You can’t really call any of Mercedes-Benz’s cars “mainstream” models. After all, the upscale brand tends to cater to a typically upscale clientele, or at least those who want a little bit of an upscale driving experience. Cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are mainstream sedans; models like the Mercedes E-Class are more often classified as luxury cars.
Nonetheless, the mid-size car known as the E350 and E550 in the United States recently got a complete redesign, and has become the ninth generation in a string of mainstay models from the German brand going back to post-WWII. While previous generations of the car were not always specifically referred to as E-Class models, Mercedes-Benz has taken liberty with the designation.
At the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Mercedes had one example from each generation lined up outside their elaborate tent. The idea was to show how far the mid-size sedan has come, but also that each iteration eventually gets classified as timeless.
Initially, there are two body styles for 2010, including a coupe version of the E-Class. This isn’t a first, as there have been 2-door variants of the car through the years. But in the two previous generations, a model called the CLK took that spot in Mercedes’ line. Now, the CLK is no longer, and the sportier variant with two fewer doors is now called the E-Class Coupe. (In reality, the CLK was supposed to be part of the C-Class line, but it was always priced near the E-Class.)
The sedan will be the mainstay of the new model, as most buyers in this segment want the convenience of having four doors and a more spacious rear seat. For a few decades now, attaining a Mercedes-Benz E-Class has been not only a solid choice for comfortable driving, but a subtle way to tell others on the road, “I’ve arrived.”
It isn’t all about status with this car. Engineering advances have always kept it just a step or two ahead of other cars in its size class, and sometimes in its price class. From the famous Mercedes “thunk” sound when a door is closed, to safety advancements in the form of things like anti-lock brakes and airbags, the E-Class has often been a desired car for those who could handle the payment schedule.
From a driving standpoint, the E350 is really first-rate. Mercedes-Benz hasn’t lost its way when it comes to road feel and comfort in the same package, with a smooth ride along with sharp handling when it‘s needed. The car is also very well packaged, as the inside is quite cavernous considering the relatively trim overall size of the car.
The big development that’s found its way into the new E-Class as standard equipment is something called Attention Assist. Essentially, it’s a comprehensive system that keeps tabs on your driving motions, and can detect when you might be getting drowsy and are in need of a rest.
Statistics show that drowsy driving contributes to more than 100,000 highway accidents in a year, with a significant number of them resulting in fatalities. While most of us would never knowingly get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol, driving while being tired just seems to be part of life. Yet someone who is sleep deprived can be just as dangerous on the road as someone who’s over the legal limit for alcohol consumption.
Attention Assists monitors dozens of factors, including things like twitchy steering inputs and sudden applications of the brakes at speed. It takes about twenty minutes of highway driving to gather all the inputs into the car’s computer. Once Attention Assist calculates that the driver of the car might be on the verge of nodding off, it sounds a chime and displays a symbol on the instrument panel in the shape of a coffee cup.
“Time for a rest?” asks the display in bold text just below the coffee cup symbol. This alone may wake up a drowsy driver, but if the symptoms of sleepiness continue, the sysyem will keep nagging. Only after the car is stopped, the engine shut off, and the driver’s seatbelt is released will Attention Assist reset itself.
The system is standard on every new E-Class (coupe and sedan), and will be phased into other Mercedes-Benz models as they’re updated, beginning with the 2010 S-Class. Base price for a new E350 is $49,475, while the V8-powered E550 has a base price of $57,175. Mercedes knows that buyers of premium class cars usually want the latest safety technology, and it’s easier to incorporate something new into a model that already costs nearly twice as much as the average new car.
Even if a car like a new Mercedes-Benz is out of your price range, Attention Assist could potentially benefit everyone on the road. Getting drowsy drivers out from behind the wheel when they might be a danger on the road is good for us all.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.