ROAD TEST: Mercedes Benz E-Class


Steve Rogers

SOMETIMES I wonder if we are getting ahead of ourselves with technology.

We have cars that can avoid a crash, alert the emergency services if you have one, turn into a mobile office, the list is endless. Yet things can get overcomplicated.

As a youngster I loved dipping our car’s headlights by pressing a floor mounted button and can remember saying to my dad ‘wouldn’t it be good if the lights dipped themselves’, not for one moment thinking it would ever happen.

It did, and we have had auto dipping lights for nearly a decade but the latest systems do more than just dip the headlights. The Mercedes E-Class has an incredibly convoluted set up that decides how much dipped beam is needed and it often appeared as if nothing had happened.

Which brings me back to my opening point. The Merc system is incredibly sophisticated and provides fabulous light, yet on twisting roads I was often flashed by drivers who thought I had not dipped. Were they overzealous, or was the dip not adequate enough?

Enough of the lights, what of the new E-Class? One word: Wow!

This is the fifth generation E-Class and for the first time it gets five stars. Technical tour de force, superbly comfortable, beautifully built. For years the Merc has been jockeying for position with BMW and Audi, more often than not coming third. Not this time, the bar has been raised, so much so that its German rivals will have to come up with something pretty special just to draw level.

No great surprises with the shape, the main styling tweaks coming at the back where everything is more rounded and takes on the look of S-Class. A longer wheelbase translates into a roomier cabin so a little more legroom.

The boot is a good size as well, better than the Volvo S90 featured last week, and that space can be improved by dropping the seat backs.

But where does the wow factor come in? It’s the dashboard, dominated by a wide LCD screen that houses two displays, one ahead of the driver, the other in the centre, both of which have high resolution graphics.

Here in a 12.3in screen you will find navigation, radio and smartphone services all controlled from a central touchpad and rotary wheel. Everything is mirrored in a screen for the driver who can control both screens from finger nail size touch pads on the steering wheel.

Is this yet more distractions for the driver? Yes, but we are never going to halt progress - if we could we would be riding around in horse drawn carriages - and this is the least complicated set up I have come across.

This is by no means trying to justify dealing with such a mass of information while driving but the other side of the coin is the increasing number of safety devices intended to keep the car on the straight and narrow if the driver slips up.

Merc, along with Volvo, has always been ahead of the field and E-Class is packed with safety aids. On top of the established pre collision alert systems that stop you ploughing into a vehicle in front, we can now be steered away from danger either side of the car.

If you veer too close to the central reservation on a motorway the Merc brakes and pulls the car back into line, at speeds up to 130mph, and that is just a snapshot from the safety armoury.

There has been a big improvement with the diesel engine, down from 2.2 to 2-litres, but quicker, more refined and better on fuel, although I suspect the official average of 72mpg is no more than a pipe dream, my 42mpg average was not as good as the S90 but then I drove the Merc a little harder.

Performance is remarkably strong, almost a second quicker to 62mph than the similar sized S90, while the nine speed automatic is seamless.

This is the best E-Class by a country mile and is going to take some beating.

Mercedes E-Class 220 AMG Line

Engine: 2-litrel 194 bhp

Performance: 0-62mph 7.3 secs; 149 mph

Economy: 74.2mpg combined

Emissions: 112g/km; Road tax: £30

Insurance group: 32

Price: £38,430 (£51,375 tested)

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