Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - range
Soothing air suspension ride, cutting-edge driver assistance systems, impressive diesel, wondrous widescreen display
Room for improvement
C-Class doppleganger looks, cornering body roll
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28 Jul 2016
MERCEDES’ first wave of gen-10 E-Class variants consists of three choices, including the range-topping diesel version, the E350d, but unfortunately the first examples of that variant had not arrived in time for the Australian launch and evaded our review.
If you are one of the five per cent of E-Class customers that the German car-maker predicts will go for the six-cylinder diesel, fear not because it is available now and the 3.0-litre oil-burner goes on sale alongside the two variants that we concentrated on – the entry-level E220d and E200.
Opt for either of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder variants and you will get identical specifications with only the fuel type and performance figures setting the E200 and E220d apart.
It might be the most affordable E-Class but at $89,990 before on-road costs the E200 is $9590 more expensive than the previous version, while the E220d, at $92,900, is an even $10,000 more. Too much to ask?On arrival at the pick-up location, we took a moment to correctly identify the fleet of test cars among a range of other Mercedes models, including the C-Class which bears a striking resemblance to its larger sibling from any angle.
The company’s current design language is certainly handsome and up to the minute, but we can’t help feeling that the range would benefit from a little more aesthetic distance from neighbouring three-point-badged vehicles.
We eventually found our E200 riding on the standard steel-sprung suspension and were greeted by an interior of exemplary quality, fitting of the model that has forged a reputation for prestige over six decades.
The dashboard design is flowing and almost organic but not gratuitous in its design, while the satin grain-textured trims and welcoming mood lighting set an instant good first impression.
We loved the rich deep blue/purple almost ultraviolet interior lighting emanating from thin slivers around the dash, doors and footwells, but if that colour doesn’t sound sunsmart enough, then owners can choose from 63 others.
Next, our attention turned to the vast instrument and information display that has been made by joining two 12.3-inch high-definition screens together behind a single sheet of glass. The effect is initially arresting and appears to be overkill until you start navigating the various features.
While Mercedes’ previous information and entertainment system was convoluted and difficult to use, the E-Class has taken a huge step forward in logic and intuitiveness. The massive display has allowed more explanatory icons that are better laid out and easy to access.
Two small haptic controllers on the steering wheel looked like they were going to be fiddly and frustrating but worked well, and all functions in both the driver’s instrument display and central entertainment portion can be controlled from just the steering wheel.
Resolution is top-notch and we like the ability to customise the instrument cluster with almost sandbox flexibility to display only the most important information and nothing superfluous.
In base versions, the seats are covered in Mercedes’ Artico synthetic leather but, in the same way we think Alcantara is a better material than the natural suede it imitates, the E200 interior is plush and luxurious. The supportive seats are upholstered with an attractive pattern that would not look out of place on a Star Trek set.
Out on the road, the new E-Class has a quiet ride and feels little bigger than the C-Class both in interior space and ease of manoeuvring. For plugging along and eating up miles, the E200 is a treat.
We set the active cruise control to enjoy the freeway section of our drive in the knowledge that a plethora of driver assistance systems were quietly monitoring our driving, as well as the vehicles we shared the road with.
Unlike some competitors, the Mercedes systems are un-intrusive and do not flash warnings and alarms the second you slightly deviate towards a white line, or snatch at the steering wheel in an almost patronising manner.
We get the impression that an attentive and experienced driver could own an E-Class for many years and be completely unaware that it is equipped with Mercedes’ range of Drive Pilot technology.
On the rare occasion the guardian angel-like features step in they could make the difference between an uneventful drive and lots of bent metal. On public roads we only had limited opportunities to test the systems but for the full report check out our full tech dive separate story.
Despite running on more conventional coil spring suspension, the E200’s ride is smooth and quiet over the large lumps and bumps of more rural roads, and only higher frequency vibrations agitated the suspension.
Chucking the E-Class into a few corners provoked more body-roll than you would get form a BMW 5 Series or Audi A6, but Mercedes has taken the comfort-over-dynamics approach to chassis tuning, which is arguably the right route for an entry-level variant of the E-Class.
However, while a more stable body at speed will carve through corners quicker, better body control can also have a positive effect on occupant comfort too. In a nutshell – there is no perfect balance, so take your pick.
Swapping into a diesel E220d kept the pleasant surprises coming starting with its 2.0-litre four-pot diesel. Mercedes was vocal about its various fuel-saving and emissions-reducing design features when it announced the OM 654 donk and now it has arrived in Australia we can see why.
While many of our favourite engines earn points for mountainous torque, high-revving power outputs and shouty soundtracks, Mercedes' newest diesel scores highly as the quiet achiever and is notable for its wallflower nature.
Compared with the outgoing and somewhat agricultural 2.2-litre four, the new engine is extremely refined and at cruising speeds the silky nine-speed transmission shifted the engine down to an imperceptible level. Even at stationary idle the engine is whisper quiet.
Its 400Nm and 143kW is not excessive for a car of the E-Class’ size and weight, but torque is always available and adequate, while the auto made good use of what it has to work with.
If owners manage to get the claimed fuel economy of 4.1 litres per 100km then the new diesel is a truly magnificent piece of engineering. How much further are Mercedes’ brilliant engineers going to be able to go on a drop of diesel?When powered by the 135kW/300Nm petrol, progress is equally adequate and the power characteristics are little different, with lots of torque and no real reason to rev the turbo four-cylinder to anywhere near the red-line.
Flicking the drive mode to Sport or Sport Plus improved throttle response and cornering manner for a more spirited driving experience, but getting enthusiastic in an E-Class feels a bit like taking lightsticks to the ballet.
Neither engine could be described as a firecracker, nor could either be described as having an exciting note – interestingly, both sound somewhat similar – but this is the affordable end of one of the company’s luxury-focused models and the E-Class is all about subtlety.
If a bit more punt is what you are after from an E-Class then any of the higher variants will offer more mumbo, including an AMG E43. And let’s keep everything crossed for a mighty E63 successor.
But easily our favourite element of the new E-Class, at least in the more affordable end of the range, is the optional Air Body Control suspension that will add $3900 to the cost of an E200 or E220d.
With comfort mode selected, the E220d lopes along with grace and composure despite uneven country roads. Its run-flat tyres occasionally crash into potholes but little of the unpleasant sound is perceptible in the cabin.
Floating along on the cushion of air is almost amusingly serene and owners would be endlessly satisfied that they went the extra mile for the option.
As an exercise in technology and innovation, the new E-Class is keeping ahead of the game. It may not offer sporty characteristics like some rivals, but its comfort features and standard equipment are competitive and justify the price increases across the range.
But not withstanding its luxury aplomb, the Mercedes E-Class is, more importantly, a clear representation of just how far vehicle safety technology has come and how close the first truly autonomous car we may be.
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