Road Test: Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line
The new E-Class is head and shoulders above its rivals, reckons Alex Grant.
Sector: Executive Price: £38,430 Fuel: 65.7mpg CO2: 112g/km
While it’s not uncommon for new launches to reset segment benchmarks, the moments where a newcomer makes its competitors seem a generation behind are rare. But, with the tenth-generation of what’s now the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz has done exactly that. This makes everything else feel dated.
It starts with strong foundations. Beneath shrunken S-Class styling, this is slightly larger than its predecessor but the wheelbase has grown even more, increasing interior space and reducing overhangs while the stiffer body structure offers more sure-footed handling. Although it’s never traditionally been the driver’s choice, the E-Class is now able to match the agility of a 5 Series while riding effortlessly over poor road surfaces even on large optional wheels.
The cabin borrows heavily from the S-Class, particularly with the all-digital dashboard option. This places a large, customisable, tablet-like high-definition display in front of the driver, which flows into the main instrument panel above the centre stack. Plasticky faux wood inserts are the only let down inside, with plush materials, accents of silver and a choice of 64 ambient lighting hues giving a feeling of high-class luxury.
Building on a great chassis and cabin, the E-Class is the first model to get the new all-aluminium 2.0-litre diesel engine, replacing the gravelly 2.1-litre unit used across most of the brand’s models. It produces 192bhp in the E 220 d, and it’s lighter, significantly quieter and configured to meet forthcoming “real-world” NOx emissions requirements. After-treatment systems are close to the engine to bring them up to operating temperature quickly, and set up to work over a wider range of conditions.
Owing in part to the nine-speed automatic gearbox, which keeps the revs low while cruising, it also performs well as an economy car. Fuel economy of up to 72.4mpg puts the E-Class ahead of the old diesel hybrid, though the AMG Line trim’s bigger wheels pushes that down to 65.7mpg. It seems achievable; over 60mpg is the norm while cruising, while low wind and road noise might make you question the need to move up to the S-Class.
Layered over the basics is some incredibly clever technology. This is one of the first cars to be able to manoeuvre in and out of parking spaces with nobody at the wheel, controlled via a smartphone app. It can semi-autonomously change lanes, follow other vehicles at up to 130mph, and even adjust the cruise control based on changing speed limits, braking as smoothly as a human chauffeur as it does so.
Perhaps a more subtle move towards fully autonomous driving, it can also upload and receive information about the road ahead. Essentially it’s contributing to and utilising crowd-sourced data showing how traffic is moving, which means it can pre-warn about what’s around the next corner long before driver or machine can “see” the problem ahead.
But the technology isn’t seamless. BMW’s iDrive system is still easier to operate than the combination of touchpad and rotary commander in the latest Mercedes-Benz models, and reducing physical buttons means there’s no way to change tracks or radio stations without displaying media functions on one of the screens. However, the live traffic information is very accurate, even pre-warning about tailbacks, and the voice controls work very well.
Overall, the E-Class joins this segment not only as a benchmark but as a generational shift forward. It’s more luxurious than ever, but also rich in useful technology and a more enjoyable car to drive. Mercedes-Benz is setting a high standard but, with the next 5 Series en route, its advantage could be short-lived.
Quiet, competent and brimming with clever features, the E-Class is the perfect companion for a long-distance business traveller. But with impressive real-world economy available from the excellent new four-cylinder diesel, don’t be too easily swayed by tax advantages for the forthcoming plug-in hybrid version.