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Motoring: 2013 E300 not much of a winter car

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | March 18th, 2013

If you were at the recent Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, you probably saw the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-class on display. The car featured here today is not that car.

There are two reasons why I am not going to be talking about next year's model today: 1. The 2014 model has not gone on sale yet, so if you're shopping for a new Eclass right now, you'll need to settle for the 2013 model; 2. I wasn't invited to the new E-class launch in Spain.

Oh well, the 2013 model is relevant for at least a few months, so how is it?

Let's begin with the skin. The current E-class has been with us since the 2010 model year, and while I was not a fan of its styling when it was launched, I have grown to really admire them. This is a handsome sedan, and Mercedes-Benz has been discreetly polishing its looks and making it better. For instance, the LED lights in the front bumper used to look like an afterthought and did nothing for its style. Since 2012, the LED lights look much cleaner and are better integrated in the front bumper. It was a small change but one that made a difference. The rest of the car remained the same, which is really rather elegant.

If you are impressed by this car's exterior, the interior will surely impress you further. This is one of the nicest, best laid out and most spacious interiors I have ever come across in a mid-size luxury sedan.

No matter where you sit in this car, you will be comfortable, and isn't that the main reason why people spend the extra money when buying luxury cars? It's surprising how many manufacturers forget that, but Mercedes-Benz certainly did not.

It is also well equipped, although some of that will come down to the options you choose. My tester was quite well equipped with all the usual luxury features, but one that deserves a lengthy mention was its navigation system. This E300 had the most sophisticated and accurate navigation system I had ever come across. Not only was the map detailed and easy to read, it would also give live, accurate traffic reports.

I was also very impressed with its Linguatronic voice recognition software. Many similar systems from other manufacturers are very hard to use, but the Mercedes-Benz system works like a charm. I was thoroughly impressed with this system.

So far I have liked this car's looks, and the interior has been very impressive, but what is it like to drive?

The short answer would be: quite satisfying. But let's get into the details.

The E300 4MATIC is propelled by a 3.5-litre V6 engine. Yes, I know what you're thinking, why is it not called an E350 if it has a 3,498cc engine? The reason is because this is a detuned version of the 3.5 motor, tweaked for smoother driving, rather than having a sporty temperament. As a result, it produces 248hp and 251lb/ft of torque.

The only transmission available on this model is a smooth sevenspeed automatic. This is not the quickest shifting auto-box I have ever come across, but again, this model is not about speed, so its relaxed transmission goes with the character of the car.

Being a 4MATIC, power goes to all wheels, but also being the old E-class setup, this 4MATIC is rear-wheel based. That is not an issue for most of the year, and in fact on nice days, it feels very good, indeed. However, this system was not the best to use on the highway, on a day the weather was being particularly nasty. Plus, my tester was fitted with all-season tires, not winter tires, which made my drive quite challenging. As soon as I would try to pass a slower vehicle, it felt like the back end of the car wanted to overtake the front end, and that is not a good feeling at highway speeds.

If it had winter tires, it would have been better, but an active allwheel drive system that can choose to send more power to the front would have been better still. For the 2014 model E-class (the car I haven't drivenů yet), I am told the 4MATIC system will adopt a more 50/50 split, which would help matters in challenging weather conditions.

Apart from the issues I just mentioned, the E300 4MATIC was indeed a lovely car to drive. It rode very well, and on sunny days, it handled quite well. I just loved the steering feel, as it was neither too light nor too heavy. Plus, like all other Mercs, it has a tiny turning circle, which makes it easy to park. As a car for running around the city, it is just excellent.

I was also impressed how quick it was off the line. Given it only has 248hp and its hefty curb weight of 1,815kg, this E300 would just smoothly rocket away from traffic lights. According to Mercedes-Benz, it can sprint from zero to 100 km/h in just 7.4 seconds. I can believe those numbers, since it actually felt even quicker than that. Its top speed is electronically restricted to 210 km/h, which is fast enough for a family car.

One of the things the modern car-buyer looks at very closely these days is fuel economy. In my test week, with my driving style and the weather I faced, it still managed to do a combined city and highway run of 11.8 litres/100km. That is not bad, but you do have to feed it premium fuel, which is quite expensive.

As for the price of the car, the 2013 E300 4MATIC sedan is yours from $58,300. For a luxury car from a prestigious brand, that is not bad. I do like this car quite a lot, but in its current guise, it is not the ideal winter weather vehicle. Either buy this car now and invest in the best winter tires money can buy, or simply wait until the 2014 model hits the market.
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