Safety first for revamped Mercedes-Benz
Dropping the range's previous decanter-grilled frontal signature for a sporting star-in-the-grille or so-called "soft-nose" design, and eschewing the previous car's pontoon-like rear quarters for a pair of sharper side-strakes have been the main external changes to the E-class. The separate two-size headlamps have gone, too, though now they're clustered under clear lenses, and appear as two lamps on each side in the form of LED running lights.
So the car's "face" is still that of an E-class, and instantly recognised these days from the company's activity in Australian V8 Supercar racing.
All models will use a new exterior sports package, with a rear door feature line and special chrome highlights, while the rear will feature twin oval pipes across the range, a re-profiled rear bumper and triple-bar "night-design" rear lamps.
Inside, the E-class cars will all take "Avantgarde" styling with a signature analogue clock, three-toned lighting, and enhanced telematics in the form of "Comand" NTG 4.5 generation three which gains access to Mercedes-Benz apps for weather, Google street view, facebook and news.
The range's re-sort also involves the dropping of the E350 and E500, V6 and V8 petrol engines, these are replaced with a single new model, the E400. New Zealand also sees the dropping of the previous W212 model's 1.8-litre entry-point turbocharged four, replacing it with a 2.0-litre unit, in what will be called the E250 which will have 5kW more at 155kW, as well as an increase of 40Nm in torque, with 350Nm and a 6.4L/100km economy level, for a 148g/km CO2 emissions rating.
The E400 is a three-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 with 245kW and 480Nm on tap. It is just 0.1 of second slower than the previous 4.7-litre E 500 V8, uses 2.3 litres less of fuel per 100km, at 7.6L/100km and boasts Euro 6 emissions levels.
The popular turbodiesel versions of the E-class employ similar external and internal changes as the petrol cars and use the same power units as before in the four-cylinder E250 CDI and V6 E350 CDI models. The diesel-powered E 250 CDI has 150kW and 500Nm and is rated at 4.9 l/100km and 129g/km CO 2, while the E350 CDI is a 2,987cc, V6 six-cylinder with 195kW and 620Nm.
All four and six-cylinder E-class models use the Mercedes-Benz 7G-Tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Meanwhile, at the top of the E-Class line-up is the E63 AMG range which has also been freshened-up. It's powered by the same 5.5 litre twin-turbo V8 engine with just a little more urge on tap.
The E 63 AMG S offers 430kW and 800Nm of torque, and a 0-100km/h time of 4.1 seconds is now quoted. In contrast to the fours and sixes, the E63 AMG S has the AMG's SpeedShift MCT seven-speed sports transmission.
Later in the year, a hybrid model, called the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid, will arrive on the market. It will combine a 2.1 litre four-cylinder diesel engine with electric power which offers a potential combined 170kW of power and 750Nm of torque. Its combined EU-rated fuel consumption is rated at 4.3 l/100km and that will make the model even more fuel-efficient than the smallest Benz in the current New Zealand lineup, the wee A180.
Mercedes has added Active Park Assist, Driver Assistance Package Plus, full LED headlamps, Keyless-GO package, memory front seats and a Sports Package with 19-inch alloy wheels to the E250 which asks $114,000, less than $5000 more than the "old" E250 but with $8000 worth of additional equipment. The E250 CDi diesel offers the same add-ons for the same sticker price and similar savings.
The E400 model gets a 360 degree camera, Surround View, Artico dashboard trim, DAB+ digital radio, Driver Assistance Package Plus, full LED headlamps, Keyless-GO Package with Hands-Free Access, Harman Kardon surround sound, heated front seats, a sunroof, and the same Sports Package. The car costs $131,000, just under $12,000 less than the old E350 despite the $25,000 worth of extra equipment. the E350 CDi diesel is the same price and offers similar savings as the E400.
The E250 CDi and E400 are also available as seven-seat station wagons with the same specification changes as their four-door siblings and are priced at $121,000 and $137,900 respectively. On top of the sedan specification, the wagons add: adaptive damping and self-levelling rear suspension, and electric rear tailgate with individually programmable opening angle, roof rails, a load compartment cover and cargo net, a rear wiper with automatic activation when reversing, an "Easy Pack" rear seat folding facility with release levers on the backrest and in the cargo area.
The fold-down third-row rear-facing seat is fitted with 3-point seat belts.
The wagons also feature 18-inch AMG alloy wheels instead of the sedans' 19-inch wheels.
At the top of the line-up the E63 AMG S also gets the 360 degree camera, AMG Illuminated door sills, AMG Locking differential, Active Park Assist, DAB+, Driver Assistance Package Plus and full LED headlamps, asking $215,000 compared with the previous version's $248,900.
Driven in rain-soaked Melbourne last week, the new E-class models are as quiet and refined as you'd expect and despite the sporting wheels and suspension packages, well able to cope with the city's broken roads. But with its raft of new safety gear as standard, the car's impressive performance was probably less important than that the cars appear to offer the nearest thing to autonomous driving that you can get.
The E-class can drive and brake itself to fit in with traffic using the established "Distronic" system, but now, the car can even steer itself for you, to keep in lane, while all the time able to sense wayward pedestrians and cyclists (we assume) and trigger full braking force if you aren't concentrating.
It's a remarkably easy system to get along with, and it never feels as if you are reliquishing control, though it has to be said some drivers may not enjoy being nannied quite so much. For me, in a strange city, it's remarkably effective.
The E-class has a full suite of autonomous systems grouped under the banner "Intelligent Drive". They employ sensors and cameras around the car to enable it to maintain and match speed with surrounding traffic and to use the brakes while circumventing collisions at less than 50kmh.
Two cameras mounted high in the windscreen just in front of the rear-view mirror create a 3D image of the road to a distance of 500m ahead, not only on the look-out for vehicles, but also pedestrians.
The cameras are part of the car's self-steer set-up, but at this stage of the system's development, they only able to help on fairly gradual curves, and the driver must always be holding the wheel and the system will not work if the driver is not engaged with the steering, whereupon it emits a warning.
The E-class has long had the ability, through "Pre-safe" to warn of incidents in front, but now it also senses danger coming from the rear.
It uses sensors in the rear bumper to pick-up fast-approaching cars and if they suspect that it cannot stop in time, the system locks the brakes and seat belts to cinch the occupants in place and protect them should a collision occur.
Following on from Ford and Volkwagen's systems, all E-class models in New Zealand from now on can parallel park themselves.
It can also park the car tail-in to right-angle spaces - the ones you find in most mall carparks.
All models in the new line-up are better value than before. My choice? The E250 CDi wagon. It is probably the safest car on the market, with fuel economy and emissions that would embarrass even some 1.3-litre cars.