I can’t understand why anybody would buy a saloon car any more.
Take any executive model as an example and there’s no contest on which is the better looking or the most practical. Audi A4? Easily the Avant. The same goes for the A6, while of the big Volvos, there really is none other than the V70.
The same is true of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class because the estate manages to not only look stylish, but hides a volume that almost qualifies it as a van. It’s always been the best estate money can buy in terms of space but since the E-class got one of the strangest mid-life makeovers it really is quite a piece of kit now.
For last year, the E-Class was reborn. Mercedes-Benz lavished attention on it, changing more than 2,000 parts and turning it from a rather floppy machine to one that is now as good as anything in the sector to drive.
But Mercedes-Benz forgot to do two crucial things. Firstly, somebody forgot to change how the E-Class looked. There were some revisions, but they were so subtle that you have to be a Merc anorak to spot the differences.
Then, secondly, the company seems to have forgotten to tell anybody about it. Unlike this year’s BMW 5 Series changes, which did little to the outside but included headline-grabbing EfficientDynamics fuel and emissions savings, the E-Class was made slightly better in all areas with incremental changes that struggle on their own to grab the limelight, but combine to make a mighty improvement overall.
So what’s different? Well, for a start it feels sharper. The suspension and steering have been revised and so the flabbiness of the old car has gone. The result is not exactly a sporty car, and it shouldn’t be, but for a big estate it will hustle along with the right amount of comfort and responsiveness.
But a lot of the estate’s appeal is what happens from the B-pillar backwards. Our Avantgarde model came in black, with blacked-out rear windows and sparkly alloys and looked every bit of its near-£40,000 pricetag.
In the boot, it comes with the Easy-Pack loading system which gives you a net, while the cover lowers itself automatically when the powered tailgate closes. The optional £165 fixing kit, with cargo rails, a moveable bar and rings ensures that you can make your luggage behave itself.
Another of the changes is more torque from the 3.0-litre V6 engine, but you wouldn’t notice it. What is noticeable is how smooth it is and with nearly 40mpg, it is the ideal motor for lugging loads over long distances.
And if further evidence was needed of the E-Class’s purpose as a family car, it comes with Pre-Safe anticipatory crash system and anti-whiplash headrests.
So while not much may have obviously changed, perhaps it is a good thing, as the estate was always excellent. But with the changes, it has got even better.
P11D value: £39,292
CO2 emissions (g/km): 215
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 33%
Graduated VED rate: £205
Insurance group: 17
Combined mpg: 37.2
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £15,025/38%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £770
Want practicality, style and a dash of luxury without choosing an SUV? These four cars are about the only choices in the market. The R-Class is a mix of E-Class and ML and while it has not sold well, probably because it is difficult to pigeonhole, it offers lots of space and four-wheel drive.
A6 Avant: £37,357
530d Touring: £37,965
R320 CDI: £38,267
E320 CDI: £39,292
The BMW has a major advantage in that it comes with EfficientDynamics which has a big impact on emissions. As a result, a 40% taxpaying driver would pay £1,200 a year less in tax than they would for the E-Class. Perhaps the competition should be targeting opt-out drivers.
530d Touring: 180g/km/26%
E320 CDI: 215g/km/33%
A6 Avant: 226g/km/35%
R320 CDI: 246g/km/35%
While tyres and brakes for all four cars cost roughly about the same over three years/60,000 miles according to CAP and Maintbook, other servicing costs for the two Mercedes-Benzes are almost twice as high as if you went to a BMW or Audi dealership.
530d Touring: 4.37 (pence per mile)£2,622 (60,000 miles total)
A6 Avant: 5.01 £3,006
R320 CDI: 5.67 £3,402
E320 CDI: 6.32 £3,792
Again, the EfficientDynamics technology, which limits the fuel consumption, makes the 530d almost unbeatable. A combined mpg figure of 41.5 is phenomenal for a car of this size and power and makes it £400 cheaper in diesel than the next best, the E320 CDI.
530d Touring: 10.37 (pence per mile) £6,222 (60,000 miles total)
E320 CDI: 11.15 £6,690
A6 Avant: 12.81 £7,686
R320 CDI: 14.16 £8,496
The R-Class gets some ground back here with a solid performance in depreciation. Limited numbers on the used market will keep residual values strong at around 44% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles. Of the traditional estates, the 530d again beats the other two.
R320 CDI: 35.52 (pence per mile) £21,312 (60,000 miles total)
530d Touring: 37.93 £22,758
A6 Avant: 38.51 £23,106
E320 CDI: 39.86 £23,916
The 530d is the convincing winner of the wholelife costs comparison and would be by far the cheapest for a fleet to run – by £1,600 from the next-best R320 CDI – and for a driver in benefit-in-kind tax. The other three cars are fairly similar in cost terms.
530d Touring: 52.67 (pence per mile) £31,602 (60,000 miles total)
R320 CDI: 55.35 £33,210
A6 Avant: 56.33 £33,798
E320 CDI: 57.33 £34,398
The E-Class is an excellent car and you couldn’t blame anybody for choosing one. Its combination of great looks, space and style make it a superb luxury estate. The 530d is closer to it in terms of social caché, but is underpinned by running costs that are sector-leading by a huge margin. Add in that a company car driver would save £1,200 a year in tax and it makes it nigh-on impossible to beat in objective terms.