Mercedes E-class: the lowdown
Sleek, safe and sophisticated – those are the three key themes that underpin the new Mercedes E-class, which will make its debut at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. Known internally by its W212 chassis monicker, the new mid-sized executive (estate to follow in mid-2010) will wrap cutting-edge safety technology, direct-injection petrol and Bluetec diesel power in svelte new sheetmetal. And with particular attention paid to build quality and reliability, Mercedes is hoping the next E will put a much-needed shine on the E-class’s somewhat tarnished image. Prices should start around the £33,000 mark for the entry-level E250, rising to an anticipated £75,000 for the hotshoe E63 AMG.
New E-class: a technological powerhouse
The new E will be stuffed to the gills with driver assistance technology. Rather than have a raft of individual systems, the E’s technology will be fully integrated, acting as a holistic safety and assistance net for the driver and other road users. As well as the usual follow-to-stop radar-based Distronic, the E-class driver will benefit from a more intelligent PreSafe system, which tightens belts and staggers the airbag timing in sync with the calculated severity of the impact. Other features include lane departure warning, eye movement monitor, traffic sign identification, road condition sensors and a third-generation ESP stability, which incorporates semi-active steering to compensate for crosswinds, camber changes and, believe it or not, uneven tyre wear. Automatic speed limit observation, linked to the car’s hard drive-based sat-nav system, will also be an option.
What'll it be like inside? Does it have a classy cabin?
Stung by media criticism and customer dissatisfaction at the dubious reliability and Friday afternoon build quality on the outgoing E-class, our sources claim that Mercedes’ engineers have bent over backwards to ensure the E-class meets the most stringent quality controls. That stubby aerial on the back of this test car is part of Mercedes' real-time test telemetry system: any test results or glitches are instantly relayed to head office in Stuttgart and are addressed on the go. Expect the E’s bank vault cabin to borrow heavily from the bigger S-class. That means an integral high-mounted colour screen alongside the backlit instrument panel, sleek and clean button-light dash and the Comand multi-controller, which works like BMW's iDrive only far more intuitively. Other features to bump up the options list include infrared-based night vision, a top-drawer digital audio system with complete MP3 compatibility and a high-speed DVD-based active sat-nav system.
What's under that big black disguise? Evolutionary styling?
Don’t expect anything earth-shattering here – although the new E will be sleeker and more aggressively detailed, the overall profile will remain much the same as before. A longer bonnet topped by a bigger grille and four headlamps will flow into a more raked windscreen to give the E a touch more athleticism, helped by the more pronounced mid-body swage line that links head and tail lamps. Expect the flared wheelarches of the S-class to feature, albeit more subtly, as well as Maybach-inspired bootlid treatment. Evolutionary is definitely the word.
So what'll the new E be like to drive then?
The W212 chassis will be brand new and, along with a longer wheelbase to boost packaging, will feature a number of innovative weight-saving elements including the extensive use of lightweight alloys and composites. After the SBC brake-by wire debacle Mercedes has ditched plans to offer steer-by-wire and four-wheel steering. The suspension will be all-new but will stick to the now familiar four-link front axle and multilink rear axle layout, bolstered by next-generation Airmatic and ABC Active Body Control systems. The hot AMG 63 flagship will feature composite brake discs, which will trickle down into the less powerful models. Mercedes has also put its optional 4Matic system on a diet, and it now features dynamic torque adjustment to reduce mechanical friction and steering intrusion. And Mercedes’ anachronistic floor-operated parking brake has finally been ditched in favour of an electrically activated unit.
Powertrains and transmissions: the full spec
A number of first for this new E-class – all petrol engines will be direct injection to benefit economy and emissions, all diesel powerplants will feature ultra-clean Bluetec technology, and all drivetrains will be hooked up to Mercedes 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic box. Mercedes is also considering killing off all four-cylinder engines, although the fleet markets, which account for many of the tax-friendly E200 Kompressor and E220 CDI sales may persuade them otherwise. Expect the line-up to look like this...