Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2013 Review

OVERVIEW>> Less ugly, more safety, lower consumptionFor all his talk of liking the E-Class when it was launched, Benz’s design chief, Gorden Wagner, has sure rushed through its facelift… And what a facelift it is -- the car has had changes to every piece of sheet metal bar the roof. (Wagner isn’t a fan of the ML or the SL, either, so expect similarly hasty reskins for them, too.)

It’s not just a reskin, though, because Benz has taken the opportunity to swing in plenty of safety technology even six months in front of the S-Class’s replacement.

Dr Thomas Weber, Benz’s Director of R&D, told at the Detroit motor show that his company’s new philosophy was that safety would no longer a trickle down from the S-Class to the smaller cars, but would be swung into action at the first opportunity regardless of the car’s size.

That’s exactly how it has proven here.

The E-Class has the option of a full LED hyper-intelligent headlight that uses a combination of the car’s thermal imaging camera, stereo visual cameras and its radar to identify oncoming cars and then precisely blank out the high-beam glare for them.

There is also side radar, to minimize the risk (and result) of crashes at intersections.

There is a whole bunch of other things, too, that are essentially new or more holistic ways of tying together pieces of hardware the E-Class already has.

And then there are the engines including a new four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine, a pair of four-pot diesels and a new biturbo 3.0-litre V6. This last engine is supposed to replace the classic 4.7-litre V8 but, as we found, the old motor still has plenty of class left in it.

>> Seen an existing one? Yeah, about the same as that…There’s not too much different about the basic dimensions inside. If you knew what the old E-Class looked like inside, you know the rough dimensions of this one.

It’s all been fitted into a package that, in the E250 at least, weighs 1605kg, though that climbs as the engines get bigger and the luxury starts to drip from every vent.

It’s a spacious machine, too, boasting more rear legroom than the BMW 5 Series, though the biggest change to its storage capability has been the addition of a large centre console box. That’s because the central gearshift lever has emigrated to the steering column to become the only lever on the right side of the wheel.

>> Detached competence at its bestGet an E-Class, get a fuss-free conveyance. It’s always been pretty true and it’s certainly true now.

The pick of them remains the E500. It’s not the weapon Benz would lead with if it was going into a war of the cutting edges, but it’s still a beautifully smooth, incredibly strong companion that turns the E-Class from a conservative, default limo to a sports sedan dark horse.

There’s a lovely, refined timbre to it at every point in its rev range and while it’s quick, it never feels less than dignified as it goes about it. It’s like an athlete who refuses to sweat.

That it’s the best of the engines is in no doubt, but whither the rest of them, especially if it’s the elder statesman?

There’s the smallest petrol four, which is strong enough for an entry level machine meant to denote the company car for someone who’s made it, but not all the way. Mash the throttle and you find it gets a little thrashy in the top half of its rev range and has some harshness to it you don’t expect. But it’s an efficient device.

The real surprise packet should be the biturbo V6 in the E400. Big things are expected of this engine, particularly in the US, but it feels more like a logical step between the fours and the V8 to us.

It’s not without its charms, with a deep rumbling that could be mistaken at low rpm for a bigger engine that’s ready to get angry. Wider throttle openings uncover the V6 that lurks beneath the air of civility, though, and the vibrations from it are impossible to miss, though not overwhelming.

It’s strong, though, and all the way through the rev range. It whips through overtaking moves in a hurry, idles calmly and cruises beautifully.

In fact, that last comment could easily cover the entire E-Class family and the tweaks to its suspension and steering, though minor, have reaped rewards out of all proportion to the effort.

There’s not a situation where you can provoke the E-Class – regardless of the engine powering it – to trip into inelegance. The ride quality is never obvious, and always a strong feature for it. The handling has reverted to E-Class handling of old, where it has bags of handling reserves deep in its grip envelope but doesn’t ever encourage you to explore them They’re there just in case and they do everything they can to make it a stupendously easy machine to manage in an emergency situation.

The only real issue we have with it, bearing in mind its typical buyer profile, is that it seems clear Benz wants to run the show and only wants the driver to aim it just enough to stay out of trouble.

Want to turn off the lane-keeping assistant? It’s a one-button thing in a BMW or an Audi. E-Class drivers have to dive three levels into a menu board, then find their way out again. That sort of thing is repeated all over the car.

The other thing that’s irksome is that it defaults to the Eco setting every time you start it, which you need to switch off (fortunately, that’s a one-touch operation) if you want to use everything you’ve paid for.

But those are minor niggles. The major one is that while the body updates seem designed to claw in new buyers who thought the old car too stodgy and angular, the car’s ride, handling and engine packages deliver more of the strong, conservative E-Class character for which the badge has become famous.

Excerpt from Mercedes Benz E-Class 2013: Launch Review 


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