Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2016) First Drive

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Whereas the E-Class is still the most conservatively styled car in its class, the sedan's technological arsenal is awe-inspiring, compared to what its rivals can offer. We sampled Benz's newcomer at its international launch in Portugal.

Intelligent

That was the buzzword, used by virtually all the Mercedes-Benz engineers and executives when they introduced the new E-Class. It comes equipped with a host of intuitive and adaptive electronic systems that encompass everything from safety, collision prevention, interior connectivity and semi-autonomous driving. In full spec (with all the options ticked) the new E-Class is impressive, not just in terms of what it’s capable of, but in the way all its systems seem to work without distracting the driver or getting in their way. If you'd like to explore the finer details, here are 5 of the highlights the new E-Class.

The exterior design is probably the least exciting part of the car. Subjectively, it resembles a C-Class too closely, but it looks eminently elegant and upmarket. The tail lights can be specified with a stardust effect built into the LED units so that they'll resemble a cluster of stars when they light up...

Sweeping digital display 

Mercedes-Benz has designed a new, fully digital dashboard/infotainment screen. It’s an optional extra, but it combines two 12.3-inch displays into one skateboard sized screen that stretches from the instrument cluster to where a regular infotainment screen would end. It’s a visual treat and even though it isn’t a touchscreen, the panel won't attract grubby fingerprints, either! The infotainment software has been updated too, especially in the voice activation department and the steering wheel introduces a new touch system that works much like those Blackberry phones circa 2010, but in a good way. You slide your finger across the touchpad to scroll through menus and then press the centre button to select option items. It’s a very efficient new system.

The E-Class has grown slightly. It is 43 mm longer, 2 mm narrower, 3 mm lower and the wheelbase has been extended by 65 mm. For the rear passengers, the extended wheelbase has resulted in improved leg- and kneeroom as well as a bit more space around the shoulders, but the boot capacity has decreased by 10 litres to 530 litres. There's a wide of variety of interior designs to choose from, some of which include pin-striped wood inserts, but the brushed aluminium/piano black trims look best. Don't fear becoming bored with the ambient lighting in the cabin: there are no fewer than 64 colours to choose from.

Ride and handling

Mercedes-Benz knows its E-Class customers very well. Most E-Class owners require supreme comfort, a refined engine and gearbox setup and a well-insulated cabin, where they can be cosseted while they listen to audiobooks or serene classic music piped through a premium sound system. In that respect, the E-Class delivers with aplomb. Whether you spec the adjustable suspension or opt for the air suspension, the Benz's ride quality is virtually unflustered; in fact, the air suspension takes the comfort level to a whole new level. The cobbled and broken city roads of Lisbon were smoothed out to such an extent that it seemed as if the Benz was gliding over an ocean of thick, molten Lindt chocolate. In Comfort mode, the Benz's ride quality can get a little floaty, but not to the extent that the car ever feels oversprung. Without the air suspension, it still softens road imperfections, but with a slightly firmer bias.

Engine range

South Africa’s model line-up is as follows. Initially, we will get two turbodiesel engines, as well as a turbopetrol unit. The E200 has a 2.0-litre turbopetrol carried over from the C-Class. The E 220d is a brand new 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine and we spent a fair amount of time getting to grips with it over the two days of driving. Our first impression is that it is much, much quieter than the older 2.1-litre it has replaced. It doesn’t clatter at idle and it delivers its torque smoothly through the first half of the rev range. The E350d tops the range with its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel engine. The latter is the best long distance cruiser of the E-Class models: thanks to its 620 Nm of torque it barely idles along at freeway speeds and has plenty of punch in reserve for when you need to execute overtaking manoeuvres.

The E400 4Matic will arrive in South Africa during the last quarter of 2016. It is powered by a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbopetrol that produces 245 kW and 480 Nm of torque. We completed a few laps of the old Estoril F1 circuit to get to grips with this new model. The E400 feels impressively light and manoeuvrable for such a large car. The engine note is also quite deep and when you taper off the throttle there’s a burble and pop from the exhaust. Mercedes-Benz has equipped all its E-Class models with its new 9-speed automatic transmission and it represents a massive improvement on the quite jerky seven-speed unit fitted to other, older Mercedes-Benz products. The 9-speed 'box manages to smooth out the low-speed changes where before, the 7-speed unit could shift between its ratios a trifle unevenly. The nine-speed is also said to improve fuel consumption because engine revs are kept lower during driving.

The pecking order

It seems that in this segment, whichever brand has the newest car has the best car. However, in this case, Mercedes has lifted the bar in the premium sedan segment appreciably. In the tech and safety departments, there’s nothing to match this E-Class. The engines seem well mated with the new transmission and the suspensions' setups err on the comfortable side, but are all adaptable to your driving mood. For now, the E-Class feels untouchable.

2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Pricing

E200    R707 100
E220d  R759 100
E350d  R946 300

Check out 5 amazing highlights the new E-Class here

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