While the international launch of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class didn't give us a chance to sample more modestly specified examples of the new luxury saloon, first impressions of the new E 220 d model are promising. It's powered by an all-new four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, which is commendably quiet in operation and highly efficient. It complements the new E-Class's luxurious interior and comfortable demeanour. Bodes well for the likely biggest seller for the Irish market too.
In the Metal:
Mercedes-Benz has already come under fire for applying 'Russian Doll' styling techniques to its saloons, as the C-Class mimicked the design of the S-Class. And while the new E-Class is from the same school, there's no doubting that it's an attractive shape. Indeed, it looks remarkably different depending on the trim level, wheel size, options and paint colour chosen. The wheelbase is 65mm longer than in the previous E-Class and the tracks front and rear have been widened too. The E 220 d pictured here features the more traditional radiator grille design with the separate star emblem above, while Avantgarde and AMG Line cars gain the sports radiator grille with a large Mercedes star in the middle.
Few buyers will complain when they realise that the E-Class's cabin takes more than a little inspiration from the S-Class's. It's an exceptionally classy, stylish and luxurious interior, more so when fitted with a few choice options. The standout features are massive double 12.3-inch display screens instead of traditional instruments (these won't be fitted to all variants of the E-Class as standard) and a sweeping, curving expanse of trim material across the dashboard that can be finished in all manner of materials. Within that sit the dramatic looking four air vents, which are lovely to use too. Design and remarkable quality aside, there's more space within the cabin than before thanks to the increased exterior dimensions, though middle rear seat passengers still have to endure a high central floor area. The rear seat back splits 40:20:40 optionally and, rather oddly, the boot is a few litres smaller than the previous E-Class. It's still large by any standard, at 540 litres.
A highlight of the new E-Class is the steering wheel's Touch Controls, which is made up of two small squares of touch-sensitive material, one for each hand on the wheel. They control various menus on the display screens and are the most intuitive interface to grace a car in a long time, making the centrally mounted 'Comand' controller all but obsolete.
Read our Mercedes-Benz E 350 d review for more information on the personalisation options available for the interior.
Unfortunately, from the point of view of letting Irish buyers know what the chassis of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is like, none of the test cars at the international launch featured standard suspension. The E 220 d, for example, was fitted with Air Body Control, a multi-chamber air suspension system with three different stages of stiffness depending on the driving mode selected. On top of that, it features a self-levelling function and the ride height can even be increased at the touch of a button at low speeds. If you go for Air Body Control, then you automatically get Dynamic Body Control too, which features adaptive damping front and rear to control the wheel and body movements. The driver chooses between Comfort, Eco, Sport, Sport + and Individual modes from the Dynamic Select switch.
That control also changes the characteristics of the engine, steering and transmission. The latter is a nine-speed automatic '9G-Tronic' gearbox as standard (on the launch models anyway), sending power to the rear wheels. It's smooth and quick-changing in equal measure, and though the steering wheel mounted gearchange paddles are some of the most tactile in the business, this transmission is best left to its own devices, as the standard calibration is spot on. The power steering is worth a mention too, as all versions of the E-Class get a speed-sensitive variable ratio system, mixing straight line stability with mid-corner adjustment and agility well. It's difficult to detect much in the way of actual feedback, especially as there was so much else going on with the driver assistance systems fitted to our test cars (I've gone into that in more detail in my Mercedes E 350 d review), but most will appreciate the extra directness.
Of more importance is the new Mercedes-Benz OM 654 diesel engine. This brand new unit, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder design using a single turbocharger and variable geometry, replaces the venerable 2.1-litre engine, the most produced Mercedes engine of all time. We've oft criticised that for its gruffness and immediately it's obvious that the new powerplant improves significantly on that. It's smooth and quiet unless extended. Even then it is never uncouth. And anyway, with its peak torque of 400Nm available from as low as 1,600rpm, there's little reason to test the rev limiter. Maximum power of 194hp is produced at a low 3,800rpm too and it feels pleasantly fast without being exciting in any way. There will be a 150hp variant of this car too shortly, badged E 200 d we presume.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of writing, Mercedes-Benz Ireland hasn't officially released information on pricing or specifications for the new E-Class, though it's expected that the E 220 d will be €52,850 as Avantgarde, €55,210 in Exclusive trim and €57,650 in AMG Line specification. A downloadable brochure on www.mercedes-benz.ie suggests that a sportier grille is optional on the Avantgarde version, which comes as standard with sportier looking five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside there are three colour themes to choose from: black, nut brown and black or macchiato beige and black. The upholstery is a mix of Artico man-made leather and Norwich fabric. The E-Class Exclusive retains the traditional radiator grille, gets five-spoke alloys (presumably of a different design to the Avantgarde cars) and the interior is upgraded with luxury seats upholstered in a combination of leather and fabric. The main trim material in the dashboard is light brown open-pored ash wood and if the images in the brochure are accurate, then the Exclusive is the only model that gets the completely digital dashboard as standard.
At the top of the range is the AMG Line specification, with a modest exterior body kit and 18-inch AMG alloys, plus sports seats inside trimmed in Artico and Dinamica (man-made leather and suede effectively). There's also a flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel and sports pedals.
All versions can be personalised further from the 'designo' range of options.
Final judgement for the E-Class will come shortly when we test a more 'normal' version on Irish roads, but this drive in a highly specified version reveals that Mercedes could be onto a real winner. Not everyone will want to pay for the headline-grabbing technology, but underneath there seems to be a very good core car. What's more, it's arguably at its best in modest E 220 d guise thanks to a refined, gutsy and efficient new diesel engine. Still want that 5 Series?