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Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 review: first drive

Playing it safe has always been a Mercedes-Benz hallmark but the German carmaker is breaking with tradition by installing its updated mid-sized E-Class as the occupant-protection pioneer. It is part-acknowledgement that technology evolves too quickly to delay innovations for the new flagship S-Class due late this year and partly a reflection of the fact the E is now a more important vehicle for Benz as sales of large limousines continue to decline. Either way, it’s a win for E-Class buyers when the car goes on sale in Australia in August.

Value

Pricing for Australia hasn’t been confirmed but company spokesman David McCarthy says an “assertive” strategy will mean minimal changes to the existing numbers, which start at $80,000 for the petrol-powered E200 four-cylinder car.  “We’re still finalising specifications for the range,” McCarthy says. “Expect the E-Class to lead the way on pricing and features.” Holding the prices in check will be a big achievement for a car that has had 2000 new components.

There will be a choice of three petrol and three diesel engines in the sedan. The highlights are a bi-turbo V6 petrol E400 that will give Mercedes a vehicle to rival BMW’s 535i and a diesel hybrid that uses just 4.1 litres over 100km. Wagon buyers will have the option of a four-cylinder diesel or the bi-turbo V6.

Technology

There are 11 new or updated safety systems in the E-Class, headed by automatic braking to prevent rear-end crashes and a system that detects pedestrians or crossing traffic at an intersection and hits the stoppers to avoid them. A single windscreen-mounted camera has been replaced by dual cameras linked to radar sensors to provide a virtual 3D field of vision that constantly monitors a 50m space around the car for potential hazards.

Unlike the new Volvo V40, Australian E-Classes won’t read speed signs. Put that down to rural signs often being used for target practice by gun and 4WD owners and the fact many of our major cities have such a gaggle of signs that it is almost pointless to try and monitor them. “Like all our safety features, until it works perfectly every time, we won’t implement it,” McCarthy says.

Design

The basic structure of the E-Class hasn’t changed but just about everything else has. The headlamps are now a single unit with a pair of daytime running lights in a tick layout. The lamps are housed in a new front end that still comes in two guises - the traditional “Elegance” design with a bonnet-mounted three-pointed star and three-strake grille and the sportier-looking “Avantgarde” style that uses a larger Mercedes roundel mounted in a two-band grille.

The interior updates are more subtle but reflect the move to improve refinement. It’s a sum-of-the-parts equation: touches like a new “split view” seven-inch screen that can project one display for the driver and another for the passenger and an analogue clock nestled between the redesigned vents aren’t instantly obvious but in combination make a big difference to the cabin ambience.

Safety

Mercedes is still assessing which features will go into which cars, but the range-topping regular model, the bi-turbo V6 E400 will pick up everything. That includes adaptive cruise control with “steering assist”, which uses the dual cameras to keep the E-Class in the centre of the lane. A lane-keeping assist function also scans the road for solid and broken lines.

It automatically brakes a wheel to avoid crossing solid lines and alerts the driver with a vibration in the steering wheel if they are veering over a broken line. If the system detects oncoming traffic in that situation, it also brakes a corner to bring the Mercedes back into its lane. A five-star rating from ANCAP is pretty much guaranteed.

Driving

The four-cylinder models are expected to account for the vast majority of E-Class sales and the performance from the lightweight engines is more than acceptable. The pair of 250 engines - the entry level E200petrol wasn’t available at the international launch in Spain - pull the 0-100km/h sprint in around 7.5 seconds.

The E220 CDI is the diesel price-leader to take on BMW's 520d, which heads 5 Series sales. The E250 diesel is the pick, courtesy of an expected $95,000 price backed by 500Nm that gives a decent shove in the seat at any speed.

Step up to the hybrid and the reward comes in even less fuel use. The diesel-electric system adds around 100kg but still uses just 4.1 litres over 100km. That weight can be felt in the wagon over badly broken roads, where there’s a muted bang over seriously big bumps. We’re reserving judgment on that until we can try the car on local roads but around town the behaviour is impeccable.

The E400 is a weapon and it’s only the sound from the bi-turbo V6 that gives away you’re not in a V8. The electric steering now has more weight at speed without sacrificing feel and makes the mid-sized car a lively vehicle when the road starts to wind.

Verdict

The E-Class is effectively the new Mercedes flagship. It looks sportier, is demonstrably safer and cabin ambience has lifted from an already high level. For now at least, E’s the one.

Pricing Guides

$41,895
Based on 103 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$28,990
Highest Price
$125,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
E400 3.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $44,990 – 68,800 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 E400 Pricing and Specs
E500 Avantgarde 4.7L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $69,740 – 80,190 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 E500 Avantgarde Pricing and Specs
E250 Avantgarde B.E 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $29,000 – 47,888 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 E250 Avantgarde B.E Pricing and Specs
E250 CDI Avantgarde 2.1L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO $40,260 – 47,410 2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 E250 CDI Avantgarde Pricing and Specs