MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

SUPERBLY CRAFTED LUXURY, YET ELEMENTS OF ITS TECH TOUR DE FORCE FALL SHORT OF GRAND, AND BRING A BUMP IN THE COTY ROAD

JOHN CAREY

LONG before the W213 E-Class went into production, Mercedes-Benz set out to convince the world a technology superstar was about to be born. Months before the assembly lines began rolling, the company staged a series of day-long, in-depth briefings in Stuttgart. There was, this strategy implied, a brain-swelling amount of innovative excellence packed into the new E-Class. More, even, than in the stillyouthful and higher ranking S-Class… Inevitably, many of the new E-Class’s advances rely on digital technology. There are programs, processors and sensors behind so much that this car can do, and Mercedes-Benz clearly has invested immense effort in engineering and developing them.

There’s no questioning the brand’s commitment and courage when it comes to pushing the boundaries. But by the end of the COTY test program the judges were wondering whether neglect of the hardware might have been a consequence of the care lavished on the software.

Once upon a time, Mercedes-Benz had a well-deserved reputation for ride comfort in its mainstream models. When it came to waft, Stuttgart’s chassis engineers knew their craft. But the new E-Class doesn’t ride as well as a big sedan wearing the three-pointed star should.

It’s hard to understand why this is so. The new E-Class is based on the flexible rear- and allwheel- drive MRA architecture that’s the basis for almost every Mercedes-Benz from the C-Class upwards. There’s nothing cheap or nasty about the platform’s engineering, as you’d expect.

Steel springs are standard in the less costly E200 and E220d, with the option of upgrading to Air Body Control’s combination of pneumatic springs and adaptive dampers used in the E300, 350d and E400. Neither suspension is perfect.

The low-speed ride of the steel-spring E-Classes was not smooth and serene. “Like reading Braille with your butt,” was Byron Mathioudakis’s memorable metaphor. This set-up sometimes felt underdamped when driving slowly; over speed humps, for example.

With Air Body Control the lack of damping was even more pronounced when set to Comfort mode.

The wallowy body motions that resulted were not appreciated, nor was the tendency of the front suspension to slap its bump-stops when dealing with potholes. Switching to Sport mode firmed things up too much. And Air Body Control also fails to completely banish the knobbly ride that blights the steel-spring suspension.

The E-Class’s handling is confident and capable, though this isn’t a car that does exciting intimacy.

But behind its haughty remoteness from the driver, there’s a lot of fundamentally sound and nicely polished engineering. The effectiveness of its ESC and ABS, for example, point to expert and painstaking calibration work.

Still, at cruising speeds on decently surfaced roads the E-Class is regal. Refinement is outstanding. Its slippery shape generates little wind noise – Mercedes-Benz claims a Cd figure of just 0.26 – while road noise levels are minimal. The engines are hushed unless rushed, too.

Among them, the twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 of the E400 stood out for its sometimes eerie silence. The new-generation 2.0-litre turbo-diesel in the 220d is also remarkable, and not only for the 7.4L/100km consumption we recorded. As well as seeming to reset the refinement benchmark for its class a notch higher, this diesel also equals or bests the new E-Class’s turbo 2.0-litre petrol fours.

The more powerful of these delivered acceptable performance but lacked aural sophistication.

“IN MANY WAYS BETTER THAN THE S-CLASS; LESS GAUCHE AND MORE MANAGEABLE”

MIKE DUFF

“INTERIOR IS A TECHNICAL MASTERPIECE, EVEN IN THE BASE CAR”

ALEX INWOOD

LIGHT OILING

Codenamed OM 654, the all-aluminium 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel in the new E220d marks the first shot in a three-billion Euro internal-combustion offensive by Mercedes-Benz. It’s just the first of a family of ultra-clean and super-efficient modular engines that will eventually spread throughout the brand’s entire range, including its vans. The engines will be engineered for both longitudinal and transverse layouts, with front-, rear- and all-wheel drive.

BOLSTERED EQUIPMENT

New E-Class features every desirable passive and active safety technology, including AEB, that we can think of. It also has several new systems that we couldn’t have thought of. Our favourite is called Pre-Safe Impulse Side.

It’s a system in the front seats that rapidly inflates the outboard backrest bolster when an impeding side impact is detected, forcefully shoving the occupant towards the car’s centre.

