The newly-introduced Mercedes-Benz E-Class is touted as the best executive sedan on the market. Does the range-topping E350d deliver on its promise of sublime comfort and exceptional road manners? Let’s find out...
We like: Interior execution, technology features, comfort, ride quality
We don’t like: Perhaps-too-understated exterior styling, E220d seems a better buy
- For similar power: The BMW 535d (R1 026 052) offers more power at 230 kW and comparable torque (630 Nm) from its 3.0-litre 6-cylinder turbocharged engine. The 5 Series is, however, due for replacement in early 2017 and the current car feels its age in some aspects. The G30-generation will see the introduction of several new engines and a host of new technologies, some of which is currently offered in the 7 Series.
- For value for money: The Audi A6 3.0 TDI (R733 500) is also equipped with a six-cylinder 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, which offers 160 kW and 400 Nm of torque. The Ingolstadt-based brand does not offer its bi-turbo turbodiesel in the A6, which will also be replaced next year, but at this derivative's asking price, you can afford to spec up the TDI liberally.
- For something different: The Volvo S90 sedan recently made headlines and we sampled the newcomer in Spain. By all accounts, it’s a wonderfully packaged product and it should provide good competition for the E-Class. The Volvo S90 arrives in South Africa in October 2016.
The Mercedes-Benz E350d is supremely comfortable to drive on the daily commute.
The local executive sedan market has shrunk considerably in recent years because many buyers are opting for the added practicality of premium SUVs. Despite their declining popularity, executive sedans still have much to offer in the way of comfort and refinement and the latest E-Class has received much praise in this regard. While it competes against ageing rivals (in the shapes of the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6), it’s likely to dominate the segment until a product comes along to match and, possibly, dethrone it. Volvo’s S90 sedan (which is due in South Africa in October 2016) looks like a strong opponent and if the success of the XC90 is anything to go by, the Swede could make waves when it arrives on our shores.
We got our first taste of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class at its international launch in Portugal earlier this year. Our road test editor, Ashley Oldfield, who attended the event, was suitably impressed with the newcomer's “intelligent” technology and resolved road manners. The new E-Class was subsequently introduced to South Africa with three derivatives on offer from launch (the range will expand later this year). The line-up currently comprises the E200, E220d and the E350d.
How does it fare in terms of…
The large infotainment display is impressive, but the optional Widescreen Cockpit is a "must-have feature".
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is jam-packed with a host of technological features that improve the sedan's overall driving experience. The most noticeable feature in this E350d was the large, high-resolution, 8.3-inch infotainment display.
The system is highly customisable and features an attractive menu setup that can be navigated using the familiar Comand controller and Touchpad, or, if you prefer, you can use voice activation instead. In addition to this, you can also control the infotainment system using the touch-sensitive buttons mounted on the steering wheel (the E-Class is the first Benz to feature such buttons on the steering wheel). The infotainment system is slick and easy to use, just the way it should be.
Not only can you can wirelessly integrate your smartphone with the infotainment system, you can charge your phone using the inductive charging pad in the centre console (provided the former’s Qi-enabled). Two USB ports are also included.
The E-Class can also be optionally fitted with an impressive Widescreen Cockpit (R14 500) that combines two 12.3-inch screens that simultaneously serve as a digital instrument cluster (positioned directly ahead of the driver) and as a central infotainment screen. Sadly, our test unit featured the standard instrument cluster with round dials and the 7-inch display. It’s not unattractive, by any means, but the Cars.co.za team feels the Widescreen Cockpit is well worth the extra spend.
In terms of driving assistance and safety features, the E-Class impresses too. The optional Driving Assistance package (R32 500) provides a host of features, including Drive Pilot/Distance Pilot DISTRONIC. Drive Pilot automatically maintains following distances to other vehicles at speeds of up to 210 kph; all the driver needs to do is keep their hands on the wheel.
Working in conjunction with steering assist, the E-Class is able to drive itself without much steering or throttle inputs from the driver and it will brake and accelerate for you as well. The system is intimidating to use at first, but it’s fascinating to experience this level of intelligent technology in congested traffic situations. The driver is, however, required to hold the steering wheel, and if you fail to do so, audible and visual warnings are activated before the E-Class brings itself to a halt.
Active safety features such as active brake assist, attention assist, crosswind assist, rear cross traffic alert, evasive steering assist, active lane-change assist, active lane keeping assist and active blind spot assist instil confidence in the driver and undoubtedly make the Mercedes-Benz E-Class fundamentally safer to drive on a daily basis.
