It’s all about the technology and comfort in the fifth generation of Mercedes-Benz’s large sedan.
WHAT IS IT?
The most advanced Mercedes-Benz passenger car ever produced. As well as a new body, the latest version of the big sedan gets advanced crash avoidance technology and new safety features as part of a tech onslaught.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The new E-Class has just gone on sale in Australia. We’ve driven it overseas but wanted to see how it translated to Australian roads.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
It’s still more about the driver than the technology, but the latest E-Class is a well-rounded luxury car with an impressive safety artillery.
PLUS: Elegant cabin; excellent body control and comfortable ride; frugal four-cylinders; safety tech
MINUS: Price of entry has jumped $10K; Comand menus require familiarisation; Parking Pilot doesn’t spot all spaces
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT DOESN’T take long to establish that the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is more about the driver than the technology. The focus on the car hyped as the most intelligent Merc ever has been its self-steering functionality, its ability to park itself and some of the safety tech that makes it harder than ever to die behind the wheel.
But as Benz is at pains to point out, the technology is there to assist the driver, not replace them. It’s a point not lost on me as I sample the E for the first time in Australia. A 20-odd kay cruise along a busy multi-lane freeway has the steering wheel easing the car towards the middle of the lane. Take your hands off the wheel and you can run for kilometres before it beeps to warn you to put your hands back on the wheel. You can even flick the indicator and the car performs a lane change, all the while monitoring other traffic. It’s clever stuff, and gives an inkling into this promised autonomous world that’s hyped every second minute.
But its brain is nowhere near as astute as a human’s. My E200 sometimes accelerates up to slowing cars before launching on the brakes harder than it may have needed to. And lane keeping can involve multiple dives at the tiller.
On a country road – despite claims of being able to spot road edges, guard rails and sign posts – the E is not a patch (sorry) on the human eye. My attempts at testing it are short-lived once I realise we’ll be spearing off into the sticks if I leave it up to the computer to decide.
So, now we’ve established the driver really is in control, what’s the E-Class like in traditional driving terms?
The four-cylinder engines are nothing special in terms of outright performance, but each is appealing in their own, relaxed way.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol in the E200 is unchanged, its turbo huffing nicely for agreeable mid-rev meat. Spin it out, something it has no reluctance doing, and it taps into its modest 135kW for decent acceleration.
Step up to the diesel – it’s almost $3000 more – and the E220d gets fresh metal in the form of a new aluminium block 2.0-litre turbo. Its 400Nm is identical to what the old 2.1 offered in its lower 220 output, although the new engine has a narrower torque spread.
Not that it’s undernourished. The peak kicks in at 1600rpm, but even from 1400 there’s useable pull. And rev the engine out to its 4600rpm and it’s cleaner and quieter than any four-cylinder Benz diesel before it.
The short-geared nine-speed auto blends in well too, with seamless upshifts in all but the Sport+ mode that seems out of step with the tranquil nature of the vehicle. The occasional downshift is less elegant.
The E utilises runflat tyres, with the space in the boot previously dedicated to a spare tyre now a giant underfloor storage binnacle. They’re all low profile, with the 19-inch (245/40 fronts and 275/35 rears) on our “Launch Edition” model testing the suspension more than the standard 18s.
True to form, there’s some sharpness over patchy road, but the ride is otherwise compliant and beautifully controlled. It’s as comfortable poking through peak hour traffic as it is diving at some corners, at which point the hearty grip chimes in. Sweeping corners are its forte, with tighter radii teasing understeer sooner.
The step up to air suspension is a worthy one, with added plushness in the softest Comfort setting – albeit at the expense of high speed body control. Sport mode is a great middle ground, adding excellent weight to the steering in the process.
That such a sizeable, multi-talented sedan matches its accomplished nature with such an inviting interior is testament to the effort that’s been injected into the E. Despite the C-Class-esque interior, the dash also has splashes of S-Class, down to the elegant sweep and quartet of circular air vents in its centre.
But it’s the dual screens that dominate inside. Each is 12.3 inches, lined side-by-side to give the impression of a single wide screen encompassing all instruments (adjustable through three themes) and infotainment functions.
Despite the tech and fresh thinking, there’s plenty of familiar switchgear, from the central Comand controller to the dual clusters in the centre stack. But the steering wheel introduces new thinking with smartphone-inspired touchpads; one for the left screen, one for the right.
Those in the back aren’t forgotten, either, with twin circular air vents and respectable leg room, although head room will catch out the lofty if they use the headrests, at which point the tapering roof is more noticeable.
Model: Mercedes-Benz E 220 d
Engine: 1950cc 4cyl turbo diesel
Max power: 143kW @ 3800rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1605kg
Fuel economy: 4.1L/100km
0-100km/h: 7.3sec (claimed)
On sale: Now