Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - E200 sedan
Safety, technology, space, refinement, efficiency, design, seat comfort, reputation, return to quality
Room for improvement
2.0-litre turbo somewhat sluggish and coarse, firm ride at times, confusing auto selector
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26 Sep 2016
Price and equipment
TO MANY, Mercedes-Benz IS the E-Class.
Beyond the buzzy hatchbacks and bargy SUVs cluttering up the Three Pointed Star dealer forecourts are three core sedans – C, E, and S – with the middle child sitting in the centre like a main diamond on a Prussian princess’ tiara.
But things haven’t been quite right with the E-Class ever since the demise of the W124 in the mid-1990s. Its bug-eyed W210 successor felt cheap and ungainly, the W211 that followed from 2002 suffered quality issues, and the W212 released seven years later – though much better – somehow felt passionless, failing to excite on any level. So much so that the mid-cycle facelift amounted to an unprecedented near-total reskin. This time, though, Mercedes is determined to restore the lineage back to its rightful place – at the top of the tree against the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti Q70, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, and – shortly – the Volvo S90. And right now is the time for the Benz to truly shine, because Stuttgart’s compatriot rivals are preparing their next-generation responses, starting later next year.
The tenth Mercedes model in this segment since the 1930s, the W213 is another outrageous example of Germany’s Matryoshka (or Babushka) doll mentality to automotive cloning. This look started with the S in 2013 and then the C a year later. Even the latest E’s size no longer clearly identifies this as the middle sedan.
A ground-up redesign, the sleeker new clothes bring an incredibly aerodynamic body that – at 4923mm – is 43mm longer, 2mm narrower (despite wider tracks, vastly improving this E’s stance), and 3mm lower than the chunky predecessor.
Though there is increased use of aluminium and high-strength steels, making the Benz stronger, stiffer and quieter than before, the base E200 tested here weighs 1780kg, versus just 1617kg.
Kicking off from $89,900 plus on-road costs, it’s also almost $10,000 more expensive than the W212 opener, though there is significantly more equipment and technology fitted to help offset both the price and kilos gains.
These include segment-leading driver-assist technology like Drive Pilot, which advances active cruise control with up to 210km/h functionality, monitors road edges and barriers to keep the vehicle in its lane at up to 130km/h, allows automated lane changes where safe two seconds after the indicator has been activated, and complete-stop capability should the driver become incapacitated or simply forget to keep their hands on the wheel.
Then there is Active Brake Assist as part of an Autonomous Emergency Braking system that can avoid a collision up to 100km/h while significantly mitigating crash severity at greater speeds by applying the brakes as required if the driver fails to react. This is backed up by Evasive Steering Assist that brings additional steering torque as appropriate to conditions to help avoid a collision. These are on top of the usual Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist warnings.
Additionally there is Impulse Side that moves a front-seat occupant away from an impact with a special side airbag in the seatback side bolster, as well as an audio sound that counteracts the hearing-damaging effects of an airbag explosion.
The E200 also comes with nine airbags, LED headlights, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, electric adjustable front seats with memory, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and start, 360-degree surround-view camera, digital radio, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, wood trimmings and 18-inch alloys.
Ours is the $1880 Launch Edition, bringing leather instead of vinyl upholstery and 19-inch wheels, while it also features a $4990 Vision Package (basically a Burmester 590 watt audio upgrade, head-up display, metallic paint, and panoramic sunroof), $900 heated front seats and a $2990 pearlescent paint job, taking the total to $99,760.
Hauling all this around is a 135kW/300Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo and nine-speed automatic transmission.
Some years ago Mercedes poached some Audi interior designers, to help infuse some of that Ingolstadt magic inside. The result is a large, roomy, and inviting cabin that – with the leather and optional Vision Package audio – would not look out of place in a vehicle costing twice as much. The wheelbase is the longest-ever for an E, stretching 65mm over the previous car to 2939mm.
Simple yet high-tech, the dash is divided into two planes – a massive 12.3-inch LCD non-touchscreen upper section with multimedia to the left and configurable instrumentation right in front of the driver, and the ventilation and BMW iDrive-style controller lower down. The latter is easily accessed by the front occupants’ resting hand.
Time is required to familiarise everything, and the interface isn’t quite as intuitive as either of its German rivals’ efforts (especially the hit-and-miss voice control), but after a while everything else does work well and logically.
Learning to use the haptic steering wheel pads might be challenging for some and fun for others, while the sprawling GPS screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, wireless charging, internet access, and audio selector processes are all first class. And the four circular vents with their metallic click actions are delightful to behold and use.
So is the driving position, on superb seating (all round) that hold and support for long periods probably better than anything Berlei can offer. While never shrinking around you, the overall effect is being in command and in control.
Whether you rate the 64-colour atmospheric lighting that floods key parts of the cabin with none-too-subtle LEDs is a matter of taste, but at least the company is trying.
Moving to the back, there is ample space for adults, on cushions and backrests that may appear flat and hard, but actually also do the trick in keeping their passengers comfortable. Cupholders, storage facilities, overhead grab handles, and face-level ventilation outlets are all within reach.
