In an era where luxury midsize sedans are hitting the guillotine, Mercedes-Benz and Genesis are doubling down on the segment. Both automakers are bringing the best of their portfolios to make their midsize sedans—the E-Class and G80, respectively—more special.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, known for its peaceful ride, elegant design, and comfortable cabin, has been a staple in the segment, and Mercedes has used its legacy to keep improving and raising the bar every time it has a chance. The new Genesis G80, on the other hand, is the rookie of the group. It arrives with confidence to enter a competitive segment that’s dominated by Germans, but the South Koreans have a master plan and brought the best engineers and designers from around the globe to build a proper luxury brand.
Elegant midsize sedans, however, are hard to develop. They must deliver precise handling, offer a quiet and refined ride, and possess the aura of a well-equipped cabin with luxury touches for everyone. The job is not easy, especially when manufacturers try to distinguish midsize from full-size sedans.
With the Acura RLX and Lexus GS discontinued, we brought the refreshed 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic and the new 2021 Genesis G80 3.5T Prestige to the ring in order to find out which sedan is the best. Is the E-Class still the benchmark of the segment? Or can the G80 topple the current segment leaders?
The Players: New G80, New E-Class
Entering its second generation, the 2021 Genesis G80 is getting an extreme makeover inside and out. Adapting the new Genesis design language that made its debut on the GV80 crossover, the G80 adapts a massive hexagonal grille and a pair of slim headlights on each corner. The sculpted hood lines and clean profile add elegance without being opulent, and the rear taillights mimic the headlights’ design. Those who see some kind of Bentley cues are not hallucinating—G80 designers Luc Donckerwolke and SangYup Lee worked at the British marque before making the move to Genesis. (Donckerwolke departed the Korean manufacturer earlier this year.)
A 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 generates 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an eight speed automatic, our G80 3.5T Prestige came with the optional all-wheel-drive system.
On the other side of the ring, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is getting a midcycle update that’s more extensive than what we’re used to seeing. The face-lifted Mercedes adds a new hood, a new front fascia, and a more aggressive but elegant grille. On the back, the midsize sedan gets a new trunklid, taillights, and bumper with integrated fake dual exhaust tubes. The result is an E-Class that still looks sharp despite being a few years old.
But the updates don’t stop there—the E 450 is powered by a new mild hybrid engine that’s composed of a 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 with 362 hp and 369 lb-ft mated to an EQ Boost system with a 21-hp and 184-lb-ft electric motor sandwiched between the engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. Despite the motor, total power stays at 362 hp and 369 lb-ft, which is sent to all four wheels via Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
Inside the G80 and E-Class
Riding in the Mercedes-Benz E 450 makes it easy to forget what’s happening outdoors. Even when the world outside is falling apart, the Mercedes’ cabin offers a mixture of peace and tranquility that isolates everyone inside. The serenity and calm are felt in every seat of the cabin, which is amplified by its design and quality.
And it’s not only the looks—nearly every surface you touch has a sense of luxury and quality. From the soft leather to the expansive wood trim that seems to cover nearly every inch of the dashboard and the door panels, Mercedes’ designers really paid close attention to the details. The clean look of the center console and dashboard, the fancy aluminum trim on the Burmester speakers, and the iconic rounded air vents play a big role in making the cabin a nice place to spend a long ride.
As with other new Mercedes models, the refreshed E-Class adopts the new MBUX infotainment system, which is composed of two 12.3-inch screens—one taking over the entire instrument panel and the other located on the center console. MBUX adds more than a touch of modernity to an otherwise iconic cabin, something testing director Kim Reynolds didn’t really like. “I like the big screens, but they don’t sit comfortably with the rest of the interior, which is classical,” he said. Using MBUX can be a bit of a pain—its learning curve is quite high, and a lot of its features are buried in menus. Voice controls help, but why make such a complicated system?
The E-Class also comes with technology that makes everything and everyone more comfortable. When going into a corner, inflatable side bolsters in the front seats support the driver and passenger’s ribcages to prevent them from moving side to side. And the optional seat massage options keep the occupants up front relaxed.
It’s with these details that the E 450 treats its passengers right.
