The new Mercedes E-Class brings reality of self-driving a step closer
The new E-Class may be more refined and efficient but it is the Drive Pilot that sets it apart, writes Geraldine Herbert
There is no denying the importance of the E-Class to Mercedes-Benz, it has not only attracted a loyal band of fans but it makes the German car maker more money than anything else in its range. Sales of more than 13 million units testify to the appeal of this car but past E-Classes have never been what you might consider exciting or entertaining to drive. Eclipsed by the elegance of the CLS and surpassed by the blend of technology and luxury in the S-Class, the new generation aims to iron out these foibles.
Reassuringly, the E-Class does not look that radically different from the outside; a little less angular than before, it now has a more coupé-like roofline, with an almost S-Class sophistication and elegance. Combining practicality with good looks, there is also an extra 65mm in the wheelbase, which means improved legroom front and back.
Inside, the E-Class has always been an oasis of opulence and comfort. What is new is the option of two high-resolution 12.3ins display screens and three different wide-screen instrument cluster styles.
When it comes to technological innovations, the S-Class is traditionally the car that Mercedes chooses to unleash its newest and best offerings. But technology is changing at such a pace that the new E-Class now threatens to eclipse the S-Class. You can remotely park the car using a smartphone app - this is a feature only recently available on BMW's flagship 7 Series - the same smartphone can also be used as a key.
But it is the Drive Pilot function that is the most futuristic and moves the E-Class closer to a self-driving car than any other in its range. The system operates the car's brakes and accelerator and will steer the car, keeping it in its lane. It also has the capability to follow the traffic in front at speeds of up to 210kmh. Where lines on the road are faded or missing, it will still continue to follow but at a reduced speed.
Safety is a key component in all Mercedes and the new E-Class is no exception. A raft of safety features is offered, including the Pre-Safe Sound system, which plays a high-pitched note to protect its occupants' inner ears in a crash.
There is also a host of crash-avoidance features, including a system that moves the driver or front passenger away from danger to minimise the impact of a side impact collision and an automatic emergency-braking system.
The model line-up now consists of three style and equipment lines - Avantgarde, Exclusive and AMG. Standard equipment includes: full leather; seat comfort pack; active brake assist; reversing camera; ambient lighting; nine-speed automatic; satellite navigation; keyless start; LED performance lights; parking pilot; heated seats; driver attention assist and remote online.
Under the bonnet is where the greatest changes have occurred. At the launch, we tested the E220d Avantgarde Automatic. This handsomely crafted car offers a relaxing and spirited drive; the refinement is particularly impressive and the new diesel engine is barely audible.
The engine range represents an investment of €2.6bn by the company and the E-Class is the first to benefit from the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel that replaces the 2.2-litre. It delivers a 17pc weight reduction, fuel consumption of 3.9 litres/100, lower C02 (102g/km), increased horsepower (194 HP), 400Nm of torque and road tax of €190.
Priced at €52,850, the E220d Avantgarde Automatic represents a price decrease of €850 compared to the previous model. Also available to order is the Exclusive (€55,210), AMG versions (€57,650) and an E350d version at €66,900. Further model variants to come will include an E350e hybrid and a powerful V6 E350d.
March was a good month for Mercedes Benz globally. The German car maker achieved its highest-ever monthly sales and delivered 198,921 cars to customers in March and 483,487 vehicles in the first quarter. Total sales were up 8pc over the same time last year; this was despite a 6pc drop in the US.
Executives are justifiably optimistic about the rest of the year, particularly for the new E-Class. The E-Class is a big step forward from its predecessor and just part of a coming wave of new models that Mercedes hopes will allow it achieve the No 1 slot in the premium market.
The new E-Class is refined, efficient and the quality is particularly impressive. If you are buying at the top echelon of the luxury executive market, this is the car you need to consider.