As technologically advanced as it is, does the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class really feel special enough? We find out with a spin in the base level E200
|Engine||Power||Torque||0-100kph||Top speed||Weight||Basic price|
|Inline 4cyl, turbocharged, 1991cc||181bhp @ 5,500rpm||300Nm (221lb ft) @ 1200-4000rpm||7.7 secs||240kph||1605kg(113bhp/ton)||$75,400(as tested)|
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Every time I am scheduled to review a new Mercedes I have the same thought: “Sure, it will be luxurious, comfy and efficient, but Mercs just don’t feel that special anymore.” Take our latest Mercedes test model for instance, the E200. It sits right in the middle of Stuttgart’s range, so we can expect a sensible mix of quality and innovation, and a C-Class / S-Class tweaked exterior design.
At the heart of our entry level E-Class lies a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a solid if unspectacular 181bhp – nothing to rave about – and in terms of frills, the luxury package will surely be left wanting over the flagship S-Class: Mercedes will want a yawning chasm left on its line-up between its mid-sized premium saloon and its flagship limousine.
And that’s the problem with Mercedes-Benz. We are so used to them being good but expensive that we tend to forget how good they truly can be. Back in April, we discovered just how technologically accomplished the new E400 4MATIC can be (you can read that HERE): autonomous driving is quite literally at your fingertips. But in this particular writer’s view, what’s most striking about the new E-Class is the obsessive attention to detail in every corner of the car.
With that in mind, talk us through the design…
It’s absolutely stunning. For example, nowadays it is customary to have a button on the outer door handle to lock the car. The E200 is no exception, but, impressively, there’s one on all four doors. A small detail yet one some other luxury manufacturers towards the left of the map don’t include. Then there’s the sun visor, which is normal at first sight, but on close examination reveals a separate set so that you can have side and frontal shades. Plus the touch control fobs on the steering wheel, through which you can control the trip computer and the audio system simply by swiping your left and/or right thumb horizontally or vertically. This, combined with the optional double screen package – essentially an extra 12.3in of screen bonded into the centre console – makes the experience even better. I’m also a big fan of possibly quimmicky but unquestionably brilliant 64 colour options for the ambient lighting and the optional ‘Air Balance’ package, through which you can have your favourite fragrance distributed across the cabin.
Let’s just say, when combined with a beautiful centre console design, a near-perfect driving position and plenty of room for driver and passenger alike, the cabin is easily the E200’s finest quality. Well, the front at least. The rear seats are comfortable and ample of course, with enough leg and headroom for larger individuals, but lack entertainment controls, any sort of seat adjustment or rear screens (option) make the atmosphere a bit bland by comparison. So, technology, comfort and refinement all feel suitably ‘special’…
Yes, but what about the drive?
Here I had expected the 181bhp four-cylinder would mark the E200’s demise, given that, with small engines, the power is very rarely there when you need it. Mercedes has solved this through a super-smooth 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox that shifts quickly and unobtrusively. It’s more of a muscular approach rather than an ingenious one, but it works, and very well at that. So much so that keeping brisk pace is effortless and overtaking does not send the engine into the usual frenzy of other automatics. Power and torque requirements well across the rev range are uncompromised.
Curiously, the biggest head-scratcher for me are the tyres. Admittedly the Pirelli rubber-clad 20in wheels and soupy independent suspension setup means the ride quality in even the entry level E-Class is impressively soft, but the sheer size of the tyres – 235/35 in the front, and a whooping 275/30 at the back – catch my attention. Undoubtedly beautiful and aggressive as an optional AMG package should ensure, I do still wonder why such huge rear shoes are necessary. This is not breath-taking performance we’re talking about, after all: even with 221lb ft of low down torque, those 2-litre still have to shift 1605kg, will just kiss 240kph, and will still take 7.7 seconds to get from standstill to 100kph.
That said, the tonnage is not as high as previous E-Class incarnations and the E200 feels genuinely agile on regular traffic. Plus, an infinite supply of rubber, combined with that unshakable Merc suspension keeps the E-Class well planted, albeit with body roll some passengers may consider excessive. The steering meanwhile is precise, predictable, direct and fast, but the turning angle only this brand has makes the 5m long and 2.06m wide tank feel small in the parking lots. Not that you should care too much as the self parking option takes care of this odious task very efficiently.
So, overall verdict?
All this leads me to the price, possibly the most ‘special’ element of the new Mercedes-Benz E200. A $52,500 starting point is not a total let-down, but learning that this buys you little than four tyres and a steering wheel, is. Things like LED headlights, Keyless Start or folding rear-seats are all options. Even something like Adaptive Cruise Control was an optional extra, and soon that $52,500 starting price – for our test model at least – has leapt up to, deep breath, $75,400. That’s a hefty number, given that below that price gulf lies the Jaguar XF, the Audi A6 and the BMW 5 Series. Anecdotal, I know, but for the price of our test model, you can actually get the base E200 AND a Mitsubishi Pajero. Something to consider while Mercedes ‘tailors to the client’s specifications’.
Dig deep and most of you can live comfortably (quite literally) without a lot of these options, but a decent E-Class package – with the same 181bhp four-cylinder engine – will plant your wallet squarely in the $65K bracket. Sure, the E-Class may be stunningly designed, technically astute and almost flawlessly comfortable for your daily commute – luxurious, comfy and efficient – but considering what you’ll have to shell out for that, and the less expensive alternatives, does the E-Class really feel ‘special’ enough to warrant it?
Enjoy our Mercedes-Benz E200 test drive?
You can find more Mercedes stories HERE, and more of our Car Reviews HERE
- Technical specifications available on page 2