Mercedes E-Class review
The Mercedes E-Class is a comfortable and refined rival to the BMW 5 Series – but it's expensive
The Mercedes E-Class continues the brand’s long tradition of comfortable and refined big saloons. It’s available as a sober-suited four-door saloon, a practical estate, a sleek, three-door coupe and E-Class Cabriolet. Although its styling isn’t as modern as that of the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Jaguar XF, the lure of the three-pointed star on the bonnet gives it plenty of kudos in the company car park. It’s available with a huge choice of petrol and diesel engines, including gruff four-cylinder units, silky smooth V6s and a thumping V8 in the E63 AMG models. A hybrid diesel model was introduced at the end of 2012 in both saloon and estate bodystyles and claims a class-leading emissions figure of 109g/km. The entire range was facelifted at the beginning of 2013, with a new front end and smarter interior making the E-Class look more modern.
Our choice: Mercedes E220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Avantgarde
Lined up alongside sleek rivals such as the Jaguar XF, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, there’s no doubting that the E-Class looks a little bland in comparison. That said, buyers wanting to make more of an impact can opt for the AMG Sport model, which adds an aggressive bodykit and attractive 18-inch AMG alloy wheels without looking too ostentatious. Mercedes replaced the old quad headlamps with sleek new dual units and L-shaped daytime running lights at the beginning of 2013, as part of a mid-life refresh that also saw the three-pointed star badge moved to the centre of the grille for the time on the E-Class saloon. The Bentley-style pontoons around the rear wheelarches were scrapped on all but the E-Class Coupe and Convertible models, while changes to the interior included new seats and improved trim materials. Mercedes has a well-deserved reputation for quality, so it’s no surprise to find the entire cabin is beautifully finished and packed with first-rate materials. What’s more, it’s very well equipped, too, with even entry-level SE cars getting Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and parking sensors. Avantgarde trim is no longer offered. It’s just a shame that the angular and upright dash looks so old fashioned and unattractive - even after the facelift.
Keen drivers looking for the ultimate in sharp handling should buy a BMW 5 Series, as it only takes a short stint behind the wheel to realise the E-Class has been developed with comfort in mind. The E-Class is also incredibly refined, thanks to adaptive dampers that are standard across the range and ensure the Mercedes isolates occupants from even the poorest road surfaces. Better still, a perfect driving position makes it a superb long distance cruiser. And with its smooth steering, decent body control and rear-wheel-drive chassis, the Mercedes is surprisingly entertaining through a series of corners. The engine line up is made up of four diesel engines – the E220 CDI, E250 CDI, E300 BlueTEC HYBRID and E350 BlueTEC – and two petrols, in the form of the E200 and E250. The four-cylinder engine in the entry-level E220 CDI is gruff and can only be had with a clunky six-speed manual gearbox, but every other engine, including the smooth four-cylinder petrol, gets the excellent seven-speed automatic. The pick of the line-up is the muscular and refined E350 CDI V6 diesel. However, those on a more modest budget will be equally impressed by the capable - although slightly gruff - E250 CDI model. The high-performance E63 AMG models are powered by the firm’s 549bhp 5.5-litre V8 engine, while a 577bhp AMG S-Model will join the line-up in the summer of 2013.
Considering Mercedes' reputation for safety innovation, it would have been a shock if the E-Class hadn’t secured a five-star Euro NCAP rating. All versions get a full complement of seven airbags, electronic stability control and a driver fatigue detection system, as well as the option of a night vision set-up, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, which can even steer the car for you provided you keep at least one hand on the wheel. Bulletproof construction suggests that the E-Class should be as hard wearing as its ancestors, and a worthy third place in the 2012 Driver Power Top 100 goes some way to recognising this. Owners praised it for its reliability, brakes and ride quality, as well as comfort and ease of driving – and it even bettered the scores awarded to the sportier 5 Series in the handling category. A comprehensive three-year warranty is joined by the firm’s Mobilo scheme, which delivers breakdown cover for up to 30 years if you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer.
The E-Class is a big car, so it’s not a surprise to find it has a spacious interior. There’s plenty of head and legroom for five adults to lounge around in comfort, although the transmission tunnel is an awkward intrusion for a passenger sitting in the middle of the rear bench. A quick inspection reveals plenty of useful storage cubbies, plus a large glove box and a huge lidded compartment between the front seats. Pop open the tailgate and you’ll discover a vast 540-litre boot –bigger than the 5 Series and A6, but equal to the XF - that benefits from a couple of shopping bag hooks and load nets. However, the E-Class loses points for not having a folding rear bench as standard – 60/40 split-fold seats are an expensive extra.
Aside from the brutal E63 AMG, all cars in the E-Class line-up feature the brand’s eco-friendly BlueEFFICIENCY badge of honour. Yet it’s the E300 hybrid diesel that’s the cleanest of the lot. Thanks to the recent introduction of stop-start technology, the 2.1-litre diesel engine emits 109g/km of CO2 and promises to return 65.7mpg as long as you stick to 16-inch wheels. Increase the diameter of rubber and the emissions figures rise - but not by much. The most impressive model to drive is the powerful E350 CDI V6 diesel, which will manage more than 45mpg. As you’d expect, hitting the options list is an expensive exercise and even specifying sat-nav or leather will leave a big dent in your wallet. What’s more surprising is the poor residual values, though, especially considering its higher list price. E-Class models struggle to retain around 40 per cent of their value after three years - the 5 Series and A6 are both stronger performers in this crucial area.