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The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Gets an AI Upgrade

The luxury car as much an achievement in artificial intelligence as four-wheeled transport.

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Mercedes-Benz makes luxury cars and SUVs known for their precision and build quality. Even Mercedes trucks and vans are known for their craftsmanship and reliability. Germany’s iconic automaker aims consistently uptown and does not pound out pickups, hay haulers or plows.

Still, if Mercedes-Benz does have a “workhorse,” it’s the E-Class. Standing squarely in the middle of the company’s product range, the E-Class is easily one of its biggest sellers. A traditional choice in sedan or coupe form (and even station wagon) for everyone from executives to livery companies, the car is a hugely important build for that three-star badge out of Stuttgart.

So, when this bread and butter, tentpole machine receives some updates and redesigns, it’s big auto news. The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class arrived for this model year as the automaker’s centerpiece for technological development — making the car as much an achievement in artificial intelligence as four-wheeled transport.

All the tech in the world can’t make up for a car without spine and guts, so the E-Class variants receive either a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder or a 3.0 liter, Bi-Turbo V6 Engine with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The listed powertrains are capable of between 241 to 329 horsepower and use a Dynamic Select Drive Mode system to manage both engines and the car’s four-wheel independent suspension between Eco and Sport settings.

So, the car is moving along well enough while the 12.3-inch high-resolution COMAND Display manages the car’s climate, security and infotainment systems. Meanwhile, it’s the car’s safety technology that pushes it beyond the capabilities of any previous E-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive tech includes the Driver Assistance System and a suite of new sensors and radar. The car’s electronic perception makes Car to X Communication possible as both the Mercedes-Benz E and S Classes “talk” to each other and scans the surrounding driving environment to mark threats along the route. An Active Brake Assist system will stop the car pre-collision.

In the case of a crash, the E-Class applies its new Pre-Safe Sound system. One of the lesser-known side effects of a severe crash is ear damage as the noise of sudden impact can damage an eardrum. Pre-Safe Sound detects a crash and uses the preceding milliseconds to send out a burst of white noise — causing the ear muscles to contract and close the auditory canal.

Just as it did with its design for the three-point seat belt decades ago, Mercedes-Benz will share the patents for its safety technology to protect all drivers.

The E-Class driving feel is 100% familiar to anyone who’s ever laid hands on a Merc. It’s grounded, confident and endlessly smooth. While a certain heaviness in the nose was married to Mercedes-Benz cars in the past, recent years shed that sensation. The current breeds accelerate smoothly and handle deftly under all conditions.

Those sensations come with a price, as expected. The sedan’s starting MSRP settles around $53,000, while the coupe begins at $59,000. The E400 sells for $66,300 — while the E400 4MATIC totals out around $68,800.

As for the pure performance of an E-Class, this reporter will opt for anecdotal evidence. The media drive event for this year’s model took place in New York at Manhattan Mercedes-Benz, the company’s flagship U.S. dealership. The test route began at that 11th Avenue locale, headed up the Hudson Parkway and north to a quaint lunch spot in Connecticut. Given traffic and an average consumer automobile, that’s maybe a 90-minute run. I wouldn’t be driving average consumer vehicles, however.

About eight vehicles would set out on this Tri-State Area journey. I hung back to ask a couple of questions of the Mercedes-Benz reps on site before heading out and ended up the last driver through the door. It seemed I’d be late to the Nutmeg State lunch table.

Then again, there was that Sport Dynamic Select drive mode. I clicked that on and drove with exuberance. Combine the car’s natural power with how assured the driver feels in control of its perfectly balanced engineering, and the result was predictable. I left Manhattan last. I arrived for lunch first. I was so early that I beat even the Merc reps to the bar and had time for a non-alcoholic adult beverage.

I suppose we would call that a mocktail. And, we can call the 2018 E-Class a worthy successor to its standard-setting Mercedes-Benz ancestors.