On the other hand, the Genesis G80’s interior delivers a great first impression. Its clean dashboard gives way to a 14.5-inch floating infotainment screen that is more sharp than useful. Although it looks elegant, the driver must control it through a rotary knob that’s buried in the center console and doesn’t have much grip. Although the crisp graphics and smartphone connectivity are nice to have, it’s hard to get to where you want easily.
But its overall design is clean and special. The hidden air vents create a sense of spaciousness in the cabin, while a sea of leather expands throughout the interior. Our G80 3.5T came with a combination of black and caramel-like leather, which created a plush and young feel. Instead of using a traditional lever, the G80 now adapts a rotary knob with a Park button in the middle. All of the materials and plastics have a nice quality, but we still prefer the softness and feel of the Mercedes’ cabin.
Taking the technology to the next level, the G80’s all-digital instrument panel can show 3-D graphics with the touch of a button. You have to really look close to notice the difference between the 2-D and 3-D illustrations, but it’s a cool feature that will hopefully continue to expand in the future. Once the semi-autonomous technologies are engaged, the head-up display and the instrument cluster show a miniature G80 in its lane while also showing the cars that are around in real time, taking a page from Tesla’s Autopilot.
Second-row space is far superior in the G80 than in the E-Class. There’s ample legroom for tall passengers, and headroom is plenty. The Mercedes doesn’t feel cramped, but legroom is limited; you’ll be more comfortable in the Genesis on longer drives.
How They Drive: Can the G80 Catch the E-Class?
Although the E-Class is a refresh, the chassis feels all-new. The Air-Body Control suspension, which adds $1,900 to its price, is money well spent. It delivers a soft and elegant ride that will make you forget about chop and bumps on the freeway and city streets. Its refinement reminds everyone they’re in a Mercedes, and it plays a big role in the cabin’s sophisticated atmosphere.
Instead of trying to be a sport sedan, the E 450 is a pure luxury car. On the track, the Benz went from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, while completing the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds at 103.2 mph. Those numbers are not eye-popping, but rather than mixing the sport and luxury world under one hood, Mercedes offers different flavors of the E-Class depending on your needs. Want something sportier? The AMG E 63 S gets to 60 mph in 3 seconds flat and crushes the quarter mile in 11.2 seconds at 124.2 mph. Of course, its 603-hp V-8 twin-turbo deserves much of that credit, but what stands out is the flexibility of the E-Class chassis, which supports different body styles (coupe, convertible, wagon, and sedan) and powertrains (four-, six-, and eight-cylinder options).
On the street, it’s hard to notice any drawbacks. “There was never a noticeable issue with its ride, and yet it delivers enough composure to be pleasantly agile on the curve bits,” Reynolds said. Whether you’re on the freeway or simply going to the grocery store, the E-Class makes you feel special. The Acoustic Comfort package—a $1,100 option—adds an acoustic windshield and side windows along with extra insulation to block as much outside noise as possible. The result is a quiet and peaceful ambiance.
With its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, the 2021 Genesis G80 feels punchy on the street, delivering smooth acceleration even under full throttle. The Korean completed the 0–60 run in 5.2 seconds, and it almost caught up with the E-Class in the quarter mile, crossing the line in 13.7 seconds at 103.8 mph. The eight-speed automatic is happy to hold gears when it has to, and it will downshift whenever it’s needed without hesitation.
Unfortunately, Genesis still needs to catch up with the Mercedes in terms of ride quality. The G80’s ride is not as refined or smooth as the E 450’s. After driving the G80 back to back with the E-Class, we felt bumps and vibrations in the Genesis’ cabin that we didn’t feel in the Mercedes. The G80’s Comfort mode felt like the Sport mode in the E-Class, indicating how much harsher the ride feels. “There’s some activity going on with the vibrations and wheel package control,” Reynolds said.
Like the E 450, the G80 3.5T is tuned to be a luxury sedan rather than a sport sedan, but it needs refinement. We noted a similar issue with the GV80 SUV, which shares its rear-wheel-drive platform with the G80. Both felt harsher on the road than their German counterparts, and instead of delivering a smooth ride, their springs felt overstressed on the broken pavement.
On the twisty roads along the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California, we noted more body roll in the G80 than in the E 450—which also shows how much more sophisticated the German chassis is over the Korean.
G80 vs. E-Class: Safety
Technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and emergency braking are meant to take stress off the driver while making the environment around us safer. Both sedans were equipped with a long list of safety technologies, but the Genesis stood out over the Mercedes.
