FIRST DRIVE: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

FIRST DRIVE: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

What is it?

The Mercedes-Benz that has probably the broadest job description of the German manufacturers entire line up.

Depending on where it is sold, who it is sold to and what specification it is sold in, it can be everything from a basic taxi, to a retired gentleman’s see-me-out car, to an upper-level executive’s luxury company vehicle.

But now it also has a new role in the grand Mercedes-Benz scheme of things – it is also the technology leader.

While the S-Class is – and will always be – regarded as the flagship and the luxury leader of the Merc sedan range, the E-Class has now nicked the tech-leader tag from its bigger brother. And, by God, does it go all out to cement that fact with the new model.

What is its opposition?

The obvious stuff like the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Lexus GS, but also a few newcomers like the Hyundai Genesis and the forthcoming Volvo S90.

The new E-Class Press Test Drive, Lisbon 2016

What powers it?

The local model line up will start with the E 200 that packs a 135kW/300Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, while the E 300 gets the same 2.0-litre wound up to produce 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque.

The E 400 4MATIC tops the range (so far – the AMG models are coming…) with its 3.0-litre V6 punching 245kW and 480Nm through Mercedes’ 4MATIC AWD system, available for the first time locally on the E-Class.

The E 220d opens the diesel range and packs an all-new 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that produces an impressive 143kW and 400Nm. The E 350d tops the diesel range with Mercedes’ familiar 3.0-litre diesel V6 that makes 190kW/620Nm. All E-Class models come equipped with a nine-speed automatic transmission.

What has it got?

So much it would take WAY too much space to list it all here, but here are some of the highlights…

Locally, all E-Classes will be equipped with Agility Control adjustable suspension, with the 300, 350d and 400 getting multi-chamber air suspension.

All models also get the deeply impressive dual 12.3-inch high-definition displays (one replaces the traditional instrument panel behind the steering wheel, while the other sits alongside, giving the impression of one extremely wide screen stretching across the dash), with dual thumb touchpad controls on the steering wheel.

Each touchpad controls its corresponding screen and is an incredibly intuitive and simple control method. So intuitive and simple, in fact, that it almost makes the inclusion of the centre console touchpad and the traditional control dial pointless. Except that Mercedes has gone big on making sure that the new E-Class feels instantly familiar and welcoming to previous E-Class buyers, despite the high-tech approach.

Mercedes has made the Driver Assistance Package standard on all E-Classes in New Zealand and it is the contents of this package that show how far Mercedes has pushed the technological envelope with the E-Class.

The Driver Assistance Package includes improved standards like Active Brake Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Mercedes’ PRE-SAFE impact preparation system, but this time around it also includes a “Drive Pilot” system that is the logical extension of where the company has gone with its Distronic cruise control system.

At low (think Auckland “rush” hour traffic speeds), the E-Class is more than capable of handling things pretty much by itself. Stop/start motoring is no problem, with the time for the radar cruise control to remain active in a dormant state now extended to 30 seconds before it hands back control to the driver. This means even extended periods of not moving can be effortlessly handled by the cruise, while the steering assist function has also had its abilities widened.

Now even capable of steering itself – I mean “assisting the driver steer” – on roads where the markings are inconsistent (or even non-existent) by monitoring things like surrounding traffic and roadside objects, the E-Class effortlessly handles heavy, slow traffic with minimal input from the driver, much as it did before, but this has now been applied to higher speeds, with the new car capable of handling things at speeds of up to 130km/h (210km/h for the radar cruise). This means mindless motorway cruising is also easily handled by the E-Class, with minimal effort from the driver.

Also included in the package is Active Lane-change Assist which again uses cameras, radar and other sensors to automatically change lanes after the indicator has been on for more than two seconds. And the car has ascertained that the lane is clear, of course.

E-Class launch 002

What’s good about it?

While all the new tech is deeply impressive, Mercedes has made sure to engineer a damn fine car to hang it all on and this is one of the E-Classes most impressive feats.

The diesel engines are strong, smooth and impressively quiet, while the V6 petrol in the E 400 is a highlight.

The self-driving capabilities of the Driver Assistance Package are amazingly good and all but eliminate the dull, uninteresting parts of driving, while leaving the fun parts perfectly intact.

What’s not so good?

The smaller petrol engines are a bit coarse and underwhelming.

The driver assists were remarkably competent in both heavy low speed and high speed traffic, but faltered sometimes in the ground in between with a few idiosyncratic hiccups (it was sometimes very slow to move off after the car in front has and would occasionally just give up if it got confused), that actually just serve as timely reminders that they are just assists after all, and that the driver is still the one in control.

How much does it cost?

No word on local pricing yet, but the current car starts at $114,000 for the E 250d and tops out (not counting AMG models) at $131,000 for the E 400.

The E 200, E 220d, and E 350d will go on sale in New Zealand in July, with the E 300 and E 400 4MATIC expected sometime near the end of the year.

First impressions?

Strip all the clever tech away, and Mercedes have produced yet another excellent Mercedes. Add it back in and the car doesn’t necessarily get exponentially better, but it certainly does get a whole lot more interesting.

The basic car is an excellent drive, with the ability to be either a fun steer on a winding road or a relaxed luxury cruiser – but throw in the autonomous tech and it takes on a whole new level of capability.

Plus, let’s not forget that it is an extremely handsome car that looked simply amazing in the satin metallic finish of the E 400 we nicked off in to thrash around the back roads of Portugal!

While you could easily say that it looks a little too much like a C-Class, the extra size of the E-Class gives it an incredibly strong presence on the road.

Deeply impressive and seriously attractive, the imagine the new E-Class will win a whole lot of new friends when it lands here.

Anything else?

Here is the Autocade listing for the E-Class: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Here is an oddly similar article I wrote for www.stuff.co.nz.

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