A special-edition with lavish level of equipment has made the Mercedes-Benz E-class a much more compelling package. But it still faces a threat from within its own family.
Base price: $114,000.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo petrol four, 155kW/350Nm, 7-speed automatic, rear-drive, Combined economy 6.4 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.4 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4879mm long, 1474mm high, luggage capacity 540 litres, fuel tank 59 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/45 front and 275/30 rear tyres.
We like: Great value, comprehensively equipped, supremely safe.
We don’t like: Feels old-hat next to new C-class, powertrain lacks character.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? It’s fair to say that the Mercedes-Benz E-class has been having a hard time since the launch of smaller C-class this year. The facelift E-class was cutting-edge at launch, with revised styling and some pretty trick safety equipment, such as Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control that included steering assistance.
However, the C-class boasts the same technology (albeit as an option on some models) and it’s part of a much newer range of models, with styling and interior elements similar to the latest S-class. It’s left the E-class looking a bit last-gen. Of course, it doesn’t help that the premium large-car segment is in the doldrums in general.
So the big guy desperately needs a lift and this is how Mercedes-Benz New Zealand is doing it: with a so-called E 250 Special Edition model that adds a wealth of extra equipment for no extra cost. Conveniently, we can also shorten the name to SE, which is pleasantly old-school Mercedes.
The SE brings 19-inch AMG alloy wheels, panoramic sliding glass roof, heated front seats, illuminated door sills, wood/leather steering wheel, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and 360-degree parking camera. It’s a great deal but it won’t go forever. Mercedes-Benz New Zealand negotiated the package for a limited run, until the end of October production, so the current stock is the only stock.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The E 250 is one of those low-key cars that seems unremarkable until you really drive it hard. Then you realise how accomplished it is.
That’s accomplished rather than fast. The E 250 is a four-cylinder model: it’s available in either 2.0-litre turbo-petrol or 2.1-litre turbo-diesel guises. Our test car was the petrol version, which has an advantage in standing-start acceleration and refinement (the diesel sounds pretty agricultural) but is well-beaten by the oil-burner in terms of economy and torque (4.9 litres per 100km, 500Nm).
The E-class is a big car but still unstressed by demanding roads. The ride remains compliant even on those big 19-inch alloys (including extreme 30-series rubber at the back) and the chassis is fluid through typically bumpy Kiwi backroad corners.
Much of the driving experience is dominated by the E 250’s comprehensive package of active-assistance features. You name it, the E-class has pretty much got it. Mercedes-Benz’s Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control is undoubtedly the best such system on the market: it’s not just that it can maintain the correct distance to the car in front (and stay active right down to a standstill), it’s the seamless way in which it operates. It’s so smooth, you find yourself using it all the time.
Distronic Plus comes with lane guidance and steering assistance, which employs cameras to read the road markings and automatically make small adjustments to the steering. It’s perhaps the closest thing on the market to an autonomous car – although the system demands that you keep your hands on the wheel or it disengages. It all takes some getting used to, to be honest, but you cannot help but be impressed by the level of safety equipment in this or any other E-class.
The SE also has a 360-degree camera system; again, it takes some getting used to, but the slightly distorted Google Earth-type view (created by cameras around the car combined with a bird’s eye view graphic of the vehicle) is a boon when you’re squeezing this large sedan into tight spots.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? There’s a traditional feel to the E-class cabin – more so now that the new C-class has appeared boasting such as upmarket interior ambience.
That’s not to say that the E 250 is without its glitzy side: the dashboard of the SE is finished in a leather-like (but not actually leather) material that Mercedes calls Artico and there’s plenty of shiny silver trim around to add a touch of glamour.
The E-class is not far short of five metres long. That does mean generous accommodation for five adults if necessary and it boasts plenty of creature comforts, including air conditioning outlets in the rear (although the SE doesn’t go all the way with climate control for the back).
The boot is massive at 540 litres and has semi-automatic operation. When you release the latch, spring-loading pushes the lid upwards to open it. To close, press a button on the lid and electric motors power it back down again.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The E 250 SE is a compelling package for the money. But to buy one you’d either have to really want a car of this size, or really dislike the look and/or feel of the new-generation C-class. Because that car is still really hard to beat for style, quality and dynamics.
The C-class has left much of the competition looking a bit behind the game. Unfortunately, it’s doing the same to some of Mercedes-Benz’s own models.
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: Yes
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes adaptive Distronic Plus with steering assist
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
- Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
- Lane guidance: Yes
- Leather upholstery: Yes
- Parking radar: Yes with 360-degree camera
- Power boot or tailgate: Yes
- Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
- Rear ventilation outlets: Yes
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Steering reach adjustment: Power
- Stop-start: Yes
- Trip computer: Yes
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