The facelifted Mercedes-Benz E-Class has arrived in Ireland. It is targeted with cementing the loyalty of the company's core customers as well as luring new buyers to the brand. Along with the new look, it's the enhanced refinement that impresses us most.
In the Metal:
The biggest news here is the E-Class's fresh face. And even that isn't really conveyed by the car we photographed. Although the Classic and Elegance versions do get new lights front and rear, plus new bumpers, wheels and detailing, it's the Avantgarde model that grabs all the attention. It additionally benefits from visible exhaust outlets and a new front grille, which houses a huge three-pointed star. This gives the E-Class more visual interest. Otherwise it remains a relatively conservative design.
The same can be said for the interior. The core architecture is the same as ever, with room for four adults - and a fifth in the middle in the back with their leg space compromised by the high transmission tunnel. Tweaks to the cabin add new technology, but it's largely familiar - and, somewhat annoyingly, retains the foot-operated parking brake. The shiny walnut wood trim that's standard on the Elegance model isn't to our tastes, but it can be replaced by more modern finishes. The standard leather feels hardwearing and looks good, while the instrumentation and menu systems are clear and intuitive to use.
Five minutes behind the wheel of the new E-Class confirms that Mercedes-Benz has managed to enhance the car's refinement. The characteristic four-cylinder diesel thrum is more subdued than before and indeed the whole car seems quieter. At a cruise it's especially relaxing, helped by a commendable lack of wind roar - and not too much road noise either. The steering and brakes are light as well, though the latter have serious power when needed.
While the E-Class in Elegance trim is not a car that'll encourage 'press-on' driving, it is surprisingly competent in the corners and when pushed faster. Body roll is well contained and it's unflappably stable, mid-corner and under hard braking.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox is calibrated for economy, but thankfully it has Economy and Sport modes, and choosing the latter speeds up response for when you need to overtake someone or the road is a little more interesting.
What you get for your Money:
Despite improvements in this area over the past couple of years, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is still not quite as good value as its closest rivals from Audi and BMW. For example, while the entry-level price (for the E 200 CDI) is in line with BMW's 520d, the latter is more powerful. Thankfully the Merc's emissions now help with low road tax and the E-Class is economical too.
In terms of specification, Mercedes-Benz Ireland throws in proper leather (as opposed to Artico 'man-made leather') and heated seats no matter which model you go for. Then it's a case of choosing Classic, Elegance or Avantgarde trim levels, depending on your budget and styling preferences.
The E-Class's safety arsenal has been enhanced for the 2013 model year. Part of that is Pre-Safe Plus, which helps reduce the severity of injuries from an unavoidable collision. It now monitors cars approaching from behind too. A radar sensor in the rear bumper can detect an impending collision and set in process several measures. First of all the rear hazard lights are flashed to help warn the approaching driver, then the belt tensioners and 'Neck-Pro' head restraints are deployed. If the car is stopped, then the brakes are applied and held to prevent forward movement, reducing the chances of whiplash or further collisions with another vehicle or pedestrian.
While the updated E-Class is most obvious in Avantgarde format, the enhancements throughout are worth having. It remains the comfortable, refined choice of the premium saloons, though it is more efficient than before too. Mercedes-Benz buyers will love the upgrades.