Overlook worldwide recession and the automotive market place is primed for the launch of Mercedes’ new E-class. BMW’s 5-series feels old and outdated (it’ll be replaced in less than 12 months time) while Audi’s A6, despite (or perhaps because of) a minor facelift late last year, doesn’t feel particularly new either.
So it’s an open net for Mercedes then, but has the new E-class got the skills to slot home the winner? All the ingredients look good – the C-class shows Merc is back on form and the new E-class promises more of what the current car does well (cavernous interior space, a smooth ride and lots of safety gear), while also chasing down the 5-series for driver involvement and the A6 for its fit and finish. Read on for our full first drive to see whether the new Mercedes E-class delivers.
What’s this CGI nonsense on the new Mercedes E-class all about?
Not computer generated imagery, that’s for sure. CGI is Merc-speak for the direct-injection system on its petrol engines. And alongside the CGI technology, all E-classes are BlueEfficiency-equipped, the Swabians' term for its eco-friendly tweaks that include low rolling resistance tyres, active aerodynamics and energy-saving control of the fuel-pump, alternator and air conditioning system.
It’s just a pity that on the road the 3.5-litre V6 doesn’t feel as punchy as the figures of 288bhp and 269lb ft would suggest. Why? Because you really need to rev this six-cylinder above 4500rpm to get the best out of it, but in doing so you enter a realm of noise that you wouldn’t normally associate with a Mercedes.
But this engine’s saviour is the standard (of course) seven-speed automatic. It doesn’t slur or jolt at low speeds and full-bore upshifts are almost imperceptible – it’s a brilliant gearbox. And it helps the E350 CGI turn in 33.2mpg and 199g/km
So what happens when I punt this E350 CGI down my favourite road?
You’ll discover that Mercedes has finally arrived at the handling party, and that the new E is so good you’ll actually want to retrace your tyretracks. That’s not something we would have said of the old car.
Mercedes’ sport-biased Direct Steering is now weightier and more direct, with no lifeless play around the straight-ahead. And the Direct Control dampers nicked from the C-class automatically stiffen when needed, yet the ride quality this Mercedes manages is surely enough to make it a class-leader – and that’s without air suspension. You can go hard, or cruise along, and the E will excel at both.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of Georg Kacher's Mercedes E-class first drive
Surely there’s some fancy kit I should know about?
Of course – Mercedes has never shied away from loading up its big saloons with a mind-boggling array of computer hardware that only the Swabians think we need. But this time Merc has come good - alongside the standard-fit pop-up bonnet and seven airbags all Es have Attention Assist, which monitors steering inputs and a plethora of other parameters to make sure you don’t fall asleep behind the wheel. And because it’s actually a pretty cheap system to make, it’ll be standard on all Mercedes within the next three years.
But if that’s not enough then you can get blindspot and lane departure warning systems, keyless go, radar-guided cruise control and a system that reads speed limit signs.
Whether I fit all these gadgets or not, will I be comfortable inside?
Yes, but you perhaps won’t feel as comfy as you might in Jaguar’s XF. The E-class borrows interior design ideas from both the C-class and S-class, so there’s now an integrated sat-nav screen mounted in the top of the dashboard, a rotary dial for the entertainment system on the transmission tunnel and a gear selector that’s now moved to the steering column. Overall the design is modern and classy, but it’s exactly what you expect of a Mercedes (now with much-improved quality) and it’ll never delight you like the XF does.
But it’s bigger than the XF, and almost certainly more spacious than any rival, plus there’s a 540-litre boot and the option of two rear seats if you fancy being chauffeured.
Those that choose to get driven around in an E-class will enjoy the experience. It’s big in the back (and up front), rides smoothly and has regained the traditional rock-like solidity that the old car so sorely lacked.
But if you slip behind the wheel you’ll discover an E-class that’s as good to drive as BMW's 5-series, and that should have the Bavarians very worried indeed. It’s the perfect blend of the sportiness of the C-class and the luxury of the S-class.
>> Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know what you think of the new Mercedes E-class. Would you have one over a BMW 5-series, Jaguar XF or Audi A6?