Mercedes' all-new E-class has a tough job on its hands. Throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s Mercedes dominated the medium-sized executive saloon market with cars like the W123 and W124. Cars so tough that you regularly still see them working hard for a living around the world. But then build quality disappeared, the styling became bland and the magic faded. This car aims to redress that balance.
So what’s on offer with the new 2009 E-class?
As you’d expect, there are petrols and diesels, 4cyl, 6cyl and V8 configurations, but – rather surprisingly – several opportunities to have a six-speed manual transmission instead of the more likely automatics.
Propping up the range are two petrols, both using the same direct injection 1.8-litre turbo four but in a different state of tune. There’s an E320 CDI with the big six-cylinder diesel, an E350 with a petrol V6 and an E500 with a big petrol V8. We’ll deal with them in another article, but for now let's concentrate on the three four-cylinder diesels that most cars sold in the UK will come with. The E200 CDI has 136bhp, the E220 CDI gets 170bhp/295lb ft and the E250 CDI gets 204bhp/368lb ft. All three deliver 53mpg and 139g/km – really very impressive figures for such a big car.
What about trim? I was always a bit confused between Avantgarde and Elegance...
Luckily for you Merc UK has decided not to take the Elegance model and the base car is no longer called Classic but SE, to make middling reps feel better about themselves. It gets standard 16in rims, heated leather-look (yes plastic) seats and climate control. Pay an additional £2495 to step up to Avantgarde and you get bigger wheels, real leather, LED tail lights and Merc’s clever adaptive headlights that always ensure as much of the road is illuminated as possible. And another £1500 on top of that buys the Sport model: sports seats, AMG bodykit, 18in rims and steering wheel.
>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's first drive review of the Mercedes E250 CDI
What about quality?
Merc’s mid-size cars haven’t enjoyed that old-fashioned feeling of invincibility since the W124. Is this one any better? In a different league. It doesn’t look particularly exciting in or out – the rear styling is drab – but it has a statesmanlike bearing and the cabin is impeccably put together. The new E-class really does feel like it will outlast your grandchildren. And while the dashboard isn’t remotely radical, it’s logically laid out and the latest version of Merc’s Comand interface (like iDrive) is surprisingly intuitive.
There’s not an enormous amount of room in it though, at least not in the back. Headroom is fine, knee room ok, and foot room poor if the driver has his seat height set low. So no problem for Lotus shoe wearers. Some of the test cars had rear consoles that split the bench into two individual seats but all Brit cars have seating for five. Not that you’d want to sit in the middle. There’s just about enough headroom but the hard seat and large transmission tunnel mean it’s only notionally a five-seater.
Does the new Merc E-class drive like an old-man's car?
Let’s just say that if you’re after the most entertaining car in this class, you won’t be shopping here. You’d be far better served with a Jaguar XF (providing you can afford one – they start at £33k but are packed with kit and a standard V6), or a BMW 5-series. Driving an E-class you enjoy different pleasures. The steering is well weighted, if lacking the vitality of a Jag’s, the ride supple if a little underdamped on the standard suspension for the press-on driver. But consider the likely customer (45-55, family man, not concerned with racing GTIs on the way home) and the E delivers. It’s comfortable, quiet, refined and rides well.
Pick of the bunch, and most relevant for the UK markets, are the four-cylinder diesel engines. The E220 CDI and E250 CDI both use the same 2.1 diesel and while they’re not the sweetest sounding dervs, they’re not much less punchy or refined than the big E350 CDI, far more economical (53mpg and 139g/km for both versions, remember) and £3k cheaper (although the standard auto box does even things out).
We didn’t get the chance to drive the basic 136bhp E200 CDI but the E220 CDI offers perfectly adequate performance (8.3sec 0-62mph) but if you can stretch to the £1500-ish pricier E250 CDI (7.4sec) you’ll certainly notice the extra punch and pay no penalty at the pumps. We didn’t get the chance to try either engine with a manual 'box although both are available with three pedals.
>> Click 'Next' to read CAR's verdict of the Mercedes E250 CDI
The new E-class is a seriously impressive car. Refined, comfortable and packed with useful safety kit, it’s everything we hoped a new mid-sized Mercdes would be.
The bonus is that build quality appears to be back to Merc’s best and that for once equipment and prices are seriously competitive. Factor in the 250 CDI’s pace and green credentials (and their effects on company car tax) and you’ve got a new class leader in the £30k exec market.