Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - range
Value, efficiency, space, comfort, refinement, safety, tech advances
Room for improvement
Ageing interior appearance, foot-operated park brake, auto gear lever selector
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13 Jun 2013
IN EVERY sense of the word, the latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the least expensive in its 60-year history.
Priced from a smidgen under $80,000, the base E200 is actually numerically cheaper than the W124-series 230E was back in 1987: $79,900 versus $83,321.
And don’t forget, the latter figure would have probably bought you a modest suburban home back in the 1980s. This, then, is a car that literally once cost as much as a house.
From a stylistic point of view, the changes soften the odd angular lines that sat so unhappily on the previous E-Class, while adding a more contemporary and aggressive flavour to the face.
Mercedes obviously knows that the old car needed a lift – that’s why every new one comes with a bodykit and wheels of at least 18-inches in diameter, to give it all a beefier stance.
It’s a huge improvement, and one that has you second-guessing as to whether you’re actually looking at an S-Class.
Inside, however, the blocky old dashboard’s ambience remains, despite the advent of latest-generation Comand APS multi-media connectivity and a natty little analogue clock between the now-dinkier air vents.
In the mid-range E250 – the expected best-seller – the leather and extra trim highlights lift what continues to be a very spacious and well-built interior.
But the base E200’s monochromatic vinyl and plastic trim aren’t exactly warm or alluring, giving the E-Class a utilitarian look and feel that other base rivals – such as the Audi A6 and Lexus GS – manage to avoid.
For a car dripping with standard or optional high-tech gizmos, the retention of a foot-operated park brake seems really old-fashioned – almost anachronistic, even.
We’re assured that the column shift automatic lever becomes second nature with prolonged use, but all through the day we kept knocking it out of Drive into Neutral when mistaking it for an indicator stalk. Luckily software stops it from going into Reverse.
Speaking of gears, there is very little to fault how the latest E-Class drives.
In re-engineered E200 sedan guise, the new 2.0-litre engine feels perkier from the get-go, pulling forward eagerly, with plenty in reserve at everyday commuting speeds. Aided by a fatter torque curve and an extremely responsive seven-speed automatic transmission, this is a smooth and lively drivetrain.
Part of the drive had us traversing a series of mountain roads, and it was only here that the E200’s modest outputs found the car wanting. A heavy right foot and some patience are needed before the turbo kicks in.
On the other hand, tight turns and sharp corners reveal a steering, suspension, and brake set-up of towering capability, with the Mercedes adopting an agility at odds with its hefty proportions.
It is truly one of the most impressive things about the medium-sized Benz sedan for the money, it is amazing just how solid and secure the E200 feels on the road.
That unflappable sense of security remains all pervasive, despite the fact that it now is more attainable than ever before.
Moving to the E250 petrol, the extra herbs and spices can really be felt, adding a different and more impressive performance dimension to the E-Class.
Just like its smaller-engined sibling, the chassis shines, but now there’s more oomph to explore and exploit what’s on offer.
The final model on offer on the launch day (only the four-cylinder cars are available initially) was the E250 CDI, using a 2.1-litre four-pot turbo-diesel as motivation.
Except for some cold-engine low-speed grumble, this is a brilliant powerplant option, since its 500Nm of torque makes the car pull like a freight train. On the move it is as quiet as you’d want, but instantly at your service the moment you tickle the throttle.
Downsides? On 19-inch wheels, the ride never truly feels settled on anything other than billiard-table-smooth surfaces and the extra weight of the diesel is evident when driving fast across country roads.
Being a mid-ranger, the E250 CDI included all the new driver-assist systems, and they really do work. The lane-assist feature, for instance, gently kept the car tracking along within the chosen lane even when we purposely tried to wander out of it the radar-controlled cruise control tech kept pace with traffic seamlessly and the blind-spot warnings did just that on a couple of occasions.
Overall, then, as a driving machine, the MY14 E-Class combines a breadth of abilities that make it one of the best sedans money can buy.
The fact that Mercedes has added more value in every model means that luxury sedan buyers need to keep this on their short list of test-drives before they choose anything else.
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