The E-Class has always been about style — but does the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class step it up enough? This week we climbed behind the wheel of the all-new E-Class, driving examples of the entry-level E200 and E220d saloons.
The E-Class has always been synonymous with style, luxury and class. These days, it manages to do all of those things, but introduces a new feat — it’s one of the most technologically advanced cars ever created by Mercedes-Benz.
This week we climbed behind the wheel of the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, driving examples of the entry-level E200 and E220d saloons, and wow, what an experience. Given the huge number of technology features fitted to this car, we’ll do this review slightly differently. It will be split into main sections, making it a bit easier to read.
Overview and drive
Kicking things off for E-Class is the E200, which is priced from $89,900 (plus on-road costs) and is powered by a turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine. Next cab off the rank is the E220d, which is priced from $92,900 (plus on-road costs) and is powered by a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.
The rest of the range includes the four-cylinder turbocharged petrol E300 at $107,900 (plus on-road costs), the six-cylinder turbocharged diesel E350d at $134,900 (plus on-road costs) and the E400, which is priced from $139,900 (plus on-road costs) and uses a turbocharged petrol six-cylinder engine and features all-wheel drive.
Let’s get the most obvious criticism out of the way. It looks like an S-Class or a C-Class, depending on which angle you catch. In fact, as we were about to set off in the fleet of vehicles from a Mercedes-Benz dealership near Melbourne Airport, a number of people mentioned that they were easily mistaken for both a C- and S-Class.
From the exterior, you will see a variety of different equipment levels. A Launch Edition swaps out the standard 18-inch wheels for 19-inch wheels, in addition to a few extra items. The Launch Edition wheels are a 10-spoke wheel and look quite smart on the car.
An AMG Line steps things up even further with 20-inch wheels that feature a 14-spoke design. It also includes unique body styling highlights — more on this later. The final package is the Exclusive Line, which features 18-inch alloy wheels in a five-twin spoke design, and the Mercedes-Benz hood ornament on the bonnet.
The entire E-Class range uses run flat tyres, with the cavity under the boot lid open for odds and ends.
The first things that meet the eye are the dual 12.3-inch screens that sit in front of the driver and immediately adjacent in the centre of the cabin. Featuring a 1920 x 720 pixel count, they look very high resolution and don’t look pixelated like some of the other vehicles with big LCD displays.
The rest of the cabin features acres of Black Ash open-pore wood that surrounds the dashboard and doors. The wood used around the cabin can be customised depending on the option package chosen.
Arguably the most surprising part of the new E-Class is the driving position and feel behind the wheel. The driver sits in an extremely comfortable seat finished in either real leather or ARTICO (a man-made leather material) with perfect vision out the front, sides and rear.
Steering position can then be electrically adjusted to perfectly suit the driver’s seating position. As with most Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the seat adjustments sit on the door, but strangely the lumbar adjustment remains adjacent to the seat base in between the seat and the door.
In terms of dimensions, the new E-Class has grown in almost all regards — it’s now 43mm longer, the wheelbase has increased by 63mm, with the front and rear track increasing by 20mm and 7mm respectively. It’s a similar story inside the cabin where rear knee room has increased by 6mm and shoulder room in the rear by 10mm.
Sitting in the rear seat with the seat in my normal driving position (which is quite far back, thanks to freakishly long legs) there is ample knee and toe room. It’s not quite as expansive as we thought it would be, but impressive nevertheless.
Importantly, the rear seat is comfortable to be ferried around in. A centre armrest folds down and features a hood for storing loose items, along with two cup holders. Rear seat passengers get individual air vents, along with map pockets in the seats and storage within the doors.
Cargo capacity has been reduced by 10 litres over the previous E-Class, now coming in at 530 litres.
We set off first in the E220d. Featuring the new OM654 engine, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine was the benefactor of a five year, $3 billion euro investment by Mercedes-Benz.
The new engine is around 17 per cent lighter than the outgoing 2.2-litre unit and features more power thanks to a combination of changes that include an increase in common rail injector pressure (now 2050 bar, or almost 30,000psi), an increase in torque converter efficiency to 92 per cent and a Mercedes-Benz-built nine-speed automatic transmission.
Before you lose your mind over another manufacturer trying to one up the rest with more gears, there is a method to the madness. Mercedes-Benz performed 85 billion (you read that right) computer-simulated iterations on transmission structures and found that a nine-speed gearbox with its gear ratios was the most efficient.
In fact, Mercedes-Benz is so confident in the gearbox that it has been built and rated to handle 1000Nm of torque, meaning that it could theoretically be teamed to some of Mercedes-Benz’s most powerful turbocharged petrol engines.
