Mercedes E-Class review
The Mercedes E-Class is getting on a bit now, but still offers plenty of refinement and luxury
The Mercedes E-Class is a well established contender in the executive saloon market, but it’s also available as a spacious and practical Estate, as well as in sportier Coupe and Cabriolet guises.
Core rivals include the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series – both executive saloon institutions as well – and there’s a large choice of engines, ranging from economical diesels promising fuel economy of up to 64mpg and an even more efficient Hybrid with nearly 70mpg to less environmentally friendly but brutally fast AMG versions.
The Mercedes is classy, well built and comfortable, and it also comes with plenty of equipment as standard. That said, it’s a little long in the tooth now – a new model is due to arrive in showrooms in 2016 – and isn’t as much fun to drive as its key competitors. It’s not the cheapest option, either.
The Mercedes E-Class has stood alongside the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 at the top of the large executive car class for more than two decades, offering buyers a classy, comfortable and refined saloon that is perfect for long-distance driving.
There should be a model to suit all tastes, because alongside the four-door saloon, it’s available as an Estate, a Coupe and a Cabriolet. The big seller is, of course, the saloon. It offers a wide range of engines, while even the entry-level SE model comes with a decent amount of standard equipment. There is one other trim level available with the saloon and estate – the AMG Night Edition – that gives the car a sportier look among other things, while topping the range are the high-performance Mercedes-AMG models.
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Entry-level E 220 BlueTEC cars come with a 2.1-litre diesel engine capable of 64.2mpg fuel economy, while further up the range you’ll find the more powerful E 350 BlueTEC. There’s also an E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid and a standalone E 250 petrol, as well as the high-performance flagship Mercedes-AMG E 63 and E 63 S models with more than 550bhp. A seven-speed automatic gearbox is standard across the range, although some higher-spec versions are available with a nine-speed automatic.
While the Mercedes has a classy appearance, it's not quite as good looking as the Audi A6 or as good to drive as the BMW 5 Series. If you're after a car that puts comfort above driving dynamics, however, the E-Class is well worth a look. It’s relatively expensive, though, as prices start at nearly £35,000.
An all-new E-Class will be launched in 2016, and is set to feature an interior similar to that found in the stylish new C-Class – the smaller and cheaper compact executive saloon that sits one rung down in the Mercedes range. If you buy an E-Class before then you may get a good deal, but you’ll miss out on some of the advanced features expected to be fitted to the forthcoming model.
Engines, performance and drive
The Mercedes E-Class can't really compete with the BMW 5 Series when it comes to handling agility, but it scores very well on comfort and refinement.
It’s exceptionally quiet: there’s barely any wind noise and tyre roar is well suppressed. Better still, it comes as standard with Mercedes’ adaptive suspension, which helps the car soak up bumps in the road that would send a shudder through the cabin of sportier rivals such as the Jaguar XF.
Although it isn’t as much fun to drive as the likes of the XF and the 5 Series, the E-Class is poised and confident on the road. The steering is direct, body control is good and there’s a decent amount of grip. Strong and progressive brakes, a great driving position and good visibility all add to the E-Class’ appeal behind the wheel.
There’s no manual gearbox option, so all versions come with a seven or nine-speed automatic transmission. The former is smooth enough, while the latter is quite luxurious.
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The standard E-Class saloon is available with a choice of two diesels and one petrol engine. A popular option is the E 220 BlueTEC, with its 175bhp 2.1-litre diesel: not only is it the cheapest version in the range, it’s a capable all-round performer, promising 0-62mph in a respectable 8.4 seconds, as well as 64.2mpg fuel economy. This diesel is a little rattly and louder than the other engines, but that’s the trade-off for efficiency and a lower price. The E 350 BlueTEC is much smoother and punchier, courtesy of its 255bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, and claims 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds.
The solitary petrol engine in the E 250 model is a 211bhp 2.0-litre and makes the E-Class good for 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds. But it doesn’t have the economy or mid-range clout of the diesels.
The E 350 BlueTEC Hybrid pairs an electric motor with the 2.1-litre diesel engine and is no slouch, with 0-62mph taking 7.5 seconds. However, the switch between electric and diesel power can be a little jerky, and it lacks the smoothness of the 3.0-litre diesel.
Finally, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 is simply ballistic. It has a 5.5-litre V8 engine, which produces an enormous 549bhp – or 577bhp in the E 63 S – so it’s unbelievably fast. It’s loud as well, but in a good way, as the V8’s snarl will be music to the ears of any enthusiast. The E 63 will sprint from 0-62mph in only 4.2 seconds, while the E 63 S shaves that time down to 4.1 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The 211bhp 2.0-litre E 250 offers good performance, while its emissions aren't bad for a petrol engine. Mercedes quotes 138g/km of CO2 – which means this model sits in road tax band E, at £130 a year – as well as official fuel consumption of 47.1mpg.
However, the entry-level E 220 BlueTEC diesel is the best all-rounder. Not only is it the cheapest E-Class to buy, but it also claims 64.2mpg and 114g/km of CO2, which means £30 a year road tax. The low emissions and low price combine to give low Benefit in Kind tax costs, making the E 220 tempting for company car drivers.
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The E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid is the most efficient E-Class of all, as it returns 68.9mpg and emits 107g/km, so it sits in road tax band B, which costs £20 a year for private owners. Yet that isn’t really enough of a saving to justify the diesel/electric model’s significantly higher list price.
