Mercedes has launched an all-new E-Class executive saloon to battle its nemesis, the BMW 5-series for class honours
What do we have here?
It’s up there as one of the biggest rivalries of all-time, sitting alongside the likes of Foreman v Ali, Barcelona v Real Madrid, Tom v Jerry – it is, of course, BMW versus Mercedes-Benz.
The firms clash in almost every car sector, from family hatchbacks to luxury saloons and, as a rule of thumb, BMW is usually victorious at with lower to mid-priced cars and Mercedes rule supreme at the luxury end. Two cars sum up this rivalry more than the others, the 5-Series and E-Class executive saloons.
Mercedes now has a brand new E-class to reignite the touch paper. It’s the fifth-generation of its executive saloon, while an estate, coupe and cabriolet will also join the mix.
The latest E-Class is instantly recognisable as a modern Mercedes-Benz, too recognisable for many as it can be difficult to tell apart from the larger S-Class and smaller C-Class. That’s not to say its design is unsuccessful, though, because the E-Class is one of the best-looking cars in its class.
There’s one petrol engine available, the powerful E43 with 4Matic all-wheel drive being powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 engine developing 396bhp which will get it from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds.
The diesel line-up consists of two version of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, E200 and E220 developing 148bhp and 191bhp respectively, and there’s a range-topping 3.0-litre V6 engine with 254bhp.
Finally, there’s a hybrid option, the E350e, a petrol-electric generating 275bhp and will return 134.5mpg on a combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of 49g/km.
We’re testing the specification that’s set to be the most popular in the UK, the E220d AMG Line.
Two trims are available in the E-Class, SE and AMG Line version. AMG Line gets an AMG bodykit featuring unique bumpers and side skirts, 19in alloy wheels, a three-spoke AMG steering wheel, and part-leather seats.
There’s an 8.4in infotainment screen on the dash which can be upgraded to a 12.3in screen with the optional Comand sat nav, while a further 12.3-in screen for the instrument dials can also be added.
How does it drive?
Mercedes is famed for producing cars that are refined and have a comfortable ride. In this AMG Line with its sports suspension, it has a slightly firmer ride but remains remarkably comfortable. If you happen to hit a pothole or manhole cover mid-corner though, the E-Class will skip and jump a little but it's nothing untoward. On the motorway, the ride can be pillowy soft.
That sports suspension pays dividends though when on a country road. For the size of the car, it feels agile and keen to be thrown around. It’s not quite on par with the 5-Series or a Jaguar XF, but it’s not too far adrift.
The E-Class’s steering is well-weighted, accurate and provides excellent feel. It’s also progressive, meaning it feels light at low speeds, helping with parking and around town manoeuvring, yet firms up at higher speed to give a feeling of solidity.
Our car was fitted with Steering Pilot, which is where the car automatically steers to keep you in your motorway lane, and it’s one of the best we’ve tested to date. It’s not invasive or jerky, but smooth and trustworthy. It can slightly oversteer but corrects itself quickly, similar to when you see a plane correcting its path after a turn by its snaking vapour trail.
There’s very little wind and road noise, leaving the interior hushed, which helps sooth away long distances.
Under the bonnet is a new 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine, which in all honesty, from the outside of the car at least is pretty noisy. However, in no way does that detract from what a strong performer it is. Developing 192bhp, the E220d will get from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds. It also has one of the finest stop-start systems around.
It’s connected to a nine-speed automatic gearbox that is silky smooth, is quick to react and constantly selects the right gear at the right time. The gear selector is mounted on the steering column, American style.
The adaptive cruise control is also very good, allowing for lots of adjustment and gets you close enough to the car ahead on the motorway to prevent everyone constantly pulling in front of you, which is often the frustration with these systems.
Some form of wizardry controls the LED headlights and clearly, there is a team of miniature night warriors who live in the headlights. As cars approach they appear to be placed in a ‘black box’ so not to be dazzled, while the rest of the surroundings continue to be illuminated by the powerful lights. The approaching car in question is kept in its black box until it moves out of sight.
What's it like inside?
We could finish this section now with just tens words – it’s one of the finest car interiors in modern motoring.
There are diamond effect courtesy roof lights, ambient lighting that bathes the car in an elegant blue hue while the panoramic sunroof has a creamy whoosh when closing.
The dashboard is dominated by an 8.4in display and is controlled by a rotary dial and shortcut buttons located between the front seats.
Covered in leather and soft-touch plastics, the dash also features chrome toggle switches adding a further feeling of luxury, while the steering wheel has touch sensitive pads in place of the usual buttons.
Apple CarPlay connects seamlessly to your phone, although it appears to cancel the sat nav when using.
There’s plenty of room and enough adjustment of the seats and steering columns that most will be able to find a comfortable driving position, however, you may find your left shin resting on the central transmission tunnel which invades into the footwell.
In the back, there’s loads of space while the boot is huge and much longer than you’d anticipate.
The E220d is claimed to manage a combined cycle of 65.7mpg and in this specification emit 112g/km of CO2.
That’s good news for company car users as the car falls into the 22% BIK tax banding (SE trim is 20%). Annual road tax costs just £30 with £0 showroom tax.
It sits in insurance group 33-T1, while a set of new Pirelli P Zero tyres will cost around £895.
The E-Class comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty and Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance with pan-European cover for 30-years.
The new E-Class is an excellent executive car that offers comfort, class and a luxurious interior.
It loses some of its edge looking so similar to the C-Class and leaves you wondering why you’d pay more so the same looking car unless you really need the extra few inches of space.
A BMW 5-Series and Jaguar XF offer more driver involvement but neither of them can match the interior of the E-Class.