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Mercedes-Benz E320 cdi



During work on the new Mercedes-Benz E-class, the manufacturer spent an average of £8.2 million every week developing the car.

It kept this pace up for two solid years until it was happy with the result, dispensing with the thick end of £1.6 billion.

For this sort of money, you would expect the final product to be nothing short of perfect, particularly considering this car has to contend with the new BMW 5-series which was put to the test by Fleet NewsNet last week.

Of the 11,000 E-classes that Mercedes-Benz hopes to sell each year, it originally expected half to be CDI diesel models, but recent figures suggest this figure could be more than 70%.

At launch, the company offered an E220 CDI and E270 CDI and the range is now complete with the addition of an E320 CDI model.

The 2.7-litre five-cylinder diesel in the E270 CDI has had power upped by 7bhp to 177bhp, and torque by 10% to 313 lb-ft, while the 150bhp four cylinder 2.2 in the E220 CDI has the same power and torque hike as the larger unit, offering 250lb-ft at 2,000rpm.

The E270 CDI achieves 41.5mpg on the combined cycle, the 220 slightly better at 42.2mpg. Acceleration is closely matched as well, as are carbon dioxide levels: 167 g/km for the smaller engine against 172g/km for the larger.

At the top of the range, the E320 CDI offers a lot more power, with 204bhp and 368lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,800rpm. This is enough to push it from 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds and on to 151mph.

You would imagine that the price of performance is worse economy, but it remains above 40mpg and during our test week, despite some press-on driving, the on-board computer was suggesting an average economy figure of 42mpg.

Furthermore, emissions are encouragingly low, at 183g/km, meaning drivers pay tax on 23% of the P11d price, which is less than some upper-medium petrol cars. With a P11d value of £33,380, a 40% taxpayer would have a taxable benefit of £7,677, equating to an annual tax bill of £3,070, or £255 a month.

The new model's looks have quickly dated the old E-class. Where the old model now looks slightly frumpy, the new version's angled headlamps give it a sleek appearance, which is impressive considering the bulk of the car.

Seen in its best light, for example as the star transport in the sci-fi blockbuster Men In Black II (with a few hidden gadgets fitted unavailable from the factory), little compares to this for 'stare' value.

The entry specification level for the E320 CDI is Elegance, with a £500 payment needed to move up to Avantgarde.

However, even the entry level brings with it a world of automotive adventure, with more airbags than you would ever hope to need and the items we now take for granted, such as ABS, brake assist, electronic stability programme, electric windows, doors mirrors and seats and rain-sensing wipers.

Also standard is the Sensotronic Brake Control System, which effectively means there is no mechanical link between the brake pedal and the brakes. This is the first time the system has appeared in a volume car.

It was pioneered in the new SL and is the world's first brake-by-wire system. The brake pedal is connected electronically to the main brake cylinder, removing the need for a vacuum-powered booster.

A microprocessor passes the braking information on to the hydraulically-activated brakes using electronic pulses. In order to maintain the driver's feel for the brakes, a special simulator uses spring pressure and hydraulics to give pedal resistance. Apparently SBC gives quicker reaction times and stopping distances are thought to be 3% shorter at 70mph.

Luckily I found out I had no physical control over the brakes after driving the car, so I was happily lunging into corners eager to test its stopping power. The brakes are impressive and need to be, as it feels a very weighty vehicle and the engine encourages enthusiastic driving.

Diesel engines have come a long way, but even Mercedes-Benz can't completely get rid of diesel clatter at start-up.

The E320 CDI has a nice, muted, wrapped-in-cotton-wool feel to it though. And rather than the traditional chugging of most units, it purrs into life and loses much of its diesel sound as the revs rise.

The transmission is typically smooth, and if you floor the throttle hard enough there is a button that prompts an immediate downchange for more power. In corners, the car always seems to find the right gear, or more often than not be in it already.

Perhaps it's a matter of the engine producing so much torque that any gear will do. The 3.2-litre V6 diesel is only available with an automatic transmission and flooring the throttle from low revs results in a short lull while the car's electronic brain considers its next move, before unleashing its power to the rear wheels – a trait not uncommon with auto boxes.

When demanding full acceleration at low speed, it can take a bit of planning, as power delivery is not as instant as you might expect.

With all the electronic devices to hand, you can afford to be a bit of a hooligan, knowing the car will – in most cases – ensure that you don't stray too far from the straight and narrow.

At motorway speeds, there is little noise from the engine and even when the revs rise, there is very little intrusion into the cosseted interior, which gives you time to think of the more important things in life, such as what the star on the bonnet is really for. I think I have the answer. As you waft along surrounded by Fleet News Award-winning luxury, the star is a special sight that gives you the perfect angle to look down your nose at other drivers who haven't had the good sense to choose an E320 CDI, just like you have.

Make: Mercedes-Benz
Model: E320 CDI Elegance
Price: £33,560
Insurance group: 17
CO2: (g/km): 183
Combined economy (mpg): 40.9
Top speed (mph): 151
0-62mph (secs): 7.7
Power (bhp/rpm): 204/4200
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 368/1,800
CAP residual value (3 years/ 60,000 miles): £14,725/44%

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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