For decades now, the E-class has had to be many things to many people, from taxi drivers clocking the equivalent of a return trip to the moon, to loyal aficionados of what is arguably Daimler’s most important model. Personally, I was shopping for a safe and reliable saloon to suit a growing family of five, replacing an eight-year old W212 in the garage.
The initial inspection of this latest iteration - codenamed W213 - presented as a brawny, well-sculpted machine. While it has lengthened 44mm over its immediate predecessor, it is skinnier by 2mm although that would be unnoticeable even by the keenest of enthusiasts. The reassuring “thunk” of doors shutting inspires a feeling that this car has been hewn out of igneous rock, a familiar feeling to anyone who’s driven Mercedes from the late 80s. The seats are firm yet supportive. Call the vinyl upholstery as you will – MB Tex, taxileder or Artico – it lends to an interior that is no less sumptuous than its bovine-sourced equivalent, and potentially more durable. As you reach to the left (not right) of the steering wheel to fire the ignition, a wave of déjà vu strikes – has the W124 (’86 to ’95 E-class) finally been reincarnated?
Fast forward to the current millennium, this model is with, as you would expect, it’s fair share of toys and treats. The crowning jewel in the saloon has to be the combination Apple-esque cockpit display comprising twin 12.3-inch high-resolution displays, each separately controlled by a trackpad thoughtfully placed on the corresponding side of the steering wheel. It was some time before I noticed the absence of a CD player, not that I can recall needing one in any recent memory. The virtual instrumentation comes in three guises (Classic, Sport and Progressive). The latter, especially, would certainly suit the next instalment of Playstation Gran Tourismo Sport and remains my default selection. The Burmester audio system sounds every bit as good as it looks, from Beethoven to Bon Jovi.
If you’re standing in front of the car at start-up, the audible engine note at idle is noticeable. It is by no means unrefined, however this is an area where its competitors have an edge. Once inside though, the insulation effectively creates an ambience of serenity. The turbocharged 2-litre 4-pot engine pumps out 135kW, elegantly hitting the 100km/h benchmark from rest in 7.7 seconds. Transmission shifts on the 9G-tronic box are seamless and effortless, ensuring that revs are kept in the comfort zone, in my default driving mode of the same title. Sport and Sport+ driving modes do afford more precise steering response and control, albeit with a raucous soundtrack, befitting it’s slippery 0.23 drag coefficient. As with all E-Class models on this side of the price spectrum, the cosseted ride is what owners tend to seek, so the default mode tends to be civilised. The staggered set-up comprising 19-inch alloys with Pirelli run-flats originally looked like the ride would be unforgiving over some of Sydney’s less-than-pristine road surfaces, but this was one area where I was pleasantly surprised. On my usual routine, a respectable 11 litres per 100km is achieved over a mix of highway and stop-start driving. However, Mercedes have specified a minimum 95RON in this model versus a minimum 91RON in its immediate predecessor, which does make for pricier stops at the bowser.
In daily use, a clear plus is the added practicality which is achieved by the ability of the rear seats to fold, hatchback-style. In my configuration, the rear bench comfortably accommodates one infant seat plus space for two more teens. I must note that the collision warning system (particularly during a reverse manoeuvre) has an ability to automatically bring the vehicle to a complete halt if it senses that collision is imminent, however, I have had my fair share of false alarms during the time I have owned this car.
There used to be a distinctive look-and-feel which exemplifies the evolution of each of the C, E and S classes. Time (and I’m sure sales figures too) will tell if this commonality of “design language” between the C, E and S Class goes down well with owners past, present and future. What’s really worth looking forward to is how the folks at Daimler will top an already brilliant machine in the next decade.