Perhaps our happiest discovery, however, is the absence of rattles and squeaks in our admittedly 2500km-old example – something we have not been able to say about with the existing C and S sedans. Please keep this up, Mercedes.
Finally, the boot is well shaped, practical to access (via a 40-20-40 split backrest for more load space flexibility) and beautifully finished. Compared to the old model, it has been reduced by 10 litres, to 530L.
Engine and transmission
Probably the most disappointing aspect of the bold new E-Class is that it deserves a far better and stronger engine – if not transmission – than what the base 135kW/300Nm E200 offers.
A case for going diesel instead ($92,900 E220d with 143kW/400Nm) or saving up an extra $20K for the $117K E300 (which also uses a 2.0L four-pot petrol turbo, but at least it delivers considerably more oomph – around 180kW and 370Nm – and torque to the rear wheels), the standard engine provides sufficient performance, but absolutely nothing extra.
Pottering with just a couple of people on board, whether around town or cruising along silently on the open road, the E200 seems more than fine. Smart gearing ensures fairly lively step-off acceleration, backed up by quite strong rolling responses, especially if the five-mode drive selector is in Sport or Sport+ (rather than in the lazier Comfort or fuel-saving Eco settings).
Relaxed, gentle driving equals the same as far as performance is concerned.
Note the driver can mix-and-match Sport and Comfort settings for engine and steering responses in Individual mode.
However, any additional demands on the engine is met with quite out-of-character coarseness, especially if the tacho is allowed to swing into the 5000rpm-plus area. Here, the 2.0L turns vocal and unrefined, lacking the punch that the imposing bonnet and muscular haunches promise. Additionally, the nine-speed auto occasionally becomes a bit jerky shifting up in the lower gears, particularly if the driver is in a hurry. The E200 only looks like a big muscle sedan.
This should come as no surprise to traditional four-cylinder E-Class owners, especially as in almost every other area including fuel economy the newcomer is impressively strong, returning under 10L/100km despite our very regular mashing down of the throttle pedal. The published combined average is a remarkable 6.4L/100km. Ride and handling
Mercedes has engineered an incredibly proficient chassis that can be all things to all drivers.
Let’s start with the steering. In Eco or Comfort mode, it is light yet always progressive and somewhat informative (it won’t tingle your fingertips like a Jaguar’s does), weighing up beautifully as speeds rise. Around town it is a cinch to use, aided by a tight turning circle.
Select Sport or Sport+, and the helm is somewhat heftier, yet perfectly so for stringing together tight corners and sweeping turns like a much smaller sedan.
The handling is neutral when required, yet with rear-end adjustability for some controllable oversteer fun when desired. And all the while, the driver feels completely in charge.
Our car was fitted with 19-inch wheels, and over fast and undulating rural roads, the standard steel suspension set-up dealt with most of what the widely varying surfaces had to throw at it with real control.
However, back in the inner-urban streets, the lack of smaller-frequency bump absorption is evident, while the odd larger pothole would make its presence felt with a big thump. And that’s a shame, because the cabin is otherwise shielded from road noise and tyre roar.
Our guess is that the optional Airmatic air suspension would probably smooth everything over beautifully.
Safety and servicing
The E-Class received a top five-star rating from ANCAP. Few vehicles on the planet have ever been safer.
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with intervals at 25,000km or one year, as well as capped-price servicing.
If you’re in the market for a sub-$100,000 large luxury sedan, the E200 with leather and Vision Package looks, feels, and drives like a million dollars – especially inside. Nothing right now seems as safe or contemporary.
And it’s such a rollicking great thing dynamically. Just be sure to tick the optional Airmatic air suspension box to take the edge off the at-times firm ride.
But the engine’s performance and refinement are not in the same league, so we’d also switch to the extremely promising all-new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel E220d, stretch to the substantially gutsier (and more expensive) E300, or wait for the hotly anticipated return of the classic in-line six-cylinder units, which ought to be brilliant.
The latter, in particular, should further restore the E-Class’ reputation as best-in-class like no other has done in more than 20 years.
As it stands, then, the E200’s four-pot turbo isn’t deserving of what is an otherwise wonderful motor car.
Jaguar XF 2.5t R-Sport from $89,515
Jaguar is vying for class honours with a comfortable, spacious, refined, and incredibly dynamic and involving sedan. The ex-Ford Mondeo petrol engine will soon be usurped, but even then, there is very little to criticise other than samey styling compared to the also-excellent XE.
Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription from $98,900
Volvo is back with one of its most impressive cars ever, ushering in a gorgeous and roomy cabin, gutsy 2.0-litre powertrain, world-leading safety, and unique design. At this price point it’s also AWD, for added traction.
Tesla Model S 60 from $114,385 driveaway
Very left field, the Model S is a remarkable game-changer in this segment, ushering real-world useable range, exceptional performance, unrivalled refinement, and even hatchback practicality. Tacky dash aside, this is a marvel. Be brave and never look back.
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