First Drive: Mercedes E-Class

Cabriolet, estate or coupe; the E-Class comes in all shapes and sizes, but is the plain old saloon the best of them all?

Take a quick glance at the new Mercedes E-Class and you might be forgiven for thinking that the designers over in Stuttgart have simply taken the existing C-Class and run it through a huge photocopier set to 110%.

Those of a more generous nature might suggest the S-Class has gone through the same machine, but with it set to 90%. Either way, there’s no mistaking that this model is a Mercedes, given that it looks remarkably similar to its saloon siblings. Given the glamour it exudes, that’s no bad thing.

That extends to the cabin, where there’s a swathe of aluminium cutting its way across the dashboard, with four metal air vents integrated beautifully. It’s the most immediate visual confirmation that the E-Class is a step ahead of the competition. The classy design continues throughout, with a piano black centre stack swooping down between the front passengers. There’s fake leather on the lesser models in the range, although you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference, and the fact that it spreads across the dashboard adds an extra air of quality anyway.

A high-definition 12-inch display is mounted high up alongside the instrument binnacle. Of course, that large screen is an option on this test car, the model normally coming fitted with a smaller screen and an aged Garmin navigation system. Whatever system is installed, it’s still not as easy to use as those found in a BMW or Audi, but there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so it’s possible to bypass the system entirely and use your phone instead.

While the rear seat passengers don’t get any toys to play with themselves, there is plenty of room. Arguably, there’s more legroom than any of its competitors, which is why the E-Class remains a firm favourite for German taxi drivers, and there’s plenty of headroom to go with it. The seat backs are a tad too reclined for my liking, and the transmission tunnel means anybody in the centre seat will need to rub feet on either side, but it’s small fry in an otherwise excellent interior.

The boot, too, is also huge, although an odd-shaped opening means it’s surprisingly difficult to get suitcases in; while there’s room for a couple of large cases, once one is in situ, there’s no way of squeezing the other through the gap. And if you want to fold the rear seats down you’ll need to pay Mercedes an extra fee.

The luxury interior hints at how the car drives. If you’re after a sporty saloon, then you’ll need to speak to BMW. However, if you want comfort then the E-Class delivers. There is plenty of grip, so the car won’t go flying off the road at the first sign of a corner, but it’s main goal is to cosset you from A to B, removing as much of the daily stress of driving as it can. Those boots that everybody has, the ones where they’re nearly worn out but so comfortable you can’t bear to part with them? It’s the automotive equivalent of them. It’s what relaxing on a cloud while listening to whales would feel like. Yes, there are AMG options available in the range, with big wheels and stiff suspension, but that defeats the point of this Mercedes.

You don’t even need to go high up in the range to get the best deal. While the big-capacity petrol engines make the right noises and shove the car along at pace, this little 2.0-litre diesel model does it all – there’s 0-62mph in just over seven seconds, real-world 60mpg economy and an asking price that doesn’t look too frightening. It’s the best balance of everything, and that might just go for the entire E-Class range.

Model Tested: Mercedes-Benz E 220d SE
Price: £37,525
Range: £36,030 – £109,620
Top speed: 149 mph
0-62 mph: 7.3 seconds
Power: 194 PS (191 bhp)
Torque: 400 Nm (295 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £512
Official fuel economy: 72.4 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 102 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 31E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Sam Baines

Sam is an automotive writer with experience of virtually every make, model and specification of car in the UK. If it's got wheels, Sam's got it covered.

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