Mercedes E-Class- 'This is prince that's not yet a king'
New car is a technology goldmine
I think we're in danger of getting carried away a bit with talk of driverless cars and autonomous driving. I prefer to DRIVE my car. Otherwise, I might as well get the bus or take a lift.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the attendant advances in technology - there are significant safety enhancements.
And, yes, I have been behind the wheel of cars that drove themselves for short periods (the systems insist you put your hands back on the wheel within 15 seconds). It's wonderful, extraordinary even, to see a car change lanes on its own at 100kmh just after you indicate. That was in the new Mercedes E-Class which can, incidentally, also park itself - my car on test here had Parking Pilot. I've no doubt it is all going to be an increasing part of our motoring future in some way or other. Certainly our cars are doing more for us - so much we don't even notice.
But you can never get away from how a well-engineered motor makes you feel or how good it is to drive, to sense/generate the energy, the propulsion. I hope these elements are not lost to us.
Mercedes have done lots of things on several fronts with their new E-Class; it is a technological gold mine in many respects. They certainly needed tangible advances if they hope to swing 'drivers' from the likes of the BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF.
They have certainly made one of the finest cabins in this or any other mainstream car. It works on a number of levels: from the design and sweep of the dash, the way and the simplicity with which information is displayed across your lines of vision, the big strong seats, depth of comfort and decent roominess. Many passengers said the same thing: "This is a nice car." It is.
They have also installed a fine new engine under the bonnet. It's a 2-litre diesel from a new Merc 'family' that cost €2.6bn to develop and it makes a world of difference. The old 2.1-litre had become gruff and outdated. All of a sudden there is a reason to DRIVE (as opposed to be driven in) this: the new 4cyl was quick, had smooth uptake, more power (194bhp), better fuel consumption and lower emissions. Watch out for this engine in loads of other Mercs as the months and years slip by.
Cars in this category are usually conservatively styled and the E-Class largely follows suit. I think it looks dull enough in dark colours but these things are subjective so I wouldn't hold that against it. With AMG trim it looks much better. I wouldn't be a fan of the Saddle Brown Nappa leather in my test car either. Seriously strong colour. Old-fashioned, conservative me? Maybe.
Far more important, however, is conservatism on price. To look at the accompanying Facts & Figures panel, the €60,000 cost appears far from moderate. To be fair, my test car had lots of extra bits and pieces. But at basic level, they claim standard spec on the new car is worth €7,000 over the old one and the starting price of €52,859 is €850 lower. That's all part of an unprecedented push to make the E-Class the big seller in its segment and Mercedes the world's number-one luxury car-maker by next year.
It is undoubtedly the best thing they've done to date at this level, forging engineering and technology to a degree few can match.
But while it is much better to drive than heretofore, BMW 5-series and Jaguar XF owners can breathe easily: this is not as good on handling and ride. That's because it is set up more for comfort than out-and-out dynamism. And it does that particularly well.
Among the many little items on board was a '64-colour ambient lighting' feature - lighting in and around the cockpit that I loved. My youngest daughter asked me to make it purple - in honour of the recently departed Prince. And that's how we travelled in it. Only afterwards did it strike me how apt the decision had been.
This is now a prince - not yet king - of a car in its own right. It's younger in itself, is innovative and well set for a real drive - human or autonomous - into the future.
Facts & figures
Mercedes E-Class 220d automatic (9G-Tronic) saloon, Avantgarde with AMG Line. 1,950cc, 194bhp, 3.9/4.3 litres/100km depending on model, 112g/km, €200 road tax.
Price for 220d Avantgarde from €52,850; AMG Line €57,650, options (full parking pack, keyless Go) help push test car price to €60,492.
Equipment included: Parking Pilot, AMG trim, 19ins alloys, Saddle brown Nappa Leather upholstery, reverse camera, 64 colour ambient lighting, larger fuel and AdBlue tanks, heated front seats, Bluetooth, Garmin navigation, Adaptive Brake Assist, several airbags.