The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has rightfully been regarded as the traditionalist's Mercedes here in Australia. Imposing, refined, expensive, the car for an older chap who has made it and plans to buy just one car in retirement to ferry the missus and the grandkids in leather-lined style and luxury.
As its ninth generation drew to a close, that view had changed a little - it felt like an old car for old men, with a boring interior and a less than appealing suite of cabin technologies. Arch-rival BMW had skewed younger (in intent), with a high-tech approach and a sharper design. For the W213 E-Class, Mercedes has chucked out the fusty interior and leapt into the 21st century while keeping the same imposing exterior. This one could go either way.
Explore the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class range
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
There's just one E 300 and it can be yours for $107,900. The 300 is the third step in the E-Class sedan range, starting at $89,900 for the E 200, $92,900 for the E 220 d, and then heading up to the $159,900 Mercedes-AMG E 43 via petrol, diesel and hybrid models.
For your six-figure cash pile you'll receive 20-inch AMG alloys, dual-zone climate control, air suspension, huge safety package, HD around-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, electronic dampers, active cruise with steering assist, electric heated front seats with memory, sat nav, cooled glovebox, active cornering headlights, auto (LED) headlights and wipers, leather trim, auto-parking, variable ratio steering and power everything.
Mercedes' 'COMAND' system runs the gigantic slab of a screen that includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The media section takes up half of the gigantic 'widescreen cockpit' that uses two screens but looks like one big slab that stretches from the driver's door to the left-hand side of the console. Control of the COMAND system is by a rotary dial and the enduringly strange and unwieldy bridge over the top of the wheel which makes it harder to use as well as obscuring some of the buttons.
Premium paint makes up nine of the 11 available colours. Seven colours will cost you $1990 (!) and two of them, known as Designo, will add $2990 (!!).
The test car also had the 'Vision Package' for $4990 which takes you up to 13 stereo speakers, an up-spec Burmester-branded sound system, head-up display and a huge two piece sunroof for $4990, taking the car's before on-roads price to $112,890.
How practical is the space inside?
It's a big machine and there's room to move inside its 4923m length. With a long 2939mm wheelbase, rear seat passengers have tons of room, the rear bench accommodating my ever-growing teenaged son without drama. The E is that rare beast that will easily swallow five people, although the middle rear passenger does sit higher and might run into grief with the sunroof blind if they're of a taller make.
Storage is plentiful, with cupholders front and rear for a total of four, big bottle holders in all four doors and a central bin between the front seats. Two USB ports are hidden in that bin while a 12V port is available front and rear. The rear armrest also has a shallow closable storage section that will take a small tablet or larger phones.
The boot is 540 litres worth and you can drop the rear seat back's 40/20/40 fold split for yet more room.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The new E has been around almost a year now (and on sale in Australia since December 2016) and is part of the current German trend to have mid-size, large and super-large cars that look roughly the same. The E looks like a big C which, if you like the design, is no bad thing at all. It's a fluid design that hides the car's undeniable size, with the identifiable Mercedes star-in-grille, blobby headlights and wide stance.
It does away with the old car's 'Granddad Express' looks and is all the better for it. The 20-inch gunmetal alloys work well against the 'Polar White' of the body, although the E-Class appears to be colour sensitive, especially in terms of size perception. I reckon a 'Citrine Brown' E 300 with the same dark alloys wouldn't look half as flash.
Inside is a terrific cabin, built like it's carved from stone. The widescreen cockpit dominates with two 12.3-inch screens sitting side by side acting as media controller/sat nav and instrument pack. It's quite striking and immediately sets the cabin apart from its obvious rivals (Audi's A6 and BMW's 5 Series) while signalling this is a tech-heavy car.
What's better is that the graphics are fantastic and when you plug in an iOS device, looks like a big iPad. Execution is everything when you have a screen this big and Mercedes has followed Tesla and Audi's lead by putting a ton of processing power behind the screens to make them sing.
As soon as you pull away in Comfort mode, you know you are going to arrive at your destination in fine fettle, with a smooth, pillowy ride.
The cabin is trimmed with some excellent materials and the open pore wood is lovely, but it's luck of the draw if it's a bit stripey for your tastes. This kind of trim is a tactile delight if you're into that sort of thing (which I am, obviously).
The seats are large and comfortable, with tons of adjustment and, unlike A and CLA-Class cars, the interior designers have avoided gaudy metallic finishes and instead kept it low key. More of this, please. Even the LED lighting is classy, and that's a thing that can go badly wrong.
One unfortunate downside is the sheer height of the dashboard - it can make forward vision a bit difficult so you might have to sit higher than you want to. You're also reasonably close to the A pillar, so it can be hard to see 'through' a corner via the bottom right section of the of the front window.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The E300 is powered by an uprated version of the E200's 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, developing an impressive 180kW (+45kW) and 370Nm (+70Nm). With a nine-speed automatic delivering power to the rear wheels, you'll hit 100km/h in a scant 6.2 seconds. Not bad for a car with a 1655kg kerb weight.
How much fuel does it consume?
Mercedes claims the E 300 will consume premium at the rate of 7.1L/100km but we struggled to get it under 10.5L/100km in a week of mostly pottering around town.
What's it like to drive?
Few things are as pleasant as driving a big Mercedes and the E-Class, while going in a new direction for the interior, has kept what's great about the bruiser. It also demonstrates that engine capacity and cylinder count is becoming increasingly irrelevant as the smooth, powerful turbo four demonstrated.
As soon as you pull away in Comfort mode, you know you are going to arrive at your destination in fine fettle, with a smooth, pillowy ride, near silence from the engine bay and comfortable seating for all. The 20-inch rims were never going to be silent but what you do hear is well-damped on all but the coarsest of surfaces. Those rims can't ruin the ride as the E 300 has standard air suspension that also allows you to raise the car's ride height to make for easier entry and exit.
The steering's weight and ratio changes depending on a range of conditions, inputs and speeds but never feels iffy like some variable ratio steering can, and that includes other Mercedes cars. In cruise control, the steering will look after itself on the freeway, but it's not a city-based system.
Switching up to the Sport modes, things start to deteriorate. The engine is fine, always delivering its velvet-gloved punch when asked but the nine-speed auto (a torque converter, not dual-clutch) starts to get a bit snatchy. It's terrific when you're pushing its buttons, but if you get off it, starts to get a bit jolty and unhappy, out of character with the rest of the car.
It's remarkable how quickly you can conduct the E, especially considering its size and 2.0-litre engine. It's never going to stay with a sports car, but it's a surprising amount of fun with a ride that fails to rustle your jimmies no matter how hard you go.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The E carries a huge number of safety features on board. Nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind spot sensor, lane departure warning with steering assist, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alerts, high and low-speed AEB, pedestrian avoidance, driver attention detection and speed limiter.
The E-Class scored five ANCAP stars, the highest rating available, in December 2016.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
All Mercedes cars come with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist to boot. Capped price servicing applies for the first three services, starting at $456 for the first, then $912 for the second and third, meaning $2280 over three years.
You can also purchase service plans. Silver covers the basics and Platinum will take care of consumables like brake pads. Mercedes expects to see you once a year or every 25,000km, whichever comes first.