Our G80 tester was equipped with Highway Driving Assist II, Smart Cruise Control with Machine Learning, and Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist. With these features on, the G80 stayed centered in its lane at all times and behaved naturally when following the car in front. When that vehicle slowed down, the G80 would apply the brakes in an organic way. Like we mentioned, the system recognizes the traffic around the vehicle and displays it on the digital dashboard, making drivers aware of their surroundings.
On the other hand, the Mercedes E 450 came with the Driver Assistance package, which added $1,950 to its price. The package includes a bunch of safety technologies like active lane change assist, active speed limit assist, and route-based speed adaptation, but we didn’t like the way the whole system worked.
It was difficult (and dangerous) to activate all of the safety technologies, given that they are buried in the MBUX infotainment system. Once activated, the E 450 maintained a safe distance from the car in front, but when the speed limit changed, it would reduce the adaptive cruise control and drive under the new limit. This is something that happened to both Reynolds and me, and on both occasions the Mercedes cruised about 20 mph slower than the rest of the traffic.
Now for the Value
When buying a luxury midsize sedan, value is usually not something that’s at the top of your mind. However, both Mercedes and Genesis bring a lot to the table. Starting at $48,725, the 2021 G80 is priced below any of its German competitors. Its long list of standard features is impressive, giving customers a lot of bang for their buck. Our G80 3.5T Prestige crossed the checkout counter at $69,075 and includes every option available. That’s a lot of car for your money, and should you be on a tight(er) budget, the Genesis has a lot to offer.
The E-Class, on the other hand, starts at around $55,000, and although it includes a long list of standard features, it doesn’t deliver the same way as the Genesis does. But once you drive the E 450 around the block, you’ll soon know it’s worth every penny. Our 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic came with a $79,280 price tag, which is significantly more than the G80, but the experience is also significantly better.
In Conclusion, the Winner Is . . .
Luxury midsize sedans are known for their refined ride, quiet cabin, and plush experience. They should make all of the occupants feel special, while also treating them with the most modern technologies. The Germans have a long history of creating these types of sedans, while the Koreans are surprising the industry with what they can achieve in a short period of time.
For this comparison, though, the behavior of both cars was so different that it wasn’t hard to determine a winner. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 was far superior than the 2021 Genesis G80 3.5T Prestige. The Mercedes’ killer ride quality, peaceful cabin, and updated technology raised the bar in the segment. Mercedes has been playing on this field for years, and the midcycle update to the E-Class is proof that a good car can become a better car.
Genesis still has some work to do. In order to compete against the best of Germany, it must improve its chassis to deliver a softer ride quality.
2021 Genesis G80 AWD 3.5T
2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 4Matic Sedan
Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Turbocharged I-6, alum block/head, plus electric motor
DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
211.8 cu in/3,470 cc
183.0 cu in/2,999 cc
POWER (SAE NET)
375 hp @ 5,800 rpm
362 hp @ 5,500 rpm (gas) + 21 hp (elec); 362 hp (comb)
TORQUE (SAE NET)
391 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm
369 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm + 184 lb-ft (elec); 369 (comb)
WEIGHT TO POWER
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR
Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
BRAKES, F; R
14.2-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS
14.2-in vented, drilled disc; 14.2-in vented disc, ABS
8.5 x 20-in; 9.5 x 20-in cast aluminum
8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum
245/40R20 99W; 275/35R20 102W Pirelli P-Zero All Season (M+S)
245/45R18 100H Pirelli Cinturato P7 (M+S)
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT
196.7 x 75.0 x 57.7 in
194.3 x 73.7 x 57.8 in
WEIGHT DIST, F/R
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R
13.1 cu ft
13.1 cu ft
ACCELERATION TO MPH
PASSING, 45-65 MPH
13.7 sec @ 103.8 mph
13.3 sec @ 103.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH
0.84 g (avg)
0.83 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT
25.9 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)
26.2 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH
PRICE AS TESTED
$69,075 (mfr est)
$79,280 (mfr est)
10: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front center, driver knee
9: Dual front, front side, driver knee, f/r curtain, rear torso
5 yrs/60,000 miles
4 yrs/50,000 miles
10 yrs/100,000 miles
4 yrs/50,000 miles
5 yrs/Unlimited miles
4 yrs/50,000 miles
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY
187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB