The nation's business elite usually take quite a shine to the Mercedes E-Class. June Neary decides whether the tenth generation version floats her boat.
Will It Suit Me?
The E-Class is an institution at Mercedes Benz, an executive car for the discerning customer that's not quite as over-blown as the S-Class luxury saloon but up a good few notches up the plush scale from the C-Class compact executive. Its arch rivals are the similarly Germanic BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 as well as Jaguar's elegant XF, the Lexus GS and a few others. The E-Class has a definite place in the world and in the market and that leaves Mercedes free to concentrate on getting it absolutely right. So much about the E-Class is to do with prestige. It isn't extrovert in the way that a sports car or a big 4x4 might be. It's actually quite low key to look at but those noble lines and the discreet cabin with its high quality materials are there to say something about its owner. The people who drive the E Class, they say, are mature, professional and discerning. They know a quality motorcar when they see one and they have the financial means to install one on their driveway. At least, that's the image Mercedes likes to groom for the car. I probably don't fit the bill as the typical E-Class customer but I know what I like and the signs for the tenth generation version of this executive express are promising.
There's a load of room inside the E-Class. I know that there's reclining seats and more space than most semi-detached houses in the back of the longer-wheelbase S-Class but most people don't really need all that. For most car journey purposes, the space in the back in the E is all you could want. With three rear seat occupants, things can get a little cosier but it's still no real inconvenience. There are lovely materials used on the door panels and the dash and while the controls might seem be a little complex initially, there's a lot to configure and the essentials can be grasped in reasonably short order. The amount of technology shoehorned into the E-Class really is remarkable and the most eye-opening features are aimed at improving the car's safety credentials. Mercedes likens the systems to an 'intelligent partner' who can detect and react to danger, which sounds like an automated back seat driver chiming in every time they think you're going to fast or too close to the car in front. The reality is that the systems are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible until stronger intervention is absolutely necessary. Probably the cleverest technology is provided by the optional 'DRIVE PILOT' system that when activated, allows the car to pretty much drive itself, working with the adaptive cruise control and active steering systems to keep the E-Class rolling in its chosen lane at any chosen speed up to 130mph. I tried it. It was eerie. Yes, I could live without it.
Behind the Wheel
A lot about the character of your E-Class depends on the engine that you've chosen to have plumbed in up front. There's a 258bhp 3.0-litre six cylinder diesel unit fitted to the E350d, but most will prefer the 194bhp four cylinder powerplant installed in the volume E220d variant I tried. This all-new 2.0-litre engine is right up there with the best in class for refinement. Even when pressed hard, it refuses to be noisy or harsh, which all adds to the luxury feel. It also makes a solid business case thanks to 72.4mpg combined consumption and 102g/km carbon dioxide emissions. Rather than turning the E Class into a sports car (that job is left to some of the more exotic Mercedes-AMG variants further up the range), the E220d's engine invites you to waft around the place. It's very reassuring to know that there's this reserve of power there should you need it to overtake dawdlers or make it through that gap in the traffic. The effect is relaxing and it's enhanced by the creamy automatic gearbox and the comfortable driving position. The E-Class isn't small and it can be tough to thread through busy streets but you always feel shielded from the outside world and that's a mark of a good executive car. If you really don't want to fuel from the black pump but need efficient returns, there's a 184bhp E200 base petrol variant. And a 279bhp E350e petrol electric Plug-in hybrid derivative with a 20 mile all-electric driving range.
Value For Money
You didn't expect an E-Class to be cheap did you? It isn't but it's competitive with other mainstream full-sized executive rivals. Given the need for this E-Class model to slot into the Mercedes range between the smaller C-Class compact executive model and the larger S-Class full-Luxury segment saloon, you could pretty much guess at this car's pricing span: so if you're reckoning that most mainstream E-Class models will be sold at figures starting just above £35,000 and ranging up to just below £50,000, then you're about right. This car was launched in saloon and estate guises, with Coupe and cabriolet versions to follow. On to engines. All are paired with automatic transmission - in the case of mainstream variants the super-smooth 9G-TRONIC PLUS 9-speed set-up - and the sales focus is very firmly on diesel, possibly the 258bhp 6 cylinder 3.0-litre E350d diesel, but more probably the E220d variant I tried. Inevitably, this four cylinder derivative, priced from around £36,000, will be the volume seller but bear in mind that finding the extra £9,000 necessary to upgrade to an E350d does also get you a lot more equipment.
Could I Live With One?
There'd be hell to pay at Mercedes-Benz if the E-Class was anything other than a leader in the executive car field and the people behind it can rest easy. The car impresses on numerous levels, with the comfort, technology, performance and efficiency of the E220d model coming in for particular praise. In short, you'd like one.