As you turn the E220d over, you will immediately be surprised at how quiet the engine is from both inside and outside the cabin. It barely makes a noise as it fires to life and sits at idle.
It also remains smooth through the rev range, which often isn’t a diesel engine characteristic. The engine produces 143kW of power and 400Nm of torque, which allows it to consume just 4.1L/100km. The same engine uses even less in Europe when teamed to smaller wheels and different tyres.
Part of the reason the new E-Class is so efficient is thanks to the best in class drag coefficient of just .23 — down by .02 over its predecessor. .23 is less than the new Toyota Prius, which resembles a science experiment.
On the open road, the nine-speed automatic gearbox does a great job of handling the demands of hilly terrain and overtaking. It’s quick to respond to throttle inputs and ensures the car climbs back to a higher gear when it’s all over.
It’s brisk enough to despatch the 0-100km/h run in just 7.3 seconds — not bad for a four-cylinder entry-level diesel engine.
We didn’t get a chance to sample any vehicles with the optional air suspension package, so our ride and handling impressions are strictly limited to the non-air suspension models.
With that said, we were very impressed with how the 220d rode over our drive route which included a stretch of highway, some country roads and then some twisty roads through the mountains.
None of this terrain unsettled the E-Class with bumps absorbed with aplomb and pothole crashes isolated before being sent through the cabin. It only became unsettled when it experienced mid-corner bumps under load. They would cause the car to skip along, giving the steering a light thud.
The ride over the rest of these roads was very impressive. It felt like a proper luxury car and felt nothing like a ‘base model’ in that regard.
Steering feel was good, but could be a little lifeless at times. The BMW 5 Series is the dynamic benchmark in this segment and the E-Class can’t match it for chassis control and steering feel.
But, it does come close. It’s only let down by minor things that are likely to be addressed by the optional air suspension, which includes selectable variable damping control — which isn’t available on models without air suspension. Models without air suspension are fitted with Agility Control, which is a variable rate damper that adapts to different road conditions and speeds.
Agility Select allows the driver to move between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Each mode adjusts steering and pedal feel, with Sport+ offering the most aggressive combination. When teamed with air suspension, this also adjusts suspension damping.
Brake pedal feel is excellent, as is how communicative the chassis is when attacking a stretch of bends. Locking the E220d into a gear using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters allows you to extract the most out of the package.
Given the wet conditions, we did notice stability control intervention at times, which was a little more aggressive than it needs to be.
We switched from the E220d into the entry-level petrol model, the E200. Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, the E200 produces 135kW of power and a modest 300Nm of torque.
This engine is mated to the same nine-speed automatic gearbox as the E220d, but uses more fuel with an average 6.4L/100km, requiring 95RON premium unleaded.
Immediately, the engine offers a vastly different note to the diesel. Without a sound meter it’s impossible to accurately tell, but it also felt louder than the diesel, both under load and at idle.
On the open road, the torque deficiency was really felt. The engine needs a stack of revs if you need to move in a hurry and feels laboured at times when overtaking.
In comparison to the diesel, the petrol requires 7.7 seconds to reach 100km/h from standstill. The lack of pace would likely be felt even more with a full complement of passengers on board.
With that in mind, it performed well through the twisty stretch of our mountain run when it was locked into a gear and the entire rev band was used. Engine noise could be heard in the cabin all the way through to the engine’s redline.
Both vehicles exhibited more road and wind noise than we were expecting. They’re not as whisper quiet as an S-Class, which is to be expected given the 19-inch wheels fitted to the entire fleet of vehicles on offer, along with the run flat tyres fitted across the range.
Given the option to choose one of these two entry-level E-Class models, we would definitely opt for the E220d. The torque-laden engine really surprised us, as did the refinement from the engine and how eager it was to get up and moving.
All of this pales in comparison to the incredible technology on offer.
Technology and safety aids
Mercedes-Benz is known for building quality and technologically advanced vehicles, but has taken this to a new level with the E-Class.
Let’s start with the infotainment system. COMAND has been updated to include changes to the layout and functionality of the system. It’s now easier to use, with the driver’s information display customisable between three different layouts.
The driver’s screen can display everything from the media being played, to navigation, speed and distances configured in the DISTRONIC radar cruise control.
While COMAND has been simplified, it’s still a bit clumsy at times, requiring more steps than necessary to perform some functions. An example is adjusting the equaliser. Normally it would be one menu with all options on one screen.
With COMAND, you need to select the options screen, select the sound menu, then select equaliser, then manually set the bass, treble and mid tones in three separate menus. These usability issues aside, the screen offers high quality graphics and impressive pace between menu screens.
The voice recognition system has been improved and still manages to surprise us with how accurate it is. Everything from names in a phone contact book to full addresses in the navigation can be entered by voice alone.
