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Mercedes-Benz E-Class review | first drive

Chris Riley road tests and reviews the Mercedes E-class at its international launch.

Heads up because the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class touches down in Australia in six months. And, while it does not look or feel radically different from the current model, you get the feeling there has been a changing of the guard.

The V8 powered E500, previously the top of the E-Class tree, has been unceremoniously dumped - consigned to an earlier time when fuel consumption and/or its detrimental effects on the environment were not the priority they are these days. To hammer home the point, the E-Class line up will also include a hybrid for the first time - and not just any old hybrid . . . but a diesel one.

VALUE

Benz hasn't revealed any prices yet. That won't happen until closer to the Australian launch in August. But expect prices to be "assertive'' to use their words, which in some cases might mean cheaper than the model it replaces.

Benz is keen to deliver more E-Class sales and the way to do this is to kit out the car with better engines, more tech and a longer list of standard equipment. Prices for the current range start at just under $80,000 - expect the new E-Class to be close if not slightly less than this figure.

Safety features are something the company is loathe to skimp on and automatic braking, to prevent costly rear-enders in traffic - is sure to be standard.

DESIGN

One of the biggest changes has been the consolidation of the twin front lights into a single headlight cluster. It has been a hallmark of the car for three generations and was the subject of much discussion prior to its introduction.

Suffice to say Benz has managed to create a twin light effect, using LED technology to separate the one light into two distinct groups instead. You wait until you see it.

The other big change is the adoption of two front facias, just like Benz has done with the smaller C-Class - Elegance and Avantgarde. There's no prizes for guessing which style will be most popular with Aussies, where Avantgarde outsells the more conservative Elegance look with its raised Benz three-pointed star at a rate of almost 10 to 1.

SAFETY

Five stars for sure. Benz wrote the safety book when it comes to technology. It doesn't get any safer than this, with the usual fare, including multiple airbags and electronic traction and stability control - plus a long list of standard/optional safety features.

They include the aforementioned steering assist, high beam assist and rear ender prevention. The latter detects the presence of pedestrians up to a speed of 50km/h, at which point it will stop the car automatically and quicker than you could ever hope to do so yourself.

The chance of injury continues to be lessened up to a speed of 72km/h - after which you're on your own. The high-beam assist system is so new Benz it hasn't even been seen in the S-Class yet, and the company is faced with the daunting task of having to talk the Government into it - there's just no rules to accommodate it.

The system is able to dip the all-LED head lights, but only in a narrow gap around an on-coming car - not completely (maintaing the driver's view of the road ahead). Also a combination of radar/cameras and ultra-sonic sensors create a 360 degree safety envelope, 50 metres around the car which can even warn of traffic entering the path of the car from either side.

TECHNOLOGY

We'll be getting three petrol, two diesel and one hybrid model. There's the E200 four cylinder petrol model, the entry to the range with 135kW of power, 300Nm of torque and fuel consumption of 6.0 litres/100km, the E250 four cylinder petrol with 155kW/350Nm/6.1 litres/100km, and the new E400 Bi-Turbo 3.0-litre petrol V6 with 245kW/480Nm/7.7 litres/100km.

The entry level diesel is the four cylinder 250CDI, with 150kW/500Nm/5.2 litres/100km, the V6 E350 Bluetec with 185kW/620Nm/5.7 litres/100km and the four cylinder E300 Bluetec Hybrid, with 170kW/750Nm/4.4 litres/100km.

The latter is basically the same engine as the E250 CDI with the addition of an electric motor to give it some extra oomph and to reduce fuel consumption. The wagon will be available withe the E250 CDI diesel, as well as the E400 Bi-Turbo V6 - but the jury is still out on whether there will be an AMG version of the wagon - Benz only sold five last year.

Details of the coupe and cabriolet will not be revealed until closer to launch later in the year. All are hooked up to a 7-speed automatic in Australia and all are fitted with fuel-saving stop/start technology.

DRIVING

We got to drive three of the models at the international launch of the E-Class this week in Spain. The E250 CDI diesel is expected to be the biggest seller in the range again and deservedly so with 500Nm of torque, for most people all you'll need.

The Hybrid with its extra power and lower fuel consumption figures could be a sleeper, providing the same kind of performance, if a little smoother - depending of course on the price. The E400 Bi-Turbo petrol V6 while not quite as quick off the line as the V8, at 5.3 versus 4.9 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash is pretty damn good and will go head-to-head with BMW's twin turbo six - something that has been lacking until now.

It won't be anywhere near as expensive either - but it's still a big hop, step and a jump up to an AMG for a V8. Benz says the percentage of diesels it sells is now close to 50 percent in E-Class, but drive the Bi-Turbo V6, with its satisfying snarl and rapid throttle response and you won't want to give it back - trust me.

VERDICT

Wow. If you liked the old one, you're going to fall in love all over again. The car feels big on European roads, but should make itself right at home on the Australian blacktop. If the E-Class is any indicator, the fight for future of big cars is far from over, especially when they deliver this kind of performance with four cylinder economy.

This journalist is on Twitter: @IamChrisRiley

Mercedes-Benz E-class
Price: estimated from $80,000
Engine: four cyliner petrol 135kW/300Nm, 155kW/360Nm, bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 petrol 245kW/480Nm, four cylinder diesel 150kW/500Mn, V6 diesel 185kW/620Nm, four cylinder hybrid 170kW/750Nm
Thirst: from 4.4L/100km (hybrid)
 

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