2 November 2016

Review: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

With the new generation E-Class, launched in Ireland earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz has completed the renewal of its key traditional models, writes Brian Byrne. And a right good job they have made of it too.

After a few years in the design and desirability doldrums, being knocked around somewhat by arch-rival BMW and Audi particularly, the Stuttgart luxury carmaker is now on a roll and doing some serious fightback.

In terms of the E-Class, it's a good year to be doing it, as the competition 5 Series has another year to go to regenerate the model, and at the moment it's arguable that the Munich car is trailing in several measures.

The style of the new E-Class is right on message with the larger and smaller siblings S-Class and C-Class. Svelte was a word I used in my descriptions of the C-Class that became a World Car of the Year, and svelte is what also describes the latest car. With the long bonnet it's also eminently sporty looking, especially with that big three-pointed star in the middle of the grille in this Avantgarde grade. From the front, there's a lot of presence with some intriguing and sharp lights design and sweeping edges to the under-grille.

The profile is well sculpted too, nothing garish but exceptionally stylish, an edgy centre line tapering away to the boot-lid, which has its own slight spoiler shape.

Overall, with chrome detailing on the boot edge and the dual tailpipe arrangement, it’s a prestige look. Choice of alloys will also add to the character.

Inside there has been a similar quantum upward shift in quality as we saw when the current C-Class came along. Part of that perception is also due to a more modern dashboard and general trim style than before. The instrumentation area is bigger, in part because an option is a very 'Widescreen Cockpit' touch and display screen that includes the primary instruments as well as the usual screen uses. This wasn't on the review car, but I liked the definite shape anyhow.

The centre stack of air vents and switch controls is also a clean design, easy to understand and use, with the M-B trademark analogue clock setting things off nicely. The screen is managed by the large knob on the centre console, which to my mind is the best of the variations of this system amongst the luxury car set. The optional 'touchpad' related to it was also on the review car, but it doesn’t appeal to me. Lots of chrome detailing and the review car's optional burr walnut trim also appealed to the traditionalist in me, but there are a choice of more techno trims available too which are very nice indeed.

Buyers can also choose from a range of interior designs, from relatively conservative to pretty wild, so no reason to be worried about being seen as a fuddy duddy if that's a concern. Whatever the choice, the interior of the new E-Class cossets, especially in the Avantgarde grade. Comfortable man-made leathers with seat warming, plenty of room front and rear. Lots of standard tech, including the reversing camera and Park Pilot aid, adaptive brake assist and LED headlights.

The review car was powered by the brand-new 2.0 diesel recently launched by Mercedes-Benz, with 194hp on tap and a rated CO2 emissions of 102g/km reflected in a mere €190 annual road tax. All new E-Class cars sold here are automatic, in this case the excellent 9-speed system we have already experienced in other recent models. The powertrain is smooth, responsive in a 7.3s sprint to 100km/h and overall a very nice motor to have pushing one along.

It's a RWD car, and while that is certainly appreciated by more purist drivers than I, what it also allows is an exceptionally tight turning circle. This is a big car that doesn't feel cumbersome in crowded conditions.

Driving any car at this level is all about the overall experience. And in the case of this latest E-Class, that's an experience which is as top drawer as it gets. Maybe there's more in the larger luxury cars, but the nice thing about the E-Class is that it neither looks nor feels like a luxury bloat. Very important as we exit the extremeness of the recession into something approaching normal times.

Once so important to the Irish market that it sold 1,700 units a year, the E-Class has lately been rolling out of showrooms at the rate of 600 annually. So happy are the distributors with the latest one, they already expect to double that in the first full year, and from there move to bring the E-Class back to where they consider to be its rightful place in the Irish luxury car firmament.

The review car in Avantgarde trim retails at €52,850 plus charges. With a half-dozen options on it, the price as driven was €56,183.

(While this review was written earlier this year, it becomes again interesting by virtue of the car being voted Irish Car of The Year 2017 in association with Continental Ireland.)