Mercedes-Benz E300 Avantgarde (2009) Driving Impression

Mercedes Benz E300 Avantgarde

Mercedes-Benz is returning to its roots. While the previous-generation E-Class was a good car, one could sense it was an attempt to move the three-pointed star into the same general direction as the rest of the large luxury segment’s competitors. In other words, its curvy design, high-tech features and the noticeable step up in the brand’s focus on performance and dynamics threatened to overshadow the traditional Mercedes virtues of quality, solidity, conservatism and comfort as best portrayed by models such as the W123 and W124. But now, looking at the Mercedes-Benz E300, it would appear that Mercedes is back on track…

Square-cut solidity for Mercedes-Benz E300

Whereas the E-Class’s rivals are all trying to present youthful, sportier personas, the new Mercedes is a dignified and conservative offering. The design is squared-off and verges on bulky, with the latter impression further boosted by the sheer size of the vehicle. the Mercedes-Benz E300 rides on a 2 874 mm wheelbase and there’s a substantial rear overhang, partly because the design incorporates a massive 540 L boot. But back to the looks… the most controversial aspect of the design is the awkward quad headlamp layout. In previous years Mercedes used rounded lamps, but these are now square, too, and the move certainly divides opinion. At the rear, the look is conservative, with the wide lamps accentuating the car’s width. Interestingly, the curves above the rear wheels were inspired by similar lines on the classic Pontoon sedan of the ‘60s. So, in summary, the new E-Class isn’t immediately desirable in the way that a Jaguar XF is, but it certainly has presence…

Remember the flowing facia and centre console of the previous model? Well, it’s gone. In its place is a far more rectangular design with lots of sharp edges. As is the case with the love/hate exterior aesthetics, the interior is not universally admired for its design but you can’t argue the quality of it all. This Mercedes-Benz E300 exudes that “hewn from solid” feel that made older Mercedes models so admired. But don’t for a moment think that it is old-fashioned – this car is loaded with tech. There’s a large digital display incorporated into the centre dial of the instrumentation, another large, hooded screen on top of the facia for the navigation and, as is the case with most new Mercedes models, the sophisticated Comand control system that utilises a rotary controller on the transmission tunnel.

And then there is the standard features list; Climate control, leather upholstery, auto lights, xenon headlamps, auto wipers, partial electrical seat adjustment, CD shuttle, cruise control, front and rear park-distance control and heated/folding mirrors are all included. You pay extra for satellite navigation, though, and some of the really advanced features, including Distronic active cruise control and lane and blind spot assistance systems are all optional. But the Mercedes-Benz E300 doesn’t lack on the safety front – eight airbags, electronic stability control and hill-start assist are standard fitments.

Deceptively Fast

The perception of solidity is not just a visual trick – the Mercede-Benz E300 weighs a significant 1 735 kg. It therefore needs an engine with a bit of muscle. Under the long bonnet is a normally aspirated 3,0-litre V6 petrol unit that develops 170 kW and 300 Nm of torque, the latter being on tap from a low 2 500 rpm. The engine is mated with Mercedes’s seven-speed automatic (7G-tronic) transmission, which hasn’t always impressed with its smoothness, especially during downshifts. But, Mercedes appears to have refined the transmission, because in this E300 it felt smooth and decisive, generally finding the right gear for the particular driving situation and making the most of the power outputs. Consequently, the Mercedes-Benz E300 is faster than you think, with a 0-100 km/h time of 7,4 seconds. What makes the performance figures even more startling is the silence and lack of drama that accompany such sprints.

The cabin is clearly superbly insulated, because road, wind and mechanical noise barely reach the occupants. And the ride is excellent. The normal steel set-up is more than good enough, making one wonder whether the adjustability brought by the optional air suspension is really worth it. Whether pottering around town on poor surfaces, or cruising on a smooth highway, the E-Class’s suspension remains supple, composed and quiet, and it never looses these characteristics as the speeds rise. And here comes the clincher… It even handles. Boasting anti-dive and anti-squat assistance at front and rear, wide tracks and a well-judged electronic stability set-up, the Mercedes-Benz E300 can even be fun to hustle. Yes, the steering is aloof, but it fits the overall character of the car in that it isolates the occupants from the rigours of the outside world. Enthusiastic drivers will therefore appreciate the car’s abilities, but will struggle to form a bond with it.

Mercedes-Benz E300 - Verdict

Refined, luxurious, spacious, solid and conservative in appearance (but not underneath), the new Mercedes-Benz E300 is a welcome return to the virtues that have made large Mercedes sedans so desirable. Aesthetically it may not appeal to the younger set, but ironically its wilful conservatism marks it out as a rebel in a segment that appears set on cooking to the same recipe. It’s a superb car.

We like:

• Excellent build quality • Spaciousness • Refinement • Great cruiser

We don’t like:

• Pricey options • No driver “connection”

Fast Facts:

Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, petrol Power: 170 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 300 N.m @ 2 500 rpm Transmission: Seven-speed automatic Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 247 km/h 0-100 km/h: 7,4 seconds Fuel economy: 9,1 litres/100 km


Also consider:

BMW 530i Steptronic: More powerful than the Mercedes and retains its dynamic edge, but the current 5 Series can’t match the E-Class’s interior space and overall comfort levels.

Audi A6 3,0 TFSI Tiptronic: Much more competitive than most give it credit for. This particular A6 boasts very lively performance and a superb cabin. Still lags BMW and Mercedes in snob value, and resale values are said to be poor, making the A6 potentially a great used buy.

Jaguar XF 3,0 Luxury: A stunning vehicle overall that has done a lot to re-establish Jaguar in this market segment. The performance is strong (albeit at the cost of fuel economy) and the cabin is truly special. And then there are those looks…