It's no surprise that the most powerful models in the E-Class range, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 and E 63 S, are really thirsty. The E 63 claims fuel economy of 28.8mpg and emits 230g/km of CO2.
As a large, executive saloon, the E-Class isn’t exactly at the bottom of the insurance group table. The range kicks off in group 35 for the E 220 BlueTEC, while the Hybrid and models with bigger diesel engines and more equipment sit in around insurance group 45.
The high-performance AMG versions are in groups 47 and 48 respectively, which is almost as high as it gets. It’s a similar story for rivals such as the BMW 5 Series, which rises through the 30s and 40s, and tops out at group 50 for the storming M5. However, entry-level versions start in group 30, which is a bit lower than the equivalent E-Class.
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Large, executive saloons are not renowned for holding their money well, although cars with a premium badge such as the E-Class are better positioned than those without. In an attempt to buck the trend, Mercedes has put a lot of work into improving its residual values in recent years, so the E-Class should stand up well against its rivals.
Interior, design and technology
A 2013 facelift added the current Mercedes family face to the E-Class. In particular, front and rear LED lights make it really stand out at night. However, in saloon form, the car looks a little anonymous, especially in standard SE trim, and it simply doesn’t appear as sharp as the Audi A6.
The Estate is a more convincing design, though, and is perhaps worth considering even if you don't need the masses of extra space it brings – and there’s always the Cabriolet or the Coupe for better looks.
It’s possible to sharpen up the exterior of the E-Class saloon, though. The plush AMG Night Edition trim level costs around £2,700 more than the SE and brings external updates such as deep front bumpers and distinctive alloy wheels – although it’s worth noting that the SE has a slightly more comfortable ride because of its smaller alloys.
The interior of the E-Class is smart and comfortable. It all feels well screwed together with classy touches such as an analogue clock in the centre of the dashboard. The centre console will be familiar to anyone who has driven a recent Mercedes. There are quite a lot of buttons, but they’re neatly arranged, chunky and feel solid in operation, which adds to the impression of tough build quality.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All models from the entry-level SE to the flagship Mercedes-AMG E 63 S come with leather seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth and DAB digital radio. Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system is also standard, although sat-nav remains an option.
If you specify navigation, the system isn’t difficult to use: you control the screen with a thick dial mounted on the centre console, and it moves back and forth and presses down with a reassuring clunk, again backing up the sense of solidity inside this Mercedes. But this also makes it more difficult to overshoot the mark and scroll past the section you want on the screen.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Look around the cabin and you'll also see Mercedes has given the E-Class plenty of storage space and cubbyholes, plus some decent-sized door bins. The glovebox is suitably large, plus because every car is an automatic, with the gearshifter mounted on the steering column, some useful storage space has been freed up in the centre console.
If space is a priority then it’s worth considering the E-Class Estate. While the saloon is a genuine five-seater and doesn’t exactly struggle to accommodate passengers, the Estate is truly enormous and has the added appeal of a huge boot. Meanwhile, the Cabriolet and Coupe versions compromise on room for the sake of their sporty natures.
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At 4,879mm long, 1,854mm wide and 1,474mm tall, the E-Class is a big car. Surprisingly, it’s shorter than its two main rivals, the Audi A6 (4,933mm long) and BMW 5 Series (4,899mm long) – although there’s not a great deal in it. If you’re not used to driving cars of this size, the Mercedes does come with front and rear parking sensors as standard, which make it easier to squeeze in and out of tight spaces.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Climb inside the E-Class, and five adults can easily sit comfortably thanks to the generous amounts of leg and headroom on offer. One criticism is that middle passengers have to contend with a large transmission tunnel, but that's the same with the E-Class' competitors in the executive car market.
The Mercedes E-Class has 540 litres of boot space. Despite the fact that it’s shorter than its key rivals, the car is more practical than both the Audi A6 (530 litres) and BMW 5 Series (520 litres). Strangely, though, 60:40 split-folding rear seats are only available as an option; they’re usually standard with most modern cars, especially when you’re paying this kind of price. It’s worth remembering that you don’t get hatchback practicality with a four-door saloon, though, so even if you specify the optional folding seats, the load space is limited when you drop them down.
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Reliability and Safety
In the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, Mercedes ranked a decent 11th out of 32 manufacturers, and finished ahead of fellow premium German rivals Audi (13th) and BMW (14th) in the chart.
The E-Class dropped 34 places to come 61st out of 200 cars, although it’s worth bearing in mind that this ranking was for the pre-facelift car. While it’s similar to the current model under the skin, it does have a number of differences in terms of styling and equipment.
The list of safety kit on the Mercedes E-Class is very impressive, with all models getting at least seven airbags, electronic stability control, front and rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers as standard.
There’s also driver drowsiness detection – known as Attention Assist – and a system called Collision Prevention Assist Plus that automatically applies the brakes if it senses an impending front-end accident. On top of that, buyers can specify options such as night vision, blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control to enhance their car’s safety credentials.
Given its impressive raft of safety gear and the company’s reputation for building sturdy cars, it’s no surprise that that the Mercedes E-Class achieved the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
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Mercedes recommends servicing the E-Class every year or roughly every 10,000 miles. A major check-up is recommended at around 18,000 miles and two years. There is a good service plan with several different payment options.
If you cover up to 15,500 miles a year, then you can sign up to a three-year service plan that includes three services for £30 a month, while the package costs the same amount per month over four years for four services. The prices go up if your mileage increases and the car needs more services within a shorter period of time, but it’s a good, transparent scheme.