“THE MORE TIME I SPEND WITH DRIVE PILOT, THE LESS I LIKE IT”

MIKE DUFF

Something wearing an E300 badge should sound, well, classier. The E200 is more subdued, and that also goes for its performance.

To get a no-excuses drivetrain in the E-Class means stepping up to one of the more expensive V6 models. While the engine of the E350d is a fine thing, the silky insouciance of the E400 4matic is truly seductive.

The E400 benefits from the rectification of a long-running Mercedes-Benz mistake. Earlier versions of the company’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system were compatible only with left-hand drive.

Now standard in the new E400, 4Matic contributes to the car’s air of effortlessness.

Also noted was the excellence of the new Mercedes-made nine-speed automatic used in the E-Class. Always alert but never intrusive, it’s so good that it’s easy to overlook. Complaints?

Some judges noted their unshakeable loathing of Mercedes’ steering-column-mounted selector wand.

There’s very little else to dislike inside the new E-Class. Even better than the S-Class, thought some. Mercedes-Benz Australia’s decision to equip every model with the luscious Widescreen Cockpit display certainly lifts the techno-tone, but this car also gets so many of the mundane things right.

The spacious cabin is home to a pair of very good front seats and the rear seat is, as one judge noted “seriously lovely”. There’s a very real sense of quality here, combining the designer’s craft with classy materials. The provision of only a single 12-volt socket for the rear-seat passengers was one of the few criticisms. Not good enough, and it doesn’t get better stepping up the range. The lowset front seats also squeeze rear toeroom.

It’s not quite perfect, but the interior of the E-Class is a place that is persuasively premium. As it should be for cars wearing prices that currently stretch from the $90K E200 up to the $140K E400.

Mercedes-Benz Australia expects the $108K E300 to account for around 60 percent of E-Class sales.

While the price of the E200 represents a roundfigure rise of $10,000 compared to the entry-level W212 model it replaces, the entire new E-Class range comes with a level of driver-aid and activesafety technology nothing else in the class can match… for now.

There can be no argument that Mercedes’ array of systems bring real benefit. AEB, for example, is a modern-day must-have. The sensors that support this capability are also behind the E-Class’s truly excellent active cruise-control, which deals wonderfully well with other traffic and resists straying above the set speed down hills.

When put to the test during COTY, the Park Pilot system also functioned flawlessly. The new E-Class features the latest version of the brand’s selfparking tech. The big change is that the car itself now selects forward and reverse gears during the process.

Mercedes-Benz intended the E-Class to be a significant step forward on the road to autonomy. Yet the taste of autonomous driving the car delivers isn’t always appetising. During the course of the COTY test program it became apparent that the E-Class’s Drive Pilot wasn’t as reliable as it should be.

The problem is that even on well-marked roads Drive Pilot’s self-steering function couldn’t be counted on to guide the car. Some judges were prepared to accept the system’s limitations, and regard it as an often helpful aid. Others believed that its inability to deliver what Mercedes-Benz seems to have promised was an unforgiveable fault.

If one of Mercedes’ major objectives with Drive Pilot was to psychologically prepare drivers for full autonomy, then it must be counted a failure.

But let’s acknowledge that Mercedes-Benz set a very high bar for itself with the new E-Class. And it does, we believe, reset the class benchmark, despite its not-good-enough ride comfort and not-quiteready technologies.

MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

BODY Type 4-door sedan, 5 seats Boot capacity 540 litres Weight 1605 – 1800kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front-engine (north-south), RWD/AWD Engines 1991cc 4cyl turbo (135kW/300Nm); 1991cc 4cyl turbo (180kW/370Nm); 1991cc 4cyl turbo PHEV (155kW/350Nm); 1950cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (143kW/400Nm); 2987cc V6 turbo-diesel (190kW/620Nm); 2996cc V6 twin-turbo (245kW/480Nm); 2996cc V6 twin-turbo (295kW/520Nm) Transmission 9-speed automatic CHASSIS Tyres 245/45R18 – 275/30R20 ADR81 fuel consumption 2.4 – 8.4L/100km CO2 emissions 55 – 194g/km Front airbags Side airbags Curtain airbags Knee airbags Collision mitigation Crash rating 5-Star (Euro NCAP) Prices $89,990 – $134,900 3-year retained value 46% Service interval 12 months/25,000km