With rivals like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, the Mercedes E-Class has always had some seriously tough competition. So that’s why this refreshed model has been treated to a comprehensive redesign, benefiting from driver assistance technology that will be used on the next-generation S-Class.
Instead of the old, angular quad-headlight setup, the facelifted E-Class gets a pair of hi-tech-looking headlights and an enlarged, more upright grille. AMG Sport-spec models, like our test car, get a big three-pointed star in the middle and a curvaceous front bumper.
The overall effect is less aggressive but arguably less distinctive, too, particularly when you see that the new car ditches the oddly retro pontoon-style crease in its rear doors – a design feature now reserved for the firm’s sleek coupes and convertibles.
At the rear, there's a pair of new, if rather bland looking LED tail-lights. However, nice details like the new headlights, which feature LED low beams as standard, with LED high beams available as an option, and the subtle matt silver trim, mean the new E-Class remains a classy, if not eye-catching, car.
The same is true on the inside. The car is gifted with smarter air vents, which flank an analogue clock on the centre console, and extra space gained by moving the gearlever to the steering column. The three SLS-style pod-dials are a nice touch, while the sports seats feature plenty of adjustment.
The 2.1-litre diesel engine is a little disappointing, though. It offers a decent amount of power and response, and is well matched to the smooth seven-speed auto gearbox. But it is a gruff sounding engine, rattling away at idle and not really settling down until you reach higher speeds.
At least the stop-start system is very effective in town, cutting the engine quickly and restarting again crisply as soon as you take your foot off the brake.
Our car came with the optional air suspension, which is very soft and bouncy in comfort mode, making it a relaxed cruiser, yet firm and dynamic in sport mode. However, it's an expensive option, and the standard unadjustable suspension gives a pretty decent balance between these modes most of the time. What's more, all E-Class estates feature self-levelling air suspension on their rear axles as standard.
Mercedes new ‘intelligent drive’ technology debuts on the E-Class, and makes use of a new stereoscopic camera, mounted in front of the rear-view mirror. The camera can see crossing traffic, improving the emergency brake assist function at junctions, while the adaptive cruise control can now steer the car, as long as you keep your hand on the wheel. The latter is quite disconcerting as first, and less smooth than if you steer the car yourself on a winding motorway. However, on straighter roads, the system is very relaxing – once you learn to trust it.