There was a tie when luxury buyers had just a handful of models and brands to choose from. These days, “product proliferation” is the game, manufacturers flooding the market with a wide range of offerings filling just about every possible premium niche.
Yet, a handful of models maintain an outsize presence, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class being one of the best examples. It remains one of the most popular luxury models in the U.S. and routinely accounts for 20% of the German maker’s sales here. That’s all the more significant as the current E-Class wraps up its final months on the market by helping Mercedes nudge past rivals BMW and Lexus to take the sales lead in the critical U.S. market.
“It’s really the bread-and-butter model for Mercedes-Benz,” says Bart Herring, chief of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA.
And the maker hopes to keep it that way. But with competition getting ever tougher, Mercedes has to work hard to stay on top – which means rolling out an all-new version of the E-class for 2014.
The basic design of the 2014 line-up won’t come as a shock. Quite the contrary. The ninth-generation E-Class borrows many of the design cues introduced on more recent Mercedes-Benz models, such as the all-new S-Class coming to market later this year.
In a sense, there will be two distinctly different versions of the E-Class. Buyers will have a choice of the conservative “Luxury” edition, with a classic Tri-Star hood ornament, or the more contemporary “Sport,” with an oversized star centered in the grille. Mercedes expects the vast majority of U.S. buyers to opt for the Sport edition.
(Check out TheDetroitBureau.com’s review of the all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Click Here.)
All versions of the E-Class also will get a wide range of the bigger sedan’s advanced safety features, including the Intelligent Drive technology, a so-called “sensor fusion” that uses a mix of radar, sonar and stereoscopic cameras to help steer clear of accidents – or reduce the likelihood of injuries if a collision proves unavoidable.
The success of the E-Class line can’t be underestimated. It’s common for products to slide precipitously in the market as the time for a replacement nears. But the mid-range model saw a 5% increase in U.S. volume last year, Mercedes selling 50,696 E-Class models. And even during the first quarter of 2013 volume rose again by 3%.
In fact, demand for the wagon version rose 10% last year and 8% during the first quarter. Mercedes has been the only maker to maintain a “two-box” version in the midsize luxury segment, and the wagon will be back for 2014, notes Herring.
(Cadillac goes Rogue in bid to take on Mercedes and other luxury rivals. Click Here for the story.)
If anything, you’ll see even more variants going forward, taking advantage of what the product management executive calls “the flexibility of the platform.”
The E-Class will debut with a 3.5-liter V-6 in wagon and sedan form, the E350. A larger V-8 will follow, along with both and AMG high-performance edition and a new diesel. In a surprise move, the oil-burner will serve as the E-Class entry model, the Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec going for just $51,400, or $500 less than the E350 gas model. The maker expects the diesel to account for somewhere between 4% and 6% of E-Class volume, but considering the success of other recent diesel offerings from competitors like Volkswagen, BMW and Audi, it may find that far too conservative.
Look for coupe and convertible versions of the E-Class to roll into showrooms a few months after the launch of the sedan and wagon models. The most expensive model in the mix, according to current plans, will be the Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG 4Matic Wagon, at $102,370. (Add $925 destination charges to all these prices.)
(Mercedes-Benz S-Class a technical tour-de-force. Click Hereto see why.)
For all the updates, the new E-Class won’t come as a shock to buyers. So, some observers are wondering whether Mercedes went far enough.
“They didn’t have to,” counters David Sullivan, auto analyst with AutoPacific, Inc. “When it comes to the E-Class, loyal customers will just buy it.”
With one of the highest loyalty rates in the industry, that should keep Mercedes’ factories rolling. Yet there are enough new features, says Sullivan, to win over new buyers as well.