Rating: 8.6 (E63 AMG: 9.0)
Bottom Line:
Fresh new styling, an even more frugal turbodiesel engine, more powerful AMG versions that now come standard with all-wheel drive, and a brace of new, leading-edge safety and convenience systems make the E-Class family more complete and attractive than ever.
Pros:
  • Exceptional E63 AMG 4Matic versions
  • Frugal new diesel available with all-wheel drive
  • Fresh new faces (Sport and E63 AMG)
Cons:
  • Standard seats lack support
  • Soft handling (E250 Bluetec)
  • New E400 bi-turbo V6 lacks low-end punch

View Pictures:  2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe and cabriolet

With over 13 million cars produced through more than six decades, the midsize Mercedes-Benz E-Class family is truly the heart and core of the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Five years into the ninth generation of this class-defining series, the dean of automakers is expanding its reach in every direction with stylish bodywork, a frugal new diesel engine and 4Matic all-wheel drive.

Model lineup
The E-Class will again be offered as sedan or wagon for 2014, the former outselling the latter by a ratio of about 7-to-1 worldwide and 10-to-1 stateside. The wagon will be available by special dealer order only, in the highest trim, because of the limited numbers. In North America, both models will also be delivered exclusively with a performance-oriented version of the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

The E63's 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 engine gets a power upgrade, and a new S version gets even more horsepower and torque in addition to several upgrades previously included in the optional AMG Performance package. Among these are a limited-slip differential, matte-finish alloy wheels, red brake calipers, an Alcantara-draped steering wheel and a number of trim upgrades. The E63 AMG wagon will be offered only as an S.

Mercedes-Benz is adding the E 250 Bluetec sedan, powered by a frugal new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that will also be available with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The outgoing V6 diesel-powered E 350 Bluetec is rear-drive only. A twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 gasoline engine will power the new E 400 sedans that will come in the fall of 2014 as 2015 models. The current plan is for rear- and all-wheel-drive versions to take over from the V8-powered E 550 4Matic Sport Sedan then.

Although the E-Class sedan and wagon's structure and major components are essentially unchanged in this midcycle revamp, none of their body panels were left untouched. For the first time, regular E-Class models have two different front fascias to choose from. Luxury versions get the classic Mercedes-Benz grille with thin louvers and the star emblem on the hood. The Sport variant wears its big three-pointed star in the middle of the grille.

The E63 AMG has a new face too, with a horizontally-split grille and deeper, race-inspired air intakes. Rear fascias have changed much less but AMG models get a quartet of trapezoidal exhaust tips rather the twin outlets on other E models.

The 2014 E-Class is at the forefront in active safety with the availability of 11 all-new or enhanced systems that will soon appear on the new S-Class. Most are interlinked and powered by a new stereo camera mounted on the higher portion of the windshield, as well as a more sophisticated array of short- and long-range radar units. Thanks to several of these new systems, the E-Class can basically steer, stop and keep its passengers and surroundings (pedestrians included) out of harm's way. It can also park itself with active parking assist and automatically adjust headlight aim and intensity to avoid blinding other drivers. And it all works well.

Inner space
Changes to the E-Class cabin are slight and subtle. The most notable is a trio of retro-lit gauges in the instrument cluster with crisp white numerals on a black background. The framed control screen is a new design and so are the air vents, with a new analogue clock set in the midst of the center pair.

The AMGs get their own clock as well as more businesslike materials of the highest grade and abundant surfaces of stitched leather. The gorgeous sport steering wheel is draped in Nappa leather. An Alcantara-wrapped wheel and extra stitching on all leather accoutrements, upgrades previously included in the optional AMG Performance package, are standard on the new S versions.

There are substantial differences in overall comfort and support between the standard seats in tamer cars such as the E250 Bluetec and the optional sport seats in the more performance-oriented E400, let alone the fully adjustable front perches in E63 AMG models.

Under the hood
A substantial part of the 2014 E-Class story revolves around engines and powertrain combos. Coming next fall, the E250 will be graced by a new 2.1-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine that develops 190 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque at only 1600 rpm. Even with the extra weight, the E250 4Matic should get to 60 mph in less than eight seconds and return more than 40 mpg city and highway combined.

At the other end of this spectrum, the maximum output of the AMG iterations' twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 5.5-liter V8 engine rises from 518 to 550 horsepower. And the new S version delivers 577 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 531 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm — enough to propel the E63 sedan to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and the wagon in 3.6 seconds, thanks to a "race start" mode programmed into the 7-speed gearbox as well as optimal traction provided by standard 4Matic all-wheel drive.

Solid performance and enthralling sound are also hallmarks of the E550 sedan's twin-turbo 4.6-liter 402-horsepower V8 engine. It remains in the E-Class lineup until the new E400 steps in as a 2015 model, powered by the aforementioned 3.0-liter V6 that generates 328 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. The 3.5-liter gas-fed V6 is still the base engine for the E 350 sedan and will remain the only unit available in the E 350 4Matic wagon. The E 400 Hybrid sedan also lives on unchanged.

On the road
The new E-Class is just as diverse in terms of driving character. The new E250 Bluetec feels every bit like a classic, diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz sedan, solid and steady on its course with cushy suspension and commensurate body roll in corners. Low-end torque is abundant for impeccable drivability. The only vintage element missing, apart from blue smoke, is loud engine clatter at idle.

The upcoming E400 sedan's new engine is certainly not as punchy off the line as the exceptional V8 it will replace, but it sounds great and provides decent thrust. This new E400 is also quite agile and well-balanced on the road, with well-weighted, precise steering and a smooth ride.

Unsurprisingly, the E63 AMG S wagon we drove on the roads of Catalonia, at the European launch, was simply magnificent in terms of handling prowess and feel, raw performance, engine sound and driving ergonomics. The slightly lighter sedan should prove a touch more agile. Both will benefit greatly from the manifold virtues of all-wheel drive in all driving conditions and situations.

Upgrades previously included in the optional AMG Performance package are now part of the new S trim, such as a limited-slip differential, 10-spoke alloy wheels, a glossy-black grille and red brake calipers. For track fanatics, carbon-ceramic brakes with larger — and 40-percent lighter — discs are available on S versions.

Right for you?
The changes and upgrades made to the 2014 E-Class family are both smart and shrewd. Fresh new styling brings the midsize E closer to the young-looking C-Class, and AMG versions are slightly racier and better differentiated. The new diesel-powered E250 Bluetec will have much greater appeal than the outgoing E350.

Spacious wagons, from mild to wild, are a unique proposition from Mercedes-Benz and making 4Matic all-wheel drive standard on the E63 AMG pair is a simply brilliant move. Bring on the competition. The upcoming 2015 E400 sedan with its balanced and lively handling is also promising. But the E550 sport sedan, with its solid, planted feel and glorious V8 will do just fine until then.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.