There are a limited number of objects that look aesthetically pleasing when covered in amorphous bumps and strakes—a Winslow Homer seascape, an Alvar Aalto interior, and James Dean’s hair top our short list. Notably absent from this rarefied grouping is the exterior design language of the world’s premier manufacturer of German luxury vehicles. And yet, for much of the past decade, just this kind of inelegance has afflicted the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
Patient Zero of this pandemic was likely the W221 S-Class, with its fish-eyed glare, its bulbous linebacker’s shoulders and thighs, and its mass-increasing creasy massing. But it spread like jock itch throughout the product line. In fact, the only Benz strong enough to survive this contagion was the mightily rectilinear G-Wagen and that was only because, like a zombie, this ancient vehicle was already dead—having been killed officially in 2006, only to rise from the grave to eat its GL replacement’s brains.
That has finally started to change.
Like a tiny rake from a desktop Zen sand garden being set upon the Mojave, this disfiguring condition has received its first successful, though limited, medical treatment. We are talking, of course, of the mid-cycle refresh of the E-Class for 2014, and the lancing of the croissant-shaped goiter that scarred its rear quarter panel.
We do not expect, and neither are we advocating, a Nicole Kidman-esque eradication of all imperfections throughout Mercedes’ myriad offerings — they allow a vehicle to communicate emotion. But the ironing out of this one area gives us hope that the doctors in Stuttgart may soon follow the same curative course on the hideous SL, and have preventively vaccinated the forthcoming remade S-Class.
The E-Class’s exterior has received other updates beyond this lovely lumpectomy. These include a tucked-in tail with special new LED taillights that we won’t receive in America; a refreshed front end with an intensely complicated glare-proof new headlight system that we won’t receive in America; and a pair of tidily handsome, if a bit protuberant, new schnozzes. The duo will forsake the global names “Elegance” and “Avant Garde” in America, and instead be christened “Luxury”— designated by a grille stolen back from the Hyundai Genesis—and “Sport”— designated by its resemblance to the proper grille on the W107 SL and that it's the only one you should consider buying.
There will also be new engines. Oh, will there be new engines. The range of available powerplants in the E-Class has grown so complicated Mercedes has to use a series of molecular ball-and-stick models, the polyvalence of which rivaled that of carcinogenic solvents like hexamethylphosphoramide.
All in all, there will be literally 74 different European E-Class four and five-doors. Fortunately, we dullard Americans need only to acknowledge a handful of them. Within the next few months, the newly beautified American E will host a carryover 302 hp V-6 in the E350, a grunty 195 hp/379 lb-ft 4-cylinder turbo-diesel in the E250, a 27 hp battery-assist to the carryover V-6 in the 329 hp E400 Hybrid, a moribund 402 hp twin-turbo carryover V-8 in the E550, and, by the fall of next year, a potent new 333 hp twin-turbo V-6 that will replace the dead V-8 in the E400. Oh, and just about all of these are available with traditional rear wheel-drive, or traditional 4Matic all wheel-drive.
Adding to your list of checkbook-draining checkboxes is the availability of 11 new or improved safety systems. We sampled as many of these as we could, but, given our jet lag, we only remember the most magical and inane. These included a lane-keeping feature that rather lethargically applies the brakes to force you back over the yellow lines when you stray during retweeting; a daytime, front-view camera that displays on the infotainment screen everything that you already see out of your windshield; and, an autonomous self-parking system that allows the car to maneuver you eerily, without wheel or brake contact, into a parallel or perpendicular spot by way of an inscrutable and sluggardly protocol that will indubitably incite the irritation, murder, and/or loss of available parking spots of the very urban dwellers to whom it is most likely to appeal.
There is also a pedestrian avoidance system, but it could not be tested due to the fact that the appointed pedestrian dummies kept moving erratically, like real pedestrians, in the high Spanish winds, and properly dumb humans could not be found to act as targets in their stead, none of which exactly inspired confidence.
Confused by all of these options? Don’t be.
Because while all of these iterations will be properly vault-like, and durable, and surprisingly efficient, and kitted out with exquisite interiors crafted from quality materials, the car you really want is the E63 S AMG. Available as a sedan and a near-mythical wagon, this über-E houses under its bonnet a 585-hp twin-turbo V-8, a 33/67 permanent front/rear all wheel-drive split, a differential lock, an Alcantara steering wheel, chrome and carbon fiber inserts, and the ability to shriek from 0-60 in under 3.5 seconds. (A lesser E63 sedan has “only” 557 hp and rear wheel-drive, but that one is obviously for posers.)
All of the Es are wonderfully solid, stolid, and competent — as an E-Class is supposed to be. But only the E63 had the iron to iron out the hairpin turns and bending sweepers that run up and around the saw-tooth Catalonian mountains on which we were privileged to drive. When our monster V-8-drawn caravan — or what was left of it after intervention by the Spanish police — completed its course, we left behind us a fantastically smooth wake, one that could only have been created by this newly smoothed-out vehicle.