After a prolonged absence from these pages, due to professional commitments and extensive accumulation of air miles, at the expense of blacktop mileage behind the wheel in sunny Srilanka, I am back with a bang to review another car from the land of the autobahn and limitless speed, Germany.
This time it is the all new for 2014, Mercedes E class. Of course during my hibernation the big German foursome(Mercedes, BMW, Audi & VW) have been busy developing what they call the autonomous car, which basically means a car that can drive itself without us fiddly and meddlesome mere mortals directing them. Not the best news for us petrol heads and possibly another nail in the coffin for motorholic indulgence. Whether all these systems will pass scrutiny and come into commercial production, only time will tell, but certainly many of these features are now standard fitment on many models already, including the new Mercedes I am about to test. At a recent press briefing in Boxberg Germany, industry giant BOSCH demonstrated how all the European traffic systems are integrated into car command modules via numerous scanners that include, other vehicles, animals, pedestrians, road signs, traffic lights, lane and divider lines, and even speed limits indicated on roadside boards. Most of these active and passive safety systems are ready and may arrive in our showrooms sooner than later, so be warned and be alert all you motor boffins, doomsday is on the horizon.
As for the E-class under test, the model in question is a specced for a price variant, tailor made to fit into the “permit value” to facilitate its importation, which is an excellent strategy, in that a top grade executive saloon can now be had at an affordable price. But the downside is that it would be devoid of some of the aforementioned features and other accustomed to options that would really make the car look and feel an executive sedan befitting its badge.
DESIGN, ENGINE AND FEATURES
By all aesthetic standards the new E- 200 petrol designated W212 is a handsome car, and Mercedes in their quest to make the car appeal to the younger set have endowed this three box sedan, with some fresh design touches hitherto not offered on the E-class. They claim that over 2000 changes have been made on this car for its midlife refresh. The primary of these being that the bonnet mounted three pointed star has now been flattened for the first time in an E class, and replaced with a metal badge, and a new two slat front grille with a central star is offered as standard fare, on the Avant Garde version. However the Elegance version comes with the traditional three slat chrome grille and the bonnet mounted metal star, to pander to the tastes of the more traditional Merco-philes and to the delight of would be badge vandals, I am sure. The other major change is that Mercedes have traded the quad head light arrangement which debuted with the W 210 in the nineties, with two single head lamp units, which are now LED equipped with some neat and attractive day time running light strips tastefully incorporated into the headlight units. The earlier DRLs on the pre-facelift model which were LED strips looked horrendous and cheap and resembled those glued on artificial moustaches on Bollywood villains.
The rear lamps too are LED units and the rear wheel arches have been tightened up, from the rather ample Serena Williams proportions of the previous model, to give the car a more sporty profile. Both front and rear bumpers have been redesigned to give the car a more aggressive look. The fronts even have cues from the Ferrari air ducts in the 360. On the whole Mercedes designers have succeeded in really sprucing up this car to appeal to a younger audience, whilst also retaining some traditional touches to please the old guard, by offering the Elegance variant.
The engine for 2014 is an all new 2 litre, 4 cylinder turbo charged, petrol unit developing 184 bhp and 300nm of torque, with a marginal increase in torque of 30nm from the previous 1.8 litre unit, whilst the BHP remains the same. It also has the now famous Piezo direct injection for efficient combustion, thereby improving consumption. The PIEZO direct injection system deploys five injections per power stroke thereby making the fuel vaporize faster, burn better and leave less particles, resulting in reduced emissions. To coincide with this, the new multi spark system also fires four times faster and provides multiple sparks within the same cycle. The turbo unit in this engine is also a quick spooling unit and the engine is already euro 6 compliant, which means it would be here to stay, for quite a while at least. The test car came with the 17 inch multi spoke alloys shod on 245/45 x 17 Goodyear rubbers which is standard issue on the elegance spec, but I would have personally preferred a better looking set of alloys from the tasty selection of wheels on offer to do justice to the car. The Avant-garde however, does have the nicer five double spoke version.
The interior is traditional Mercedes and looks it. It is all top quality in terms of fit and finish and materials, barring of course the Mercedes version of manmade leather called Artico, which to my eyes does not lend itself well to the rest of the cars interior and materials. However I do know that Artico can handle a lot of abuse and would probably wear very well, without any form of maintenance as required by genuine cow hide, and besides, how many cows would you make happy with this choice? The car is equipped with the usual electric accoutrements, mirrors, seats etc, but the chairs are devoid of the memory package option.(curse the permit). The dash is still a bit traditionalist and square but beautifully put together and trimmed in high gloss Burr walnut, natural wood veneer. Green souls do not have to feel guilty as the wood comes from sustainably grown forests in Germany. There is also a sort of art deco analogue clock, nestled between the central air ducts, as the centre piece of the dash, which really lends the interior a sort of stated elegance and class. The aircon vents are in metal and look fabulous, and rumour has it that the decision was based on the Chinese market preference for metal vents, just as they have a long wheel base version of the E in deference to Chinese demand. The steering is now a smaller diameter, and sensibly so and feels and looks good. Steering wheel adjusts for rake, manually, and is a multifunction unit. The COMAND infotainment system provides the onboard computer info and stereo and other adjustments and is very user friendly.