Buyers can also look forward to the arrival of Remote Parking Pilot next year, which will allow you to move your E-Class into or out of parking spaces using a smartphone app. Overall then, from a technological perspective, the E-Class doesn’t disappoint. Just be mindful that many of the most desirable features are optional extras.
The exterior design of the E-Class is derivative, yes, and conservative, but it suits the nature of the car.
With 190 kW and 620 Nm of torque on tap from its 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine, the E350d is not short on power and it delivers brisk, unflustered on-road performance. The E350d pulls strongly when overtaking manoeuvres are required and its performance is further enhanced by the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, which shifts in a smooth, unobtrusive manner. The steering wheel-mounted shift paddles allow the driver to exploit performance even further with manual inputs.
As an executive sedan, the E-Class seems best geared for comfortable cruising, but you can extract notable performance from the E350d, which enables the driver to choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual driving modes. Ultimately, the E-Class doesn’t feel as fast as it is, which is largely due to its refinement... You simply don’t feel the speed.
Meanwhile, the E350d has a claimed consumption figure of 5.5 L/100 km. While we could not match that average, we achieved a respectable 8.2 L/100 km with little effort. When driven conservatively, the Benz should dip well below that.
Ride & handling?
Ride quality is exceptionally good in the E 350d, making it the most refined executive sedan offering currently on sale in SA.
A major highlight of the new E-Class is the way in which it interacts with terra firma. With its steel, comfort-oriented suspension and selective damping system, the E350d glides over tar in a way few cars can. Only the biggest undulations will jar the suspension and, on most road surfaces, the Benz provides high levels of driving comfort. If you really want to treat yourself to superb ride quality, consider the optional Air Body Control air suspension (R29 000). The E350d is also accomplished when tackling corners, where it feels well-balanced and composed. Steering feel is direct and responsive.
The engine emits minimal mechanical noise, which, together with a well-made cabin that's well-insulated from tyre rumble and wind intrusion, creates a serene in-car environment. It all contributes to an eminently refined driving experience.
Packaging, comfort and practicality?
The interior of the E-Class is comfortable and well-built. It's a pleasant place to inhabit...
When sitting inside the E350d, the cabin's excellent perceived build quality is difficult to ignore. To put it simply, the interior of the E-Class is beautifully-made. Our test unit featured brown open-pore ash wood trim, which exuded a classy, upmarket feel. The interior's ambient lighting adds glamour to the overall package with a total of 64 different colours to choose from.
The electrically adjustable black leather seats were supremely comfortable and offered sufficient lumbar support, which was particularly desirable on longer journeys. Furthermore, the seats featured a heating function (an R18 500 option that offered some respite from the cold winter chill) and a dual-zone automatic climate control air system is fitted as standard.
The E350d features a capacious boot (540 litres). The boot cavity is both long and deep, making it perfect for swallowing goods of various shapes and sizes. A 40:20:40 split rear seatback, which offers multiple configurations, was fitted. The centre section can be folded down to accommodate longer items without impinging on the rear seats, or the whole bench can fold flat to free up maximum loading space. There’s also sufficient storage spaces afforded in the doors and centre console.
Compared with its predecessor, the new E-Class is 43 mm longer and its wheelbase has been stretched by 65 mm. This development has particular benefit to rear passengers, who will find the generous levels of leg-, shoulder- and headroom.
Pricing and Warranty
The range-topping E350d is priced from R973 936, but the E220d (R803 100) is arguably the most desirable derivative in the range. A 2-year/unlimited km warranty and a 6-year/100 000 km maintenance plan is included in the purchase price.
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The E350d impressed us with its cohesive, refined and sophisticated package. The perceived interior quality was definitely a highlight and passengers were well ensconced in the E-Class. Tech-savvy buyers will also appreciate the comprehensive technology systems on offer. Overall, the Benz is difficult to fault and Mercedes-Benz has shifted the goal posts in terms of technology, packaging and ride comfort in the executive sedan segment. That said we feel that the styling of the E-Class is understated and somewhat conservative (if that's a bad thing?), which may preclude it from standing out in showrooms.
The E-Class has received criticism for being too similar-looking to the C-Class. Why then should buyers consider the E-Class over its sibling? The answer is simple. The high levels of refinement and build quality of the E350d can’t be matched by the C-Class. The E-Class is a cut above and buyers seeking refinement, comfort and luxury won't be disappointed. The E-Class will, however, be challenged when the new BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Volvo S90 are introduced to our market.
Interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz E-Class?