There weren’t exactly major flaws with the eighth-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class released in 2009, but now comes an update the German brand calls its most comprehensive yet for one of its models.
The launch timing is good with the E-Class currently being outsold in Australia by its arch rival, the BMW 5 Series, and also, surprisingly, the Jaguar XF (because it’s a relative underdog in the class).
Visually, the most noticeable change is the front end and the headlights, which have finally discarded with the old-school twin-lamp design and gone to a more modern face (though cleverly employ eye-catching twin LED strips to recreate the effect subtly).
The rear is a little subtler but the new tail-lights have a Bentley-esque look to them with a gorgeous LED design that comes to life at night. Overall, Mercedes has kept the same elementary look of the E-class but with a more contemporary twist. And it works – looking even better in the metal than in photos.
The real story, though, is not about the styling, but the price reductions and added features that include new technology innovations that debut in the E-Class before the flagship S-Class that launches internationally in July.
We tested five models that will be in local dealerships from the same month. These include the E200 and E250 sedan and estate as well as the diesel-powered E250 CDI.
The base model Mercedes Benz E200 retails for $79,990 but is far from being the cheap man’s E-Class, as it comes with a rather lengthy list of standard features (something German car makers aren’t exactly renowned for).
Apart from all the regular features you’d except, all E-Class variants now come standard with the exterior sport package and Avantgarde styling (no more Mercedes logo sticking out of the bonnet).
In the E200’s case the engine itself has been upgraded from a 1.8-litre four-cylinder to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with more power (130kW) and torque (300Nm) yet with less fuel consumption (6.4L/100km).
Behind the wheel the E200 is actually surprisingly pleasant. There’s no urgency to the car’s performance but for Australian road conditions and our anti-speeding mentality, it’s more than adequate. We found ourselves easily getting up to speed and doing all the regular things one would do with a large luxury car without the need for more go.
This was not the case with the previous generation E200, which lacked that little bit of extra power to make it ideal.
Opting for the more expensive four-cylinder petrol E-Class – the $96,400 E250 – brings slightly quicker performance through its more powerful engine (155kW and 350Nm), though there’s more value in the extra $16,000 to be found in additional features that include 19-inch alloy wheels, full LED headlamps, sports package, keyless go, full electric seats, driver assistant package plus and a few other things.
Mercedes says this presents a $15,000 price benefit to customers over the old E250.
In motion the E250 petrol is smooth and effortless. Like the E200, it has a great relationship with its seven-speed automatic transmission, serving up seamless gear changes.
One of the previous E-Class’s downsides was the feeling you got from the steering wheel, which was pleasant but very light and lacking any feedback over different road surfaces. Mercedes has completely changed the steering design to an electro-mechanical system, which is far more engaging for the driver.
On the road, all three engine variants we tested – E200, E250 and E250 CDI – were capable of doing the task, though the E250 CDI diesel was the most pleasant with its endless torque and great mid-range acceleration.
The diesel is also now priced below $100,000 at $98,900, which given the additional added value and new features, represents a roughly $18,000 benefit to the customer, according to Mercedes.
The ride is typical E-Class: extremely cushy without being detrimental to body control. It’s not as dynamic as the 5 Series, so it compromises its on-the-limit cornering ability, but for the vast majority of usage, it’s the ideal balance between comfort and handling.
The seven-seater E-Class Estate (wagon), which is available as an E200, E400 or E250 CDI, is a great choice if the additional two seats are an occasional requirement only.
The rear-facing third-row bench seat is certainly not a place a parent would put their own kids for an extended period of time but when the need comes to move some additional passengers for quick drives, it serves as an ideal compromise.
But to the highlights of the new E-Class… technology.
The Comand system has been updated to NTG 4.5 generation 3, which is a technical name for a software update that finally allows Internet connectivity via tethering your iPhone or Android device (a feature that was previously only available with the now defunct Blackberry smartphones).
The change from a 30-pin to an 8-pin connector for Apple’s latest devices has also limited some functionality (unless an adapter is used) with Comand, as a direct USB plug-in doesn’t support the iPhone natively, though it does charge it. But given the full-scale Bluetooth connectivity, this is really a non-issue until such time as Mercedes-Benz releases an official lightning adapter.
Another feature is the steering assist, standard on all models except E200 and E220CDI, which essentially drives the E-Class on highways for a short period of time. You can let go of the steering wheel and the E-Class will happily steer itself on the highway. Add to this the smart cruise control system that can pace itself with the car in front and you’ve effectively got yourself a self-driving car.
Legal and moral issues have led Mercedes (and other manufacturers with similar technology) to limit the system’s complete autonomous driving to just a few (but sweet) seconds. The idea is that if you happen to get distracted – say by your baby in the backseat or by the stereo– the car can take over temporarily to avoid a potential accident. It’s a great system that works well, but the one we tried in the new Honda Accord is actually better.
Then there’s the interior, which although is updated with new switchgear and nicer feeling material, still presents that fundamental Mercedes issue of a small, 7-inch screen. And unlike BMW’s iDrive, or the mammoth 11-inch screen in the Lexus GS, it cannot be optioned with a bigger screen (even though space around the screen doesn’t seem to be an issue).
Further to that, Comand’s satellite navigation system inside – while sufficiently accurate in providing directions – is starting to show its age with an old-school 2D-like map display that lacks the finesse or modern-feel of full 3D with terrain and life-like display found in BMW’s latest version of iDrive – the industry-leading standard.
The interesting models in the E-class range will be the E300 Hybrid and E400 V6, which replaces the E500. These two models will represent small portions of overall sales but provide an interesting direction for the range. Both these models will arrive in the next few months.
Overall, the updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class is far more than just a regular facelift. It brings more powerful and efficient engines, much higher standards of equipment, a substantial redesign, as well as improvements to the steering, interior and technology.
In many ways it betters its German and Japanese rivals for a daily luxury drive, but it does cost more and, at least compared to some rivals, is far more conservative in its entire philosophy.