Apple Car Play and Android Auto is now included across the E-Class range and QI wireless phone charging can also be optioned for just $350. Drivers can also switch between 64 different LED-driven ambient lighting colours.
We tested both the standard sound system and the optional 590 watt Burmester 13-speaker system. Both offer plenty of bass and crisp treble, but as you would expect the Burmester sound system knocks it out of the ballpark in terms of sound quality.
When it comes to semi-autonomous driving and safety technology, the E-Class takes it to the next level.
A new feature called crosswind assist was developed for the E-Class that uses the vehicle’s stability control system to stabilise the vehicle during heavy and sudden crosswinds that would normally require high levels of driver intervention. This is especially handy when the car is driven in its semi-autonomous cruise control mode.
Pedestrians can now rest assured an E-Class is less likely to hit them or cause the driver to lose control thanks to a feature that compensates for the lack of steering input a driver typically uses when a pedestrian steps out in front of them. It also manages the vehicle’s movements following that steering input, with engineers learning that a lot of accidents happen after the driver has successfully avoided a pedestrian as they under or overcompensate steering inputs.
The vehicle’s stereo camera uses around 10,000 pre-stored images of pedestrians and animal types (such as kangaroos) to detect when the system needs to be activated.
An incredible feature that is unique to the E-Class is an air-driven bolster cushion that inflates at a driver or front passenger’s shoulder to force them closer to the centre of the cabin during a side impact.
This feature aims to increase the distance between the occupant and an oncoming vehicle — centimetres save lives here, so it’s a clever way to improve survival rates in side impacts; an area of the car that is traditionally the weakest.
Engineers even paid consideration to occupants' ears with Pre-Safe Sound, which pulses a loud noise through the cabin when a crash is imminent. The intent of this is to allow the occupants’ ears to brace before the loud noise of an impact.
The most developed form of technology though is the semi-autonomous driving mode available with DISTRONIC.
Similar to Tesla’s Auto Pilot system, the new E-Class is able to use road markings and surrounding vehicles at speeds below 130km/h to semi-autonomously drive the vehicle (at speeds above 130km/h it only relies on road markings). Using other vehicles in front, around the side and to the rear of the vehicle, is called swarming.
Swarming is the vehicle using other vehicles to predict movements, which is especially useful in situations where line markings disappear or are faded.
We tested this system in two situations. The first was a country road with two lanes (one in each direction) and only a dividing line. The system caused the vehicle to wander and at times it felt like it was going to drop a wheel off the road. It didn’t really fill us with confidence, so we switched it off.
The next time we switched it back on was on a main highway. The highway featured clear road markings and traffic that started light and progressed to quite heavy.
This is where the system really shone. It stayed perfectly within its lane and turned gradual radius turns with no issues. It can also semi-autonomously change lanes, which is activated when the indicator has been on for a period of two seconds.
It checks the adjacent lane immediately next to the vehicle, it checks ahead of the vehicle and also behind the vehicle to ensure it won’t block traffic as it moves between lanes. This feature works really well.
In fact, we drove on this mode for around 35km gradually moving through heavy traffic where the car kept a safe distance between itself and other vehicles, in addition to accelerating with enough pace when traffic moved away again.
The final piece in its arsenal is Parking Pilot, which allows the vehicle to be parallel-parked hands free. The system utilises the 360-degree camera to also allow forward, rearward and entry/exit parking.
The new E-Class range is comprehensively equipped for the Australian market. Both the E200 and E22d come standard with:
- ARTICO man-made seating
- COMAND with dual-12.3-inch screens including Apple Car Play and Android Auto and DAB+ digital radio
- Automatically dimming rear vision mirror
- 40:20:40 folding rear seats
- Electric seats with memory function
- Nappa leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Dual-zone climate control with dust filter
- Rain sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights
- 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels
- Air Control — variable rate damping system (includes 15mm ride height reduction)
- Keyless entry and start
- LED headlights with LED daytime running lights
- Electric mirrors with automatic folding function
- Nine airbags
- Tyre pressure monitoring
- Heated front seats
- Leather upholstery
- 20-inch AMG 14-spoke alloy wheels
- Air suspension
- Multibeam adaptive LED headlights
- Burmester 590 Watt 13-speaker sound system
- Head-up display
- Metallic paintwork
- Panoramic glass roof with roller sunblind and head insulating glass
The level of technology and safety equipment fitted to the new E-Class blew us away. We were equally as impressed with the refinement on offer from the entry-level E220d.
While pricing has increased over the previous E-Class, the value proposition has increased significantly with all models offering some form of customer advantage in terms of options and features fitted as standard.
We are looking forward to trying the rest of the E-Class range, but more importantly benchmarking it against its competitors.