Automobile

2021 Mercedes E450 4MATIC Review: Thoughtful Luxury Hiding Under Bewildering Technology

Let’s pump the brakes here, though. Almost everything I’ve mentioned above is an option. The ventilated massage seats, the fuel-sipping hybrid engine, the perfume, all of it. The only standard feature listed above is the heated seats and ambient lighting. Heck, even my nearly $82,000 test car didn’t have a heated steering wheel. Unable to find the button for it on a particularly chilly Boston morning—this thing is 80 grand, I’m just an idiot and can’t find the button—I asked the (very good and $200) Mercedes voice command system to turn it on for me. It heard what I said and began to respond; “I’m sorry…” oh, I’ll have to repeat myself, that’s frustrating… “this vehicle is not equipped with a heated steering wheel.” I didn’t really know that to think after hearing that—the vehicle even had optional heated armrests, but not a heated steering wheel. I carried on with cold hands and a sense of bewilderment at the technology around me.

Gradually, that sense of being overwhelmed began to grow, particularly when it came to the suite of driver assists. This was strange because the E450, at its core, is built for cruising long stretches of highway. This is where some of that underpinning excellence came in. The vehicle’s massive 21.1-gallon fuel tank and above-average highway fuel economy enable an EPA-estimated range of nearly 550 miles. Just the same, the nine-speed transmission allowed for very low RPMs at above-average speeds. Combine this with a very comfortable air-sprung chassis (a $1,900 option) and $1,100 worth of optional acoustic insulation, and even a lightly-optioned E450 would be an impressive one. 

Sensory Overload

The driver assists were far from impressive and made all of that baked-in goodness easy to ignore, though. First off, the lane following system is hands-on and really liked to bounce me around inside the lines. In a Mercedes, for more than 80 grand, it should be able to keep you straight. And really, at this point, I shouldn’t have to have my hands on it. Cadillac is miles ahead in this respect. I wouldn’t even mention that if the rest of the car didn’t feel so modern. Changing songs or adjusting volume on the steering wheel requires a swipe instead of an archaic button press and almost everything can be activated effectively with a stroke of the 12.3-inch touchscreen or a simple voice command.

The radar cruise control also has something of an alarming flaw. Some states like Maine post a minimum as well as maximum speed limit on roadside signage. Multiple times, the Mercedes would read the minimum number and automatically adjust the cruise control to that. As a result, the car would suddenly and unexpectedly begin braking—firmly—down to something like 30 to 40 miles per hour in the middle of the Interstate. It didn’t succeed in reading every posted limit which somehow made this whole experience a bit more nerve-wracking.

This only compounded previous issues I had with the vehicle’s other systems. The car’s overhead parking assist graphic was very easy to use and illustrated the physical world around the car well, but it frequently saw ghosts, sensing and beeping at objects that weren’t there.

Just the same, if there’s debris on any of the sensors the car has no logic to recognize that. When I was going under something like 15 miles per hour, the car would beep constantly if there was ice, snow, anything obscuring the sensors. That was very easy to shut off thanks to the excellent voice command system—another point for that $200 option—but still annoying and something I had to remember to turn back on. 

All of these features quickly became a nuisance and stood directly in the face of a basic platform that seemed solid like a rock. The engine performed admirably if not sounding incredible in the process and the interior was well-designed with a massive shield above the touchscreen so there was never glare on it. As a commenter pointed out, the transmission would also always start me in second gear in the default comfort mode just so I could roll away a bit more smoothly from a start. 

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