Though many absolutely fantastic stereo systems from the likes of Harmon Kardon and Bang & Olufsen are on offer with a myriad of mind numbing wattages and a multitude of speakers, you could only dream about such or get them retro fitted after the purchase of the car, as there is no possibility to have them ordered as factory fitted options due to the permit value restriction. However the Bluetooth option and voice command are available as standard along with USB/mp3 sockets. So I guess its bang for your buck.
The interior is a paragon of comfort, the front seats are very commodious and there is plenty of adjustment and head, leg and shoulder room. The driving position is very good and the pedals too are well positioned, my only gripe is that Mercedes still persists with the foot operated parking brake, when all its competitors have ditched it in favour of electric parking brakes. If Merc is targeting younger drivers, they had better be those who have conservative driving habits and not the types who would indulge in a bit of tail wagging fun with a hand brake once in a while. They have also relocated the DIRECT SELECT gear selector lever to the right side of the steering and the trafficator pod now works as a combination lever, sitting above the cruise control lever. Whilst it is an improvement over the A class which had four levers in addition to the paddle shifters, the E has three, and once accustomed to the layout the change selector on the steering column seems to make sense, but the selective positioning of this lever even within the Mercedes range leaves drivers a bit confused if they change cars, as we do, because the more sporty versions and the AMG versions have the gear selector in the centre of the console where most manufacturers in the world and motorists prefer. Why can’t European manufacturers standardize simple functions, at least within the model range, like the Japanese do or has their research indicated that humans are built and programmed differently in the different regions of the world and in their own countries based on model preference, or is it a simple desire by car designers to be different?
The E-class has not embraced the now fashionable stop/start button for the spec tested but instead has opted for a simple twist start fob. The stop start button is reserved for the models fitted with keyless-go. The engine, once started is very quiet and the interior is devoid of any harshness or vibrations in typical Mercedes tradition, however from the outside the engine is not as whisper quiet. This E is a Mercedes “Blue efficiency” version and is equipped with the Stop/Go system to conserve fuel and the default mode for driving is the eco mode. Sport is a switchable option. Driving in the E mode is quite pleasant and leisurely and the 7 speed G tronic gear box behaves very sedately with shifts being hardly perceptible. The kick down function is not rapid fire instantaneous but good enough for normal cruising and overtaking. The suspension is well damped and set for comfort and rides ridges, undulations and rough terrain as if you were lying on a water bed.
The 2 litre, turbo engine is quite spirited and does the 100kmh sprint in a very respectable 7.9 secs, which is remarkable for a car of this size and weight, and goes on to a claimed 233 kmh (manufacturer figure). Don’t have any delusions that the puny four cylinder needs any additional steroids other than the boost from its turbo to drive this big bodied car, it does a pretty respectable job of it, much to even my surprise. Once you switch modes to sport the gears hold onto the revs till it reaches a maximum and in this mode the car can be made to make rapid progress. The paddles are a treat and work beautifully in tandem with the gear box, though I did observe a slight hesitancy on down shifts, sometimes. It is a great executive cruiser and one of the best from the current crop. It makes no pretensions and what you get is, what you see. It is spacious, luxurious; drives and rides as well as an executive barge should and certainly can pick up its skirt and do a grand sprint on demand, though it may not be happy doing it all the while. In spite of its size it does corner reasonably well with a touch of understeer and the steering weighting and feel is very very good, probably the best from any previous E-class. The stoppers are great and worked tirelessly without any fade even with prolonged hard use on a very hot day.
The stop start function is probably not designed for stop, creep, crawl, go as in our traffic jams but more for prolonged stops at traffic lights in Europe etc, and hence may sometimes prove to be an irritant, but the Merc system starts up with minimum fuss and not too much vibration, but if you do get involved in a prolonged jam of crawl ,go, crawl, the system does not cut off till you drive upto speed again prior to a stop, but whichever way it goes it will save you some money at the pumps.
