking for a house number or trying to figure out when you need to turn, as it displays this information in real time.

Adding to the impressive tech list, though a bit standard by today’s times are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. A Burmester audio system is available as standard, and is very ‘Mercedes’ in terms of sound quality, offering rich highs, full mids, and plenty of bass. I am not convinced the average buyer will use 50% of the tech goodies included with the E450, but those who do will be rewarded and unlikely to get bored anytime soon. The confusing touchpad keep the score from being near perfect.

 Connected Services 7/10

With the high level of tech the E450 oozes, one would expect connected services as well, and they’d be right. In addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, back for 2021 is the ‘Mercedes me’ mobile app, available for both iOS and Android, and despite the goofy name, it had a lot of useful features. In addition to the basics like remote start or lock/unlock etc, it includes geofencing, valet mode, remote vehicle configuration and status among other things. Should your vehicle get lost or stolen (I hate when I lose my Mercedes!), there are features in the app that assist with that as well. Three years of the app service are included for free with new purchases. 

Interestingly, one thing that is not available for the E450 is over the air updates. While you can update the Nav system through the Mercedes me app, receive remote diagnostics, and roadside recovery, you cannot update any of the cars modules over the air, despite having the option for LTE capabilities with the E450. In the modern world of version XYZ firmware updates, this is a huge disappointment. Despite this, the ease of use with the app does score it highly, only losing points due to the lack of over the air updates.

Active Safety 10/10

It takes a lot to get a 10/10 score on anything we test, and this is actually the first I have been able to award with our new rating system. I tip my hat to you Mercedes, congratulations. Part of what earned it the 10/10 score is that the list of safety equipment that comes as standard is more than you get with most vehicles, optioned or standard. This is a long list; Brake Assist, Crosswind Assist, Blindspot Assist, Adaptive Braking, Braking Assist, Advanced tire pressure monitoring, Attention Assist, rain sensing wipers, and parking damage detector, are all available as standard on top of the usual stuff like stability control etc.   

Optional safety equipment raises the bar even higher, and includes some pretty trick stuff that buyers who want extra piece of mind for themselves and their passengers will undoubtedly pick. Some of these include things such as, this is another long list so take a deep breath; Active Distance Assist, intelligent LED headlamps, Adaptive High Beam Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Blindspot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic function, Congestion Emergency Braking, take another deep breath we are almost there, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Route-Based Speed Adaptation, and PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist.

That’s not the full list, but it’s abundantly clear that the E450 is as safe of a car as it is anything else. It should be noted that part of why the MBUX system is so complicated is that each of these options has its own screen and sub-menu. While all of the E450’s safety equipment seems like it would be intrusive, such is not the case at all. When driving around town you can’t tell any of it is there unless you need it to be there, which is exactly how it should be.

Value 5/10 

Mercedes-Benz and value are not often found in the same sentence, unless there is a negative connotation. Sadly, the E450 is no exception to this norm, and though it starts at ‘just’ $62,000, in typical German fashion a lot of the trick goodies outside of the safety equipment are optional, our’s followed suit and rang up to the tune of just over $80,000 with a long list of options . Even at 80k, it’s a lot of car. It’s interior is certainly a step above the BMW 5-Series which is similar in price and sporting ability, and the Audi A6 can’t do anything that the E450 can’t, while offering less tech and being a bit more dull of a drive. 

Buyers who want a premium midsize luxury sedan should absolutely give the updated E-Class, specifically the E450, a look. While comparatively speaking eighty thousand dollars may be a fair deal compared to its rivals, it’s still a lot of cash. There are a percentage of buyers who will use it strictly for commuting and ignore a large chunk of the tech stuff, and there’s an argument that can be made there about how a new Camry would have a similar effect. Fortunately for Mercedes, most buyers won’t care, as Mercedes has never been about value, but being the best, and as often happens with top of the line (insert literally anything), it comes at a price. This is why the E450 scores a 5/10 for value.  

Editors Influence 8/10 

This car surprised me, for a few reasons. First, gone is the stigma that Mercedes are for old people, in fact, I would say it’s actually targeted towards a younger crowd than previous generations. While it still has comfortable Mercedes ride quality, it’s supple, and there’s no way to say it, BMW-esque, which is a good thing. I know it’s not a sports car, but I was very impressed with how dynamic the chassis on the E450 has become. While it’s happier at 80% versus 100%, it is a rewarding experience no less, and that’s just a small part of the experience.

The interior is fantastic, and incredibly simple for how much technology it holds. Touchpad aside from the touchpad, no confusing buttons or oddly laid out switches that are difficult to use or frustrating. The seats are among the most comfortable I have ever felt, and the hot stone massage is best in the class. The E450 is a perfect daily driver, and those who don’t mind spending a little bit of money for the options will undoubtedly be rewarded, earning it a 8/10. 

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