Executive saloons need to feel refined, comfortable and elegant: Time to find out if Mercedes' latest E-Class ticks all the boxes in our review
If you pay company car tax, the latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class powered by a new 2.0-litre diesel engine is aimed squarely at you.
But it needs to impress if it's to steal your eye from the competition, especially with the new BMW 5 Series on the way next year.
We spent a week behind the wheel to find out if the Mercedes E-Class is the class act in the executive saloon sector.
A class act? Does the Mercedes-Benz E-Class have what it takes to dominate the executive saloon segment? We tried one out for size to find out
There are three diesels to choose from in the range, but the brand-new 2.0-litre diesel available in the E200 and our E220 test car is the really interesting one because it’s going to find its way into most of Mercedes’ smaller models.
But even in the bigger E-Class it delivers a couple of remarkable stats: 0 to 62mph in under 7.5 second, and CO2 emissions as low as 102g/km.
At a stroke, this engine lifts Mercedes from a relatively weak position vis-à-vis the opposition to a really strong one in terms of power, economy and low-tax CO2 emissions.
The fifth-generation E-Class Estate is currently only available with the 192bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, but in this saloon guise it can also be had with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel, a 2.0-litre petrol hybrid or a 3.0-litre V6 AMG petrol. The choice is diverse.
As is the norm these days the new E-Class is bigger, lighter, and stiffer that its predecessor. Inside it’s had an S-Class-style refit and it features a suite of quasi-autonomous driving technologies.
In the E220d we tested, that new diesel engine has added an air of traditional Benz relaxation without substantially altering the E-Class’s overall character.
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is bigger, lighter and stiffer than the car it replaced
Mercedes is renowned for building cars with a silky smooth ride, and the latest E-Class lives up to the reputation
Road performance is assured and refined, with smooth idling and quiet part-throttle running.
On the motorway, the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox permits peaceful 70mph cruising with well under 1500rpm on the tachometer.
That proliferation of gears means that the engine can easily stay within its peak punchiness range by changing up early to stay below 2800rpm.
Be a bit more insistent with the pedal and you can force the gearbox to hold on to gears up to 4000rpm, but the engine doesn’t feel at its happiest when you're revving it hard.
The compensation is rapid progress for a 2.0-litre diesel in a vehicle of such a size. Our tests indicate that a real-world figure of 55mpg should be doable if you're driving fairly conservatively.
SE-trim cars for the British market come with lowered comfort suspension that works very well, smoothing out poor local roads and motorway ridges with aplomb and delivering a cushioned ride everywhere. On standard wheels and tyres there’s minimal road noise.
The comfort suspension in the SE-trim model we tested did a good job of ironing out imperfections in the tarmac beneath it but wasn't the most dynamically advanced car we've driven this year
There's plenty of cabin space and luggage room in the boot, though not to class-leading levels. Other large executive saloons feel roomier
Our model came on standard 17-inch wheels. While bigger rims might look better the smaller wheel size means a more competent ride
If you're happy to travel at a steady rather than forcing the issue you’ll be rewarded with a relaxing and pleasant driving experience, but if you want more dynamism and involvement you might be less satisfied with what the Mercedes dishes out.
There is an option to upgrade to adaptively damped or Airmatic suspension, but we haven’t tried either for long enough to form a judgement.
Pressing on with the standard suspension and 17-inch wheels reveals less than stellar levels of grip, and body control that can become ragged even at sub-motorway speeds on difficult roads.
The steering is low-geared to start with but weights up quite noticeably as you speed up and use the wheel. As a result, there’s not much feel in the straight-ahead position, and little feedback generally.
It could be that Mercedes is catering for a perceived customer base that places a greater premium on lightness and insulation from shocks rather than pin-sharp changes of direction, but the result is steering that feels out of kilter with the E-Class’s controls and handling responses.
On the upside, the driving position will work for most drivers as long as they prefer a more upright, high-set arrangement than the more snug setups available in cars like Jaguar’s XF rival.
Cabin space and boot room are both capacious enough, though neither are class-leading.
Mercedes does luxurious interiors well, though there are more gizmos and screens available higher up the spec range. Still, it's a very pleasant place to sit
The E-Class undoubtedly leans more towards luxury and sport, which means you have to pay the price for all that comfort. We'll have to wait and see if the BMW 5 Series does a better job on British roads next year
Nor is the level of luxury in entry-level SE-spec cars, which come with Mercedes’ 8.4in infotainment complete with Garmin sat nav and DAB tuner, a reversing camera and cruise control.
You have to fork out extra for the eye-catching twin 12.3in LCD instrument and infotainment screens, and your dashboard won’t be wrapped in leather to match the standard heated leather seats unless you move up to AMG Line trim, which adds AMG-branded alloys, bodykit and decals, plus electrically-adjustable front seats.
Full-house AMG treatment is only available for now in the E43: that has a more extreme body kit and a 395bhp, bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine.
MERCEDES-BENZ E220D SE
Engine: 4cyls, 1950cc, turbocharged diesel
Power: 192bhp at 3800rpm
Torque: 320lb ft at 4500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Gearbox: 9-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 1680kg
Economy: 72.4mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 129g/km, 20%
Go for the E350d or the hybrid E350e to get the 12.3in Comand Online infotainment, air suspension and 18-inch alloys as part of SE trim.
Still, even in the SE there’s no quibbling with the superb, expensive-looking finish of the cabin mouldings and fittings.
That combination of robustness and usability isn’t common, and can mean a lot when you’re spending a good chunk of time in a car over a three-year ownership period.
The ‘E-Class feeling’ is one of engineering designed to minimise stress. A 100-mile commute hardly registers on the fatigue scale, thnaks in large part to well thought through driver assist functions like the new Drive Pilot enhanced adaptive cruise.
If your shopping list must-haves include an upmarket feel, an undemanding cossetting character and a strong powertrain, the E220d will fulfil your expectations.
Be aware though that it leans toward luxury than sports. If you want greater involvement, other cars will satisfy more.
Is it better than a 5 Series? We'll have to wait until we get the new model on UK roads next year.
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