Mercedes are calling it the 'E-Class for Europe'. So is it the 'game changer' to really take on the BMW 5-series?
First drive in Lisbon: Mercedes E-Class
It is usual for carmakers to issue rallying cries and claims when they unveil a new car. Mercedes would not have been noted for it in the past but the gloves are off as far as it is concerned now.
Watch out BMW 5-series (especially) and the Audi A4, they say.
The days of gentlemanly acceptance of others' superiority in areas such as driving dynamics, design, etc, appear to have gone.
The E-Class marks a departure on a number of fronts. Mercedes has come of age, for example, about what spec to put in a car.
No longer will it be a case of buying a basic setup and then paying for your own options (that choice remains of course but 'basic car' spec is a lot higher now). Rather it will be cars strategically equipped to meet the tastes of far more people. And that means packing in the equipment. Which means Avantgarde trim is now the starting point.
Mercedes claim there's €7,000 worth of equipment more than the old one - but it will cost €850 less. The start price will now be €52,850 with Exclusive trim costing €55,210 and AMG versions €57,650.
AMG Line is not AMG performance; it's the decorative kind. Outside it transforms the front with an effective grille/air-flow look while inside gets different leather seats, steering wheel trims, dashboard, AMG mats and so on. The whole package costs €5,000 extra. However, you can order outside AMG kit for €2,500. That means you'd have Avantgarde interior AMG-line exterior - the most likely favourite (I'm told) for a little north of €55,000.
It's fair to say the E-Class has struggled for real identity for some time. Big, comfortable, roomy - for sure. But a car you'd strive to have on overall appeal? Perhaps not.
That's changed. When you boil it all down the E-Class has become, I think, a mix of the larger S-Class (the rear looks echo it) and smaller/smarter C-Class (front).
The trickle-down technology is there from the former and trickle-up smart looks from the latter.
You can opt for the classic bonnet-mounted star and louvered grille combination or the (much better looking) grille with the star inset on the bonnet. I think the cabin design/mix of materials now rivals anything you can buy for €52,000 or so.
I'm particularly taken with the front-of-cabin, the sweep of the dash and the way they have information/interactive screens (virtual cockpit comes with an option package) positioned as part of the furniture as opposed to imposed on it.
I do have a couple of reservations. You sit quite low in the car and the dash runs high and deep, a potential drawback for smaller drivers. And it doesn't look so good in dark colours unless it has that AMG element on the front. It's much better in red or white or matt grey finish. But here's another rallying cry: There's a brand new family of 2-litre diesels and they're miles better. The E220 (192hp) arrives in April; the E200 (154hp) in the autumn. The E220d manages a (claimed) 3.9l/100km (60mpg) with emissions of 102g/km (€190 road tax). That's 13pc better even though power is up (from 168hp); it's also smaller and 31kg lighter.
These new engines will make their way into the likes of the C-Class, A-Class, S-Class - nearly everything really over time. These first all-aluminium 4cyls can be game changers for Mercedes.
With a 9spd 9G Tronic automatic gearbox (standard) the E220d had loads of power and torque (pulling power) as well as being quiet and smooth. Of added significance is the fact the diesel particulate filter (DFP) and SCR unit (emissions control technology system that injects AdBlue into the exhaust stream) and oxi-cat (DOC) are all part of the engine as opposed to add-ons.
Our test cars in Lisbon had air suspension which made for a great combination of tautness and forgiving ride but I'll await the more conventional setup on Irish test. Regardless, the car overall felt it had taken a long step forward as a handling and drive package. The E400 4 Matic on the Estoril track gave a good indication of how capable it can be.
The technology represents another rallying call, notably the semi-autonomous Drive Pilot (€3,400 extra), remote parking (€2,700) and a mega spread of driver assists, accident avoidance and warnings.
With Drive Pilot the car drove itself. With no hands on the wheel, I indicated anwd it changed lanes. But after a short time it alerted me to put my hands back on the wheel. If I didn't it would have slowed to a halt.
The parking involved me standing out and using a mobile phone to guide it into a narrow-ish garage. You can also use your smartphone to open the car and have it pre-heated - among other things.
To other practicalities: rear-seat room is decent without being expansive and there is a good-sized boot. The lighting system is impressive and makes night driving a lot safer.
I also drove the new plug-in hybrid version. This has ridiculously low emission figures but I don't see it impacting here because of price. Standard spec on the new E-Class is, as mentioned, critical. It includes Parktronic parking assist, heated front seats, leather upholstery, reversing camera, LED static lights, sat nav, mirror pack, ambient lighting, alarm pack and a 'connect me' function.
First here will be the E220d Avantgarde 9G-TRONIC. There will be a 4 MATIC version by the autumn.
This is the 10th generation of the E-Class and it does mark a turning point. It needs to because we're not far off a new BMW 5-series (later in the year) and a new Audi A6. And you can be sure they will have their rallying calls too. It's going to be a big battle but the E-Class was never better prepared for one.