E FORMATTEDThe Mercedes-Benz E Class gets a low key but high impact working over. Andy Enright keeps you up to speed on developments.
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes E-Class didn't need to try too hard to separate people from their hard-earned but the latest model makes the job of its rivals even tougher. With more equipment, cleaner and more economical engines, a nine-speed automatic transmission on some models and some fiendishly clever safety technology, the E-Class has still got it in spades.
BackgroundThe E-Class is one of Mercedes-Benz's untouchables. It's one of the handful of cars in its portfolio that makes you believe there's something in the Pareto Principle, namely that 20 per cent of Mercedes' models contribute 80 per cent of its profitability. The E-Class is the rock upon which Mercedes builds its church, the car that perhaps better than any other embodies the Stuttgart zeitgeist. The direction the E-Class travels in, whether that be engineering, styling or marketing, influences the rest of the model range. Once an ultra-conservative car, the E-Class has become a more extrovert thing in recent years and that reflects across the rest of the range.
This time round, Mercedes has done some housekeeping on the E-Class range. It's all rather discreet but the changes aren't just window dressing. There is a new engine, new transmissions, equipment updates and specification changes. It's hard to believe that this generation of E-Class has been with us since 2009. It still looks polished and retains the ability to land punishing body blows on its rivals from BMW, Audi, Lexus and Jaguar.
Driving ExperienceYou might think that the big news here would be the new engine, but the E400's change from a 3.0-litre to a 3.5-litre V6, albeit one with marginally better economy and emissions, was always going to be a sideshow given that car's tiny contribution to the E-Class' bottom line here in the UK. Of more importance is the introduction of the 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox on E350 BlueTEC models, again improving efficiency and also helping driveability.
Power gets tweaked up across a number of models. The E220 BlueTEC rises from 170 to 177PS, while the E350 BlueTEC gets a 6PS shot in the arm, lifting its peak power to 258PS. Otherwise it's much as you were. You'll need to pay attention when specifying the car as there's a tonne of choice available. Even the suspension choices can be dizzying with the comfort-oriented DIRECT CONTROL suspension with selective damping system, a version of this with a 15mm lowering, an AMG Sports version, and the AIRMATIC suspension that's fitted to the V8 cars. All models in the E-Class family get the electromechanical Direct-Steer system as standard. The ballistic 5.5-litre twin turbo E63 AMG models thankfully continue.
Design and BuildMercedes has thankfully left the styling well alone, the car receiving a number of updates for the 2013 model year cosmetic update. That covered things like headlights, bumpers and rear doors. The light units are fitted with partial LED lights as standard, while full LED technology is available for the first time in this class as an option. You need this. It gives the car a light signature that's really striking. The other thing that really only becomes apparent when you get two E-Classes alongside each other is the different front end treatments sported by the SE and the AMG Line versions. We saw this debuted by the C-Class and the bigger car gets a classic grille and bonnet badge on SE versions and a sportier front end with a big three-pointed star in the grille.
The interior also came in for some budget, with better quality upholstery, and a two-part trim which stretches across the entire dashboard. It can be selected in a wood or aluminium look, irrespective of the equipment line. You'll also notice a three-clock instrument cluster, the trapezoid-shaped, high-gloss framed display in the head unit with flat-frame look, the design of the air vents as well as an analogue clock between the two central air vents, IWC-branded in the AMG.
Market and ModelMercedes has rejigged the model range to encompass SE and AMG Line versions. Even the entry-level cars come with 17-inch alloy wheels, partial LED headlights, a DAB digital radio, ActivePark assist with Parktronic, and the COMAND Online infotainment system. Collision Prevention Assist Plus is also fitted as standard to every E-Class Saloon, Estate, Coupe and Cabriolet to reduce the impact of rear-end collisions. The system provides visual and acoustic warnings when a head-on collision is imminent, with braking activation occurring at speeds up to 62 mph to reduce the severity of a collision with slower or stopping vehicles. The system can also brake in response to stationary vehicles at speeds up to 30 mph and prevent rear-end collisions at speeds of up to 24 mph.
Should you not be content with the standard equipment provision, Mercedes has something extra for you. Premium and Premium Plus Packages are offered, the former comprising a Panoramic Glass Sunroof, Memory Package, Rear Split Folding Seats, and a Reversing Camera for £2,695 while the Premium Plus Package adds Keyless-GO Comfort Pack and a Harman Kardon sound system for £3,895. The prices of the packs for the Estate model are a little less (£2,395 and £3,495 respectively) as they already have the split folding seats and powered tailgate as standard.
Cost of OwnershipFor a car that performs as broad a remit as the E-Class, encompassing everything from German domestic market taxi fleets to family transport, company cars and all points in between, there's a pressing requirement for the car to turn in some great efficiency measures. To that end, Mercedes has tweaked a number of the engines to improve economy and drive down emissions still further. The big-selling E350 BlueTEC model benefits from the addition of the 9G-Tronic transmission, seeing a drop of 17g/km in emissions which now start from 136g/km for the Coupe, 139g/km for the Saloon, 142g/km for the Estate and 143g/km for the Cabriolet. The E220 BlueTEC enjoys a drop of up to 16g/km despite still being paired with the 7G-Tronic transmission. The E220 BlueTEC SE Saloon features the lowest CO2 emissions of the range at 116 g/km. The E 400 AMG AMG Line sees engine capacity go up half a litre but emissions drop by up to 17g/km. Even the E63 AMG doesn't turn in too catastrophic a performance at the pumps, averaging 28.8mpg and emitting 230g/km. Drive it as designed and your figure may well dip somewhat. Residual values are some of the best in the sector although you will have to keep an eye on options pricing if you want to keep a cap on your pence per mile figures.
SummaryThe Mercedes E-Class puts in an impressive performance. Beforehand it felt like quite an expensive car. Now it feels like a car that's pricey but which offers a compelling value proposition. It drives with genuine polish, yet is capable of stepping from cruiser to carouser without breaking a sweat. Operating the car is relatively easy, and you rarely feel as if the car is imposing its will on you, unlike certain rivals I could mention. The abiding impression is that this is a very carefully considered vehicle, developed by a company steeped in a proud engineering tradition.
The latest changes future-proof the E-Class' emissions a little against the constant assault from its key rivals. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this generation car is the fact that its appeal has broadened so far. It was once hard to see anybody under the age of fifty contemplating an E-Class. A more dynamic image and a focus on sharper design and driving dynamics has seen that demographic become younger. What's more it's managed this without diluting its Stuttgart DNA, without alienating its legacy market. That is the mark of a very special car.