Redesigned and thoroughly “modernised”, equipped with a formidable array of comfort features, safety systems and driver aids, the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is already attracting a lot of attention from eager customers. Having driven this refreshingly understated car in its various guises, we get it.
For the first time, the E-Class is available with different front ends. The Elegance equipment line comes as standard with the classic “saloon” radiator and three-louvre look, with the Mercedes-Benz star on the bonnet, whereas the Avangarde option incorporates a sporty front end with central star. (Believe it or not, some people care deeply about this sort of thing.)
Bundled into a package dubbed “intelligent drive”, the new model’s safety and comfort enhancements include systems that help to prevent accidents with crossing vehicles or pedestrians, Lane Keeping Assist (which reduces the likelihood of accidents involving oncoming traffic) and antiglare permanent high-beam headlamps.
Also forming part of the standard equipment is Attention Assist, which triggers an alert in the event of “inattentiveness and drowsiness” across a wide speed range and even informs the driver about his level of fatigue, as well as the driving time since his last break (the sensitivity level is adjustable).
Both the sedan and estate are available with a range of petrol and diesel engines, all equipped with the ECO start/stop function. New units include the BlueDIRECT four-cylinder petrol engines in the E 200 and E 250. Then there’s the E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid, currently billed as the most economical luxury-class saloon, which comes with a 20 kW electric motor under the bonnet in addition to its gutsy 4-cylinder petrol engine. The V6 diesel engine in the E 350 BlueTEC has been revised and fitted with Merc’s ef_cient BlueTEC technology, and for those who care about our planet, it’s notable that both of the 4-cylinder petrol engines meet the future EU6 standard.
We were invited to an airfield near Stellenbosch to witness the E-Class’s pedestrian-safety function in operation, noting with some relief that the staffer filling the guinea-pig role had the agility of a spring hare; that is, it worked on the third attempt (apparently the waterlogged runway and other “technical” factors threw a teensy spanner in the works).
Minutes later, we indulged our boy-racer instincts by rocketing down a four-abreast runway drag strip. Again, the results were less than predictable, the E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid setting a surprisingly good pace before the bigger-engined brutes overtook it. Still with hot-blooded driving, it’s worth noting that the V8-powered E 500 managed to stay ahead of the hell raising E 63 AMG on at least two runs, although this may have had more to do with tarmac conditions and wheelspin than actual performance.
Elegant, comfortable and dynamically impressive, with a veritable feast of technological wizardry in the cabin and under the bonnet, the new E-Class must rank among the smartest cars on the road. In short, a class act.
Starting price (for the real E 200) is R 541 000