Fleet News

Mercedes-Benz E-class



THE Mercedes-Benz E-Class is playing catch-up with the rest of the saloon fleet in the firm's product renewal programme, which is odd as it is the company's best-seller, accounting for no less than 25% of global sales.

In the UK, that figure is nearer 20%, with the car being fractionally outsold by its smaller C-class sibling.

Last year, 50% of the tin shifted was in corporate sales; equating to some 3,000 cars sold in both business and fleet arenas to a 94% male market with an average age of 50.

This affords the E-class a silver medal position on the podium, runner-up to the executive-car-you-drive-yourself class best-seller, BMW's 5-series.

Not before time, then, the new car is welcomed back into the bosom of the family with all the appropriate, next generation external styling cues and a considerably more svelte stance than that of the outgoing model. Albeit at a reduced incline, the twin headlamps of the previous E-class are retained and under the banner 'Everything we know in one car', Mercedes-Benz has thrown the laboratory sink at its sales-crucial saloon.

There are three large-scale production and technological firsts that accompany the car to the launch pad - Fly-by-Wire Sensotronic Brake Control, Dynamic Multicontour Seats and Airmatic Dual Control suspension.

Furthermore, there are several 'intelligent' safety features, including a weight- sensing front seat cushion that governs airbag volume deployment.

This is the first of an anticipated raft of occupant protection equipment aimed at reinforcing the E-class's bid for five-star classification in the European New Car Assessment Programme crash tests.

This includes roll-over sensors that trigger airbags in sequence as the car flips over to protect the occupants.

Servicing costs are not yet available, though Mercedes executives are adamant that they are likely to fall, as the new technology sports nothing that requires extra care unless you crash the E-class.

As with other Mercedes, the car itself constantly updates the mileage available until the next service is due (averaging some 15,000 miles), as well as informing the driver the instant so much as a washer bottle is running low.

Three petrol and two diesel engines will be available from launch around August and Mercedes anticipates that by the end of the year, corporate diesel sales should be about the 50% mark. A six-cylinder diesel is also planned.

Certainly the E220 CDi's carbon dioxide levels of just 177g/km, as opposed to the petrol E240's 247g/km, suggest the oiler will become a clear favourite under the new company car tax regime. Mercedes build quality seems, once again, to be in the ascendancy.

And with the promise of unburstable powerplants, ironclad residuals and that platinum image, reinforced by both a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty and 30-year breakdown recovery and anti-corrosion cover, BMW's 5 series might do well to look to its laurels.

Behind the wheel

The open ocean swell of the Mercedes E-class's dashboard pays greater homage to big brother S-class than the lesser C-class sibling.

All is typical Mercedes fare, and build quality, despite fractionally over-shiny centre console buttons that display just a hint of the flimsy and an entirely disastrous cup-holder, seems good.

Wood is sadly unavoidable in the E500 I drove, and some may find the glint of chrome a touch all-pervasive.

Ranks of switchgear abound, but overt displays of cunning are modestly limited to an electrically-hinged central panel disguising the optional CD player, and a speedometer design of mind-boggling complexity.

In order to facilitate uninterrupted viewing of a central LCD information screen, the speedometer needle has been snipped to a two-centimetre stub, ingeniously mounted at the instrument's circumference.

The E-class seats are little short of superb. Heating, cooling and massage facilities aside, fundamentally sound ergonomics allied to an electronically reach and rake adjusted helm offer a peerlessly comfortable driving position.

Mine was a dynamic contour seat, boasting air chambers to base back and lateral support wings which inflate automatically in response to cornering forces. It works so well you don't even notice it plumping up the cushions.

Judicious wielding of the hot spoon has scalloped enough out of the front seat backs to give adequate knee clearance when sitting behind myself astern.

And the option of seat heating allied to efficient, four zone Thermotronic air-conditioning almost compensates for a lack of room for the feet under the front seat bases.

Despite already boasting an enormous boot, the E-class also offers estate car acreage astern, courtesy of split-folding rear seats that now double hinge to free up the entire floor area.

I drove the E500, which sports Airmatic dual control suspension as standard. Sensors monitor road condition, driving style and the loading of the car to keep things on the level even under heavy braking.

Ride height is automatically reduced by 15mm at speeds above 86mph, although it could cost you three points on your driving licence and a small cash donation in the UK to discover this for yourself.

As a motorway cruiser, the E-class is little short of sublime - effortlessly quick, comfortable and quiet.

Noise, at all but the fastest speeds available, is restricted to light A pillar and door mirror wind rush, and the muted thrum of fat rubber on 17-inch alloys.

Stab a dashboard-mounted button to stiffen the suspension settings, knock the gear lever over into manual mode and the car proves itself a tidy cross-country performer with fine body control and plenty of grip.

Sadly, however, the entertainment threatened by that glorious 300bhp V8 is somewhat emasculated by weighty steering with little feel, an adaptive throttle which insists on trying to teach you as you come to terms with it, and that Sensotronic Brake Control, which also requires some familiarisation.

On more than one occasion I found myself shamefacedly driving up to the corner while retrieving my tonsils from the glovebox.

Driving verdict

Supremely comfortable, effortlessly powerful and almost entirely well screwed together, the E500 is an enormous advance over its predecessor.

Whether it will find sufficient favour among the captains of industry who enjoy a sporting drive to topple the 5-series off the top spot, however, remains to be seen. But with two refined diesel versions on offer, the E-class is sure to find favour in the corporate arena.

  • Will the new E-class find a place on your fleet? Email your views to fleetnews@emap.com.
  • 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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