New 2016 Mercedes E-class revealed: the quiet revolution, CAR+ February 2016

Published: 25 January 2016

► We take a look inside the new Mercedes E-class
► The German saloon is dripping with tech
► 'Pre safe' features for when a crash is imminent 

Don’t be fooled by the looks – the new Mercedes E-class saloon may have the appearance of a current C-class with middle-age spread, but beneath that same-again form lies the pulsating promise of digital proto-sentience. For this is the car that Mercedes hopes will be an important stepping stone along the path to autonomous driving, and it is absolutely loaded with technology.

But first, what about those looks? Talk about taking a leaf out of Audi’s book! It’s already difficult enough to tell a C-class from an S-class at a distance, so we were already in danger of becoming immune to the considerable charms of this particular form. Still, extending the wheelbase 65mm to 2939mm increases passenger space, while extending the overall length by only 43mm (to 4923mm) shortens overhangs. With active shutters in both front grilles an aero value of 0.23cd leads the executive class, just as the expanded use of aluminium and ultra-high-strength steel reduces weight and increases rigidity.

Continuing another trend, some buyers will bemoan the now terminal disappearance of the bonnet-mounted three-pointed star in the UK – no longer will you be able to stare through the emblem like a gunsight as you home in on slower moving traffic. Instead both the SE and AMG line specifications offered here will be fitted with the alternative ‘sports radiator grille’, which imprisons a far larger star within its confines. So it goes.

Either side of the grille lurk new multibeam LED headlights, which deploy no less than 84 individually controlled ‘high-performance’ LEDs – enough to deliver fully adaptive high- and low-beam illumination without using any kind of mechanical assistance. The car simply switches various LEDs on and off instead, a world first. Optional ‘stardust effect’ taillights use special reflectors to glow like the Milky Way or ‘a jet engine’.

On the inside, LED-fired ambient lighting brings a choice of 64 colours, but even this can’t match the wow factor of the dual 12.3-inch displays, butted together under a single piece of glass. Okay, so they too are optional, and replicate the interiorlook of the S-class, but as a means of underlining the new E’s technological emphasis they sure are pretty. The driver can choose from Classic, Sport and Progressive instrument designs on one, while the updated infotainment interface on the other claims simplified logic. There’s no gesture control, but there are now direct access switches for the air-conditioning and certain driver-assistance systems, and the steering wheel gains ‘Touch Control’ buttons you can swipe like a smartphone.

Early adopters won’t get much of an engine choice, as only a single petrol and diesel option are available at launch – and the UK is only taking the latter. Badged E220d this is an all-new 2.0-litre unit, replacing the previous 2.1; with variable geometry turbine, 192bhp, 295lb ft and a nine-speed auto as standard it propels the E-class from 0-62mph in 7.3sec, returns over 70mpg and emits just 102g/km CO2. Mercedes says it’s also ‘exceptionally refined’. A less powerful 148bhp variant badged E200d will follow later, as will a 255bhp E350d six and an E350e plug-in hybrid petrol with 19-mile electric range and 275bhp. 4Matic four-wheel drive is coming in right-hand drive in 2017, too.

The UK also gets only a single steel suspension set-up (German buyers have a choice of three), but there is an optional upgrade to all-round air suspension, unique in this class. Paired with adaptive damping, this multi-chamber system’s adjustable ride height and Dynamic Select handling is the closest the new E comes to sportiness, at least until the proper AMG models arrive.

But you sense being sporty wasn’t Mercedes’ highest priority here, given that when fully equipped the new E-class is happy to do most of the steering for you at up to 130mph, can negotiate road works without your assistance at motorway speeds, and will even change lane at the mere press of the indicator (assuming owners are able to find it). Add remote parking, the world’s first fully integrated Car-to-X communication system and the option to use your smartphone as the key, and suddenly the BMW 5-series and Jaguar XF seem as up-to-date as the brontosaurus. The new E-class is on sale late January with prices starting around £36k, arriving in dealerships in May.

New E-class: dripping with tech 

This smart Merc is taking over, helping drivers to see, steer, change lane and, in this case, brake. Automatic Active Brake Assist now gets a cross-traffic function: it widens the sensor array’s scope to prevent you pulling out in front of other traffic at junctions, and slows you down when closing on stationary traffic.

The screen is imported from the S-class, which is a dual 12.3in widescreen

Pre-Safe blows up

‘Pre-Safe’ is Mercedes’ term for the tech that tries to save you beyond the point of no return – bracing the car and occupants for impact. Even this gets a fluffing for the new E, though. ‘Pre-Safe impulse side’ instantly inflates the front seat bolster closest to the impact, pushing the passenger further away from the smash. ‘Pre-Safe Sound’ meanwhile emits a specific sound through the hi-fi, not to warn you but to prepare your ears for the noise-shock of the crash.

Imax interior

Although it’s not entirely original, the inside of the new E-class is at least more interesting than the outside. Highlight is the dual 12.3-inch widescreen display option, imported from the S-class. Sitting side-by-side beneath a single panel of glass, this adds the class that the 64-colour LED ambient lighting steals away. Trim choices include open-pore and ‘yachting-look’ woods and a ‘woven metal’ finish. The rear seatback has a 40:20:40 split-fold option.

Evasive steering

Apparently most people don’t steer enough when suddenly forced to take emergency avoidance action – Evasive Steering Assist is here to help by torquing the wheel enough to dodge that unexpected in-road object.

An i-max interior

Although it’s not entirely original, the inside of the new E-class is at least more interesting than the outside. Highlight is the dual 12.3-inch widescreen display option, imported from the S-class. Sitting side-by-side beneath a single panel of glass, this adds the class that the 64-colour LED ambient lighting steals away. Trim choices include open-pore and ‘yachting-look’ woods and a ‘woven metal’ finish. The rear seatback has a 40:20:40 split-fold option.

Drive Pilot: what it does 

‘Piloted driving’ is German for autonomous tech – so you can guess where the E-class’s Drive Pilot package is heading. It isn’t quite ‘look ma, no hands!’ to the max yet, but it is a big step in that direction, incorporating a suite of complementary radar and camera-based systems that mean the meat sack behind the wheel can relinquish control to a greater extent than in any rival.

Starting with Distance Pilot Distronic, this effectively ‘locks on’ to the car in front, and then follows its every move all the way up to 130mph. Autonomous tailgating? Not quite, since the radar will maintain a minimum safe distance. Of course.

Steering Pilot is an element of the Distance Pilot that enables you to go hands free for short periods – even on ‘moderate bends’. Like all such systems you still have to give the wheel a reassuring caress every so often. For now.

Step by step to how Drive Pilot works

Where regular line markings are missing – during roadworks, for example – ‘swarm’ logic tracks and analyses the surrounding vehicles for guidance. Some Audis already do this, but only up to 37mph. The E-class can swarm itself along up to 80mph.

Still not impressed? Like the latest Tesla update, the new E-class can change lane all by itself. Cutting edge, or a big conspiracy designed to make German executive saloon buyers use their indicators? (It’s activated by the putting the blinkers on for 2sec.) 

After that, the Speed Limit Pilot sounds rather tame; it merely auto adjusts the cruise control to make sure you comply with the law, using either camera-scanned road signs or sat-nav data. Active lane keep assist and blind-spot monitors are also available.

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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