Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a training event in Croatia, where I was able to get hands-on with the latest incarnation of E-Class saloon from Mercedes-Benz. The all new, from the ground up E-Class has seen a host of improvements, including a brand new software system, big media screens like the flagship S-Class, and a crash diet with over 100kg shaved off. It’s also ever-so-slightly longer than the outgoing E-Class, with a 65mm increase in wheelbase giving passengers more leg room.
I could go on until the cows come home about the new specification, ground-breaking occupant protection and the development of new engines, but as I’m one of few people to have driven the car thus far, I think I’ll focus on how it drives you from A-B. Notice I said how it drives you? You’ll see what I mean shortly.
Letting The Car Drive
The first section of our drive in Dubrovnik was getting out of the hotel and up into the twisty coastal roads, which is where I could start to play with the new Driving Assistance Package Plus. I’d never really had the chance to have a go at this before, so it was a great opportunity to see what it could do and how the systems in the package work together. Drive Pilot is the term under which Distance Pilot Distronic, Steering Pilot and Speed Limit Pilot (in conjunction with COMAND Online) are all housed. It sounds complicated, but to use it is an absolute dream. Within minutes I’d set the distance to the car infront, the maximum speed I’d like to cruise at and changed the display style to progressive for a more dynamic experience. The hands-off warning has been extended to 1 minute of continuous autonomous steering, whilst the Distance Pilot will bring you to a standstill for a maximum of 30 seconds, and pull off again to the set speed and distance. In a motorway environment I can imagine this system working seamlessly, providing the ultimate in comfort and driving pleasure. To be honest, it was a little too much to ask of the steering pilot on these twisty coastal roads, but the distance pilot worked a treat, attaching itself to the next car in the convoy, accelerating and braking as necessary, even coming to a complete standstill. It’s a way of Mercedes future-proofing the E-Class so it’s ready for full autonomous driving.
Taking Control Of The New E-Class
Once I’d got to grips with the E-Class driving me around, I thought it was time I did some driving to see how the luxury saloon handles. Using the Dynamic Select switch, I skipped straight from comfort to Sport + and immediately it changed my whole experience inside the cabin. From luxurious, efficient cruising to taut, ready and willing to challenge the mountain road, I suddenly felt that all that weight saving was money well spent. With the majority of the body being constructed from aluminium (including the engine block), it felt balanced, gripped well and the entry level diesel gives a nice grunt from idle. Noise seems to be quieter than the outgoing model aswell, with the latest diesel engines from the luxury brand appearing smoother and less agricultural than previous years. Mercedes seems to have spent a lot of time and money reducing noise, vibration and harshness on this new E-Class.
Focusing on the interior, the new wrap-around design is stunning, but I would need slightly longer to get used to the software. I love the fact you can now control the main media display from the steering wheel, which isn’t possible on any other model in the range. It seemed fairly user-friendly, but the sheer amount of information would take some exploration to fully appreciate what the new software can do. A must-have optional extra for me would be the COMAND Online system with the Widescreen Cockpit, giving you two 12.3inch screens instead of a small screen beside a classic set of dials. In my opinion, this gives you the ultimate platform to explore all of the new equipment the E-Class has to offer. And you can chose from 64 different Ambient Lighting colours, because we all need that much choice…
A brief note about the engines, we’re getting two at launch, the 220d and the 350d. The tried and tested 220 engine from Mercedes has been changed somewhat, going from a 2143cc to a much rounder 1950cc, but with an increase of power up to 194hp. So the engine is smaller, but more powerful and better on fuel. Win, win! The 250 engine has been scrapped altogether, and at some point I imagine we’ll get the 5.5litre twin turbo V8 found in the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 etc.
All-in-all I found the new E-Class extremely impressive. Being one of Mercedes’ biggest hitters (it’s been going since 1947), it’s no surprise they’ve loaded it full of tech that’s going to bring it back into line with the competitors. It’ll likely bring a younger audience into the E-Class bracket, with toys like Remote Parking Pilot and revised AMG styling. But at the same time, it still offers the highest level of class and prestige to the more vintage customer. It’ll be nice to spend a bit more time with the car once retailers get their demonstrators, but as a sneak preview I couldn’t ask for any more. It seemed to excel in every aspect of my test, sublime drive quality (I wouldn’t expect any less from Mercedes), packed full of the latest technology, and a genuine improvement when compared to the run-out model. I can’t wait to get an extended road test and really experience all the new E-Class has to offer.