Efficient, practical, enjoyable and...Blue?
Efficient, practical, enjoyable and...Blue?
Put simply, it's Mercedes way of keeping fuel use down without sacrificing comfort. Key areas, such as weight reduction, rolling resistance, engine optimisation and aerodynamics, have all been explored to maximise efficiency, as the name suggests. The important thing is that, apart from the badge, it all goes unnoticed. There's no corners cut, no ugly add-ons, no grossly underpowered drivetrains.
Yet this car's ADR fuel test returned a combined consumption of just 5.9 litres/100km, and will still go from 0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds. All from an engine which is just 2.1-litres in capacity. Years ago, you wouldn't have dreamt of powering a luxury sedan, like the E-Class with such a small engine. But not only does it do the job adequately, it relishes the challenge.
The 400Nm of peak torque from this diminuitive performer begins at 1400rpm, and continues through until 2800rpm. But there's an interesting twist. Through clever engineering, Mercedes-Benz has been able to place peak power right next to peak torque, so from 3000rpm through until nearly the redline, the full 125kW is on tap. That means that the car gets off line beautifully, making an unobtrusive warbly sound, and continues surging right up until the automatic decides to select the next ratio.
When it does that, you'll hardly notice, such is the smoothness of the gearchanges. It's only a five speed (Merc's four cylinder engines all use the five speeder, rather than the seven speed auto), but that doesn't make it any less of a refined experience. If there was a criticism, it would be the delay between selecting reverse and drive. When negotiating a three point turn, it can take a while to engage fully, thus holding up any oncoming traffic. Apart from that, it's flawless. Comfort mode changes up often and early, sports mode holds on a little longer, but not too much that it leaves the engine floundering at the top of its rev range.
This car has more than just a great engine; there's also things happening underneath. To improve aerodynamic efficiency, but without resorting to garish body-kits, underbody panels have been employed. For example, directly under the chin, there's a fluted panel to direct airflow cleanly under the car. Behind the rear wheels, plastic sheets creat a flat area to prevent turbulence, and thus drag.
A thinner windscreen, lighter alloy wheels, and removal of some acousting damping has also been used in Mercedes-Benz's BlueEFFICIENCY programme, although road noise is not intrusive, despite the larger, optional 17-inch wheels on the test car.
Does it all add up? Certainly. We equalled the urban ADR fuel consumption figure on test, at 7.9 litres/100km, not achieving any better due to not being able to get out of the city. But when you consider you're getting brilliant economy, and not losing luxury or driveability, it's a very impressive package.
A few days ago, the E-Class was just voted Germany's favourite car, receiving the Yellow Angel 2010 award, presented by the German automobile club ADAC (similar to our RACV). It's not hard to see why.
One thing that strikes you is how refined the ride is. We can only imagine that the standard 16-inch wheels would be even better, but the way it absorbs the microscopic irregularities that can make suspension seem brittle, is just amazing. Yet it seems to firm up at speed, so you're never left with that floaty, boaty feeling. It handles reasonably, too, despite its low-rolling resistance Pirelli Cinturatos, but don't expect it to dart about - it's still a big car.
The size means its interior is able to swallow five bodies much easier than a BMW 5 Series, and with much more rear head-room than Jaguar XF. The build quality is as per Merc's latest offering - pretty much perfect. The COMAND system (Benz's interactive interface) is still a little counter-intuitive, but in the E 220 CDI most of the functions can be accessed via the centre console buttons anyway; SatNav is an optional extra.
Apart from a cruise control stalk which you might initially mistake for an indicator stalk, the control surfaces are all within easy reach, and the driving position is spot on. The E-Class features some of the best seats in the business, too, with a perfect blend of padding, firmness, bolstering, and space. Even the back seat is padded for long distance travel.
The boot is large, at 540 litres, and the rear seats can fold down almost flat giving a huge load area. Practicality then, is high on the list of the E-Class's virtues. But so is driveability.
The brakes are always progressive and consistent, and the steering has enough feedback to keep you interested. It does take a while to self-centre after turn in, however it wouldn't be a deal breaker to most buyers. What would be is the price, and thankfully, it's keenly positioned.
At $80,900, this is the cheapest and most fuel efficient E-Class you can buy. But regardless of the low entry ticket cost and fuel saving, it's still a practical, rewarding and cossetting car that's built to perfection and rides like a dream. You're getting all the benefits of easing your environmental conscience, with none of the drawbacks.
That little blue and silver badge has certainly done its trick. Buyers of this car won't be getting the blues.
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