Mercedes loves its S-Class and is always trying to remind us of it. For example, the brilliant little C-Class is best described as a smaller version of the flagship. This all-new E-Class? Yep – medium-size version of the same car. Or, er, a bigger C…
It’s very attractive now and the coupé-like profile, longer bonnet, and shorter front and rear overhangs, plus the muscular beltline, really work in its favour. It’s sleeker than ever; the body, largely made of aluminium, looks clean and crisp. It hasn’t been unnecessarily over-styled either, every crease, fold and line adds character, and even if some of the detail has been lost due to our E 200 tester’s white paint, the newbie still really impresses aesthetically.
The new multi-beam adaptive LED headlights flanking the large grille carrying the three-pointed star give the front end a dramatic and purposeful look. It’s similar to its siblings, as is the rear fascia (I’ve always liked the three-tier configuration) but the apron is significantly different to that of the other two, and overall it looks more elegant and not as bulky thanks in part to the fact that it has grown in length (from 4,879mm to 4,923mm), while the wheelbase has been stretched, too (from 2,872mm to 2,939), making it bigger than the predecessor.
The interior is very smart and sophisticated, and borrows themes and elements from its bigger brother, meaning it’s packed with premium wood and rich leather – but the highlight in here is the elongated iPad-like dash, a 12.3in next-gen high-resolution display. It resides above the multifunctional steering wheel (which now gets touch-sensitive buttons that sort of feel like you’re using a Blackberry…) and has reconfigurable digital instrumentation, and there is an identically sized infotainment system on top of the centre stack housing most of the car’s tech and features.
The graphics and information rendered on the screens are pin-sharp while the Comand rotary dial – which now has handwriting recognition capabilities – is easy to use. Finally, the Burmester sound system’s 23 speakers create crystal-clear audio, but you’ll have to pump up the volume to bury the noise from the AC. It’s loaded with safety features too, from airbags all over the place to numerous driver-assistance systems such as automatic braking and accelerating and attention assist, which can detect if you’re getting tired/drowsy – plus you’ll never nick the paint, what with the parking package’s ever-operative ultrasonic sensors overlaying a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings on the screen.
It also has lane keeping assist, a head-up display, blind spot warning and smartphone integration (it even has a new key fob) but our tester didn’t have drive pilot, sadly, and this sounded like the most impressive. That optional system is able to automatically maintain the correct following distance behind the vehicle in front at speeds of up to 130kph. That would have been interesting to try. Perhaps next time, but even then this car is so chock-full of tech that covering it all would need quite a few more pages of this mag. And these are the qualities a buyer of this particular model will be interested in – not performance.
With four drive modes to select from (Comfort, Eco, Sport, and Sport Plus) and a continuously operating, electronically controlled damping adjustment system providing excellent ride comfort, chances are you may never bother to opt for the racier setting.
The steering is typically light and easy, and since all you have under the bonnet is a new 2.0-litre blown four-cylinder making 184 horses and 300Nm of torque mated to the new nine-speed automatic transmission (the world’s first in the premium segment) you don’t ever get the urge to stress the motor beyond 3,000rpm. It is more effortless than punchy, and cruising merrily along is this car’s forte. I’ll have the E 63 AMG with an AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, thanks.
This fifth-gen model marks a huge departure from the predecessor (it’s also unrecognisable in every way to the ‘Ponton’ cars of the Fifties…) and it’s a classy act even if it’s devoid of its own character due to being based so heavily on the S-Class. However, with an attractive body, lavish cabin, incredible kit and offering a smooth drive, there isn’t much to dislike here.
Audi and BMW will have to do their best to keep up with Stuttgart’s most important model, which has often melded into the background. It’s been the sign of quiet yet self-assured wealth for years, but this one will make its presence felt because although it’s similar to you-know-who, it has everything else in its locker to make it a winner in the executive-class segment.