In a move that’s likely to take its competitors by surprise Mercedes-Benz has given its new E-Class range a real sporty look. Obviously the success of Mercedes in the redhot competition that is Grand Prix racing in recent years has inspired the German marque to move right away from its lingering reputation of only making conservative cars for middle aged buyers.
The shape of the E-Class’s dominant two-bar grille with the three-pointed star in the centre works nicely with the large foglight openings and is backed up by guards with a semi-pumped look.
The rear is rather softer than we like in shape, though not as soft as in some other current Benz models.
The upmarket German companies currently have three body themes in their ranges, let’s call them standard, sporty and redhot. Mercedes has gone straight to sporty in its standard model. However, if you do want a more traditional appearance you can opt for an Exclusive Line package that has a traditional grille, with the three-pointed stare mounted at the front of the bonnet amongst other features.
New E-Class is longer than the model it supersedes, with increased wheelbase and wheel track. It’s marginally lower and narrower. There’s increased legroom in the rear seat, boot capacity remains the same as in the old sedan.
Weight has been reduced by about 75 kg, depending on the model. This has been achieved by the use of more high strength steel, making the body stronger.
Inside, the changes to the Merc E-Class are extensive. The dash has been completely redesigned with a glass screen running two thirds of the way across and displaying multiple modes. There are two separate areas, one directly in front of the driver containing the major instruments, that can be set up in different ways. The other contains the satellite navigation maps and Mercedes Comand displays.
Interestingly, a smaller version of the satellite navigation can also be shown on the dash directly front of the driver. A head-up display is an option.
The steering wheel has touch-sensitive controls that work in a similar fashion to those on a smartphone interface, by using horizontal and vertical swiping movements. Mercedes says this is in line with its motto, ‘hands on the wheel, eyes on the road’ and the system minimises driver distraction.
However, nothing can totally eliminate driver inattention, a crash factor that is becoming increasingly worrying for road safety experts.
The interior lighting now uses 100 per cent energy-saving LEDs. The ambient lighting gives you a choice of no fewer than 64 colours. It can be used in the complete interior, or in areas chosen by the occupants. Trim parts, the central display, front stowage facility on the centre console, handle recesses, door pockets, front and rear footwells can be turned on or off. However, all the chosen areas share the same colour.
The rear bench seat in the new E-Class Saloon comes as a fixed unit, the centre armrest has a stowage box and two pop-out drinks holders. There’s the option of a three-piece backrest with 40 / 20 / 40 folding split. There is also the option of a holder for a tablet for the rear passengers.
Power comes from a variety of four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrol or diesel engines, with a hybrid coming later.
The four-cylinder turbo-diesel is the star of the new range. A completely new design, the 220d unit produces 143 kilowatts of power and 400 Newton metres of torque.
In an interesting sign of the enormous progress that has been made in engine design, Mercedes-Benz says that its first ever diesel engine, introduced in 1936 guzzled diesel fuel at the rate 80 litres per hundred kilometres (that’s not a typo…). Today’s new turbo-diesel has officially measured consumption of just 4.1 L/100km.
The only vehicles available for us to test at this early stage were the four-cylinder E200e petrol and E220d diesel. We reviewed them over an interesting road course from Melbourne airport to the Yarra Valley by the backroads.
The first thing we noticed was the quietness of the diesel from outside the car. The old engine was pretty raucous, especially when cold, the new one is up with the best in the class.
Throttle response is pretty good on both the petrol and diesel engines and the big torque on offer once turbo is spinning to maximum effect is great to sit behind.
Interior quietness is a feature of the new E-Class. Some coarse-chip sections did increase noise levels somewhat, but certainly not to an annoying extent.
Handling is competent and predictable with cornering ability well beyond that likely to be tackled by most drivers. There’s a staggering array of electronic aids to keep you out of trouble should you seriously miscalculate a bend.
The E350d diesel is also on sale now. Coming later, probably in November, are the E300, E400 petrols.
AMG models will be part of the new E-Class range and we will detail them when they arrive late in 2016 or early 2017.
Prices of the three variants available now are:
Note: These prices do not include dealer or government charges. Contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer for drive-away prices.