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Mercedes E350 CGI Sport

Will prestige, build quality and pace help E-Class stay at the top of its game?

The presence of the three-pointed star will be enough to decide this test for badge snobs, but does the Mercedes E-Class live up to its billing as the prestige heavy hitter in this pairing?

Parked alongside the smoothly styled Saab, the E350 appears small, and the upright grille, square headlights and busy flanks do little to set it apart on cosmetic grounds. If you ignore the firm’s wild AMG models, Sport trim is the raciest in the range – and the changes over lesser versions include more purposeful bumpers, side sills, different exhausts and 18-inch alloys. Still, as a sober-suited executive car, the Mercedes does what it says on the tin.

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The interior shows the same lack of inspiration. While it feels impeccably built, it doesn’t look particularly expensive. In fact, if it wasn’t for the extra space, it would be easily mistaken for one of Mercedes’ smaller and less expensive models. 

Swathed in black, our car’s cabin seemed much smaller than the cavernous Saab’s. And the E350’s artificial Artico leather neither feels nor looks as good as the genuine hide in the 9-5.

We have less to complain about in the back, where there is plenty of leg and headroom. But the Saab provides more of the former and gets folding rear seats as standard; they’re a £400 option in the Mercedes.

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On the move, the first thing that strikes you about the E-Class is its refinement, as it is quieter than the 9-5 at all speeds. This feeling continues when you explore the car’s performance, as the smooth and punchy engine mates perfectly with the slick and responsive gearbox.

The Mercedes is slower than the Saab in the benchmark 0-60mph sprint, with a time of 6.6 seconds, but thanks to its quicker gearchanges it is on level terms by 70mph. Standard adaptive dampers do a good job of smothering imperfections, yet deep potholes can cause the E350 to thump and crash. And, unlike the 9-5, there is no scope to fine-tune the settings.

Despite its Sport badge, the Mercedes never feels particularly racy, and it lacks the outright traction provided by the 9-5’s four-wheel-drive system. The steering does benefit from consistent weighting, though, even if it could do with more feedback.

The E-Class puts up a stronger fight in other areas, as the 288bbhp engine returns claimed 32.8mpg economy and we recorded a test consumption of 20.8mpg. Lower emissions are also in its favour. A CO2 output of 205g/km means a tax disc for the Mercedes costs £245 – a hefty £180 less than for its Swedish rival, which falls into one of the highest bandings. Superior residuals add to the German model’s financial clout.

There are plenty of reasons to choose the sensible Mercedes over the more daring Saab, but are they enough to tip the scales in its favour in this encounter?

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Chart position: 1
WHY: Do executive cars come better established than this? Serving up a raft of clever technology with a superb engine and gearbox combination, the latest E-Class is the cream of the prestige crop.

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