Mercedes E-Class review
The Mercedes E-Class is a comfortable and refined rival to the BMW 5 Series – but it's expensive
For more than two decades, Mercedes’ E-Class has been trying to beat the BMW 5 Series to the top of the executive car tree. It’s always been a desirable choice, with its mix of quality, comfort and refinement, but it’s lacked its rival’s engaging driving experience and sporty styling cues. Until now, that is. After five years on sale, the E-Class has been treated to comprehensive update, with a sleek new look, upgraded interior and tweaked engines. As before, there’s a choice of SE and AMG Sport trims, plus the option of a practical estate bodystyle. At the top of the range is the wild, twin-turbocharged V8 AMG model.
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, 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.
Our choice: Mercedes E220 CDI SE
With its upright lines and clunky details, the outgoing E-Class always appeared a little awkward. However, designers have given the new car a softer look, featuring more flowing curves, less fussy flanks and a nose treatment that mirrors the recently launched Mercedes S-Class.
Yet while the styling is more modern than before, it’s still a bit staid and sensible next to the rakish Jaguar XF and muscular BMW 5 Series. LED front and rear lights help the Mercedes stand out at night, and buyers wanting to make more of an impact can opt for the AMG Sport model, which adds deeper front bumpers and distinctive 18-inch rims.
Mercedes has taken an equally conservative approach with the interior, which is carried over largely unchanged from the old car. That means you get a blocky, upright dashboard and a logical layout. Quality is first rate and the cabin is packed with upmarket materials. Plus, although the dials and some of the switchgear look dated, everything works precisely, including Mercedes’ trademark single stalk for the indicators, windscreen wipers and headlamp full beam. There’s also plenty of equipment as standard, including leather seat trim, climate control and the brand’s intuitive COMAND infotainment system.
As there wasn’t a lot wrong with the E-Class’ driving dynamics, engineers have instead concentrated on boosting efficiency as part of this facelift. As a result, the entry-level six-speed manual E220 CDI diesel emits 125g/km of CO2 – that’s 9g/km less than before – while our seven-speed auto puts out just 128g/km.
Happily, these eco-friendly tweaks don’t come at the expense of performance, with the Mercedes covering 0-60mph a tenth faster than either rival, in 8.7 seconds. And with the muscular 400Nm of torque available from just 1,400rpm, the E220 provides brisk real-world acceleration. However, this assured display at the track is undermined by the engine’s gruff soundtrack – it clatters noisily at idle and is coarse when extended. The 168bhp 2.1-litre settles down to a background hum once you’re up to speed, but you never forget there’s a diesel under the bonnet. This is a shame, as the E-Class is otherwise exceptionally refined. There’s almost no wind noise and tyre roar is well suppressed, Better still, the standard adaptive dampers serve up a supple ride, helping the car soak up bumps that send a shudder through the Jaguar XF’s cabin.
As you’d expect, this relaxed character extends to the E220’s handling. And while it’s not as sharp or engaging as the BMW 5 Series, it still feels poised and inspires confidence. The steering is direct and naturally weighted, body control is good and there’s decent grip. Strong and progressive brakes, a great driving position and good visibility all add to the E-Class’ appeal behind the wheel. We’d just steer clear of the standard six-speed manual box, as it suffers from a springy and imprecise shift action – our test car’s slick seven-speed automatic is well worth the £1,520 extra.
The outgoing E-Class has been a star of our Driver Power satisfaction surveys in recent years. In 2013, it finished an impressive 10th overall, with owners praising the car’s rock-solid reliability and brilliant build quality.
Mercedes has backed this up with a strong showing in our manufacturer standings, where the brand came fifth this year – that’s an impressive 10 places ahead of BMW and only two behind Jaguar. As you’d expect, the E220 comes packed to the rafters with standard safety kit. As well as seven airbags, buyers get stability control, a collision prevention warning system and a driver fatigue monitor. Also available is a whole host of upgrades, such as the £2,345 Driver Assistance Pack – this bundles together adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and blind sport monitoring. Other features worth considering are the £300 road sign recognition set-up, as well as side airbags for rear seat passengers, at £335.
The E-Class is spacious, with loads of rear head and legroom, but as in its rivals, middle seat occupants have a large transmission tunnel to contend with. Mounting the auto gear selector on the steering column frees up space between driver and passenger for a deep cubby and two cup-holders. There are also decent-sized door bins, a large glovebox and map pockets in the front seatbacks.
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. However the cut in CO2 emissions means the Mercedes is now only fractionally more expensive to run as a company car than the BMW. Higher-rate earners going for a manual E-Class in SE spec will pay just £215 a year more in tax than those picking the equivalent 5 Series.