LIVING WITH THE MERC E200
The E has never been a model for the spirited driver, it has always been and will be a great executive saloon and a grand status symbol for all the upwardly mobile head honchos and business types who would spend a better part of their time in the comfort of the rear seat. I did emulate this facet for quite a few miles on pretty bad roads and I must say the rear seat comfort, space and design are absolutely fantastic and would rate as the best in class. There is even ample leg room under the front seats to spread your feet. However the middle seat on the rear bench would be a compromise seating position and may not endear to any mini skirted ladies or long limbed types as the transmission tunnel compels you to splay your limbs on either side of the tunnel, not the best for a long distance commute, but inevitable in rear wheel motoring. The boot is cavernous and is also class leading with its 540 litres of space. A very interesting option, which can be retro-fitted, is the “comfort box” which slides out on rails from the roof of the boot, to permit you to store small objects for ease of access and expands on demand to the floor of the boot in stages, for storage of larger loads. The interior of the E class is a great place to be in and would be ideal for family commutes and airport trips etc, as load lugging would be a breeze with all the available space. The very pleasant ambient lighting enhances the night time cabin experience too. The standard stereo/CD is quite adequate and listenable and the other connectivity and charging options etc should take care of all your entertainment, listening and charging needs. Plenty of oddment spaces, cup holders and map pockets etc are on offer and hence nothing is wanting as demanded from an executive car. With all the highways being commissioned, families venturing out on long trips would greatly benefit from the (drowsiness detect) Attention assist system*(refer tech guide), which ensures that the driver is always alert. Wives will no longer have to play nanny and engage in incessant chatter to keep husbands engaged at the wheel; instead they can catch up on their beauty sleep, leaving the car to do the monitoring. Bluetooth connectivity and voice command functions will also ensure that you stay connected with your business associates etc, safely in the knowledge that no protracted negotiations would be needed, with the khakied gentry who now seem to proliferate our roadways in search of Highway Code miscreants, especially mobile phone users on the move.
Mercedes has still not fully embraced the runflat tyre mania that seems to have taken Europe by storm,(though some models are so equipped) and quite mercifully the E-class has a full sized spare tyre, which is very reassuring to long distance travelers. The version on offer in Srilanka has enhanced ground clearance of 4.1 inches and would be very welcome in homes with bumper grazing entrances and other road side kerbs and impediments. Another feature that would appeal to our Kamikaze pedestrians is that the E is equipped with a frontal pedestrian protection system as standard and if you are unfortunate to get knocked down by a car, hope and pray it would be an E class as you may come off rather lightly for damage.
The E class in its current engine and specification guise edges out most of the other competitors as the best executive sedan around, purely for its comfort and cabin and boot space features, which are very salient and relevant points for the Sri Lankan motorist, with the driving dynamics taking a slightly lower priority. In any event this would be a car to be driven in, as opposed to drive. For a car of this size the economy is very good and the combined cycle consumption is quoted as 6.1 litres per 100 km(manufacturer claim). Whilst the local agents confirm that the fuel tank capacity of the version sold in Srilanka is 60 litres, the model sold in India and Malaysia has a tank capacity of 80 litres, which would have appealed to long distance travelers, but maybe the Germans thought that Srilankans have rather limited bladder capacities and decided to provide quicker stops on longer trips. The price on the permit is 12.8 million for the petrol version as tested and 13.2 million for the diesel. Given the propensity of our motorists to have a preference for oil burners, I am sure the diesel will be the bigger seller. This appears to be in the same ball park as the competition and a prospective buyer would have a tough choice and would have to really sift through the spec sheets of these models to check out whats on offer. The E-class offers 12 metallic colours and 2 non-metallic colours which is a great choice for body clothing. My personal preference though would be to go with the Avant Garde trim which has all the niceties, like the newly introduced two slat grille with the central star logo and also the much nicer Artico/ cloth combo seats which looks spades better than the all artificial look of the Artico only interior in the Elegance version. Finally the five twin spoke alloy wheels in this version clinches it for me, but as they say different strokes for different folks, so you be the judge, but do take a look at both versions, before you plonk that bundle of cash on the table at Dimos. With a rock solid reputation for after sales service and a very comprehensive warranty by the local agents, buyers would be tempted to look no further than the E-class. As for me this is the best looking E-class since the W 124.
Active parking assist(Parktronic)*
The vehicle will locate a parking space travelling up to 35kmh, and once the driver stops and engages reverse, the parking assist system will park the car without any steering assistance by driver. The space requirement for this maneuver is a mere 1.3 metres in excess of the cars length. No assistance is provided for you to get the car out again.( This feature is under development)
This is a major safety feature and a drowsiness detection system. At speeds between 60 -200 kmh, it warns the driver immediately if drowsiness or inattention symptoms are detected. Sensors compare changes of driver profile from previously stored data.
Intelligent light system
It has six preprogrammed settings for country mode (illuminates the edge of road), motorway mode (entire width of road), cornering mode which follows the steering angle etc. Auto dimming headlamps and enhanced fog light function etc
When activated it maintains a pre determined proximity control with other traffic and can even initiate full braking before an imminent collision. The system operates between 0-200kmh
The E class has a host of energy saving and emission reducing implements like low resistance tyres, A/C compressor activation only when needed, intelligent alternator management, fuel and oil pumps only engaged on demand, optimized aerodynamics through adjustable radiator shutter activation etc.