Biggest Mercedes-Benz E-class makes driving easy

Key to E 400's appeal is the combination of a V6-petrol engine and all-wheel drive system.
PAUL OWEN/STUFF

Key to E 400's appeal is the combination of a V6-petrol engine and all-wheel drive system.

 

One of the keys to the way Mercedes-Benz has become the world's largest luxury car-maker is its thoroughness.

The Stuttgart-based company doesn't just scatter a few models into a market segment in the hope they'll take root, it totally "carpet-bombs" it, giving buyers a wealth of choices.

Take the medium-sized luxury car niche, where new models bearing the three-pointed star are now falling like raindrops in July. Bearing the letter "E", these cars vie for the title of the most advanced cars currently available, but the high technology is just as wonder-inducing for the ease with which you access it. And this E 400 4Matic is the easiest car to drive of them all.

E-class is one of the most hi-tech cars on the market - and the interior reflects that.
PAUL OWEN/STUFF

E-class is one of the most hi-tech cars on the market - and the interior reflects that.

What sets the 400 apart from other Benz-badged models in the range is the extra mechanical grip provided by the all-wheel power delivery system, the silky-smooth turbocharged 3-litre V6 engine, and the adaptive air-sprung suspension that is capable of delivering floating-on-a-fluffy-cloud ride quality in the Comfort setting. With AMG-badged Es catering for those seeking a more spirited car, the E 400 is free to be targeted at those seeking a less demanding car to drive.

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And your 100-year-old grand-person could drive this car provided their vision isn't impaired. In the appropriate driving mode, there's docile response from the pressurised V6, a ride comparable to one of the Queen's genteel Bentleys, and a steering wheel that twirls with an ease that's paranormal. No wrists were tired during this test drive, and the E 400 is a car you can drive at complete leisure. And you don't need to slow down for speed bumps either, as the air springs will blot them out completely. If your idea of automotive luxury is a car that superbly wafts, calms, and cruises, then look no further.

Helping set the cool n' calm mood is the cabin furnishing of the E 400. This example came with tan leather and charcoal-coloured woodgrain trim, and the mix really accentuated all the bright details dotted around the interior. The finishing touch is provided by the ability to dictate the colour of the ambient cabin lighting, making the owner some kind of stage director. There's a full palette to choose from, but I found the previous tester's choice – red – set off that tan/black interior decoration beautifully.

There are times when the E 400 will take total care of the driving chores, provided you maintain a minimum of contact with the steering wheel. Setting the radar-guided cruise control will see the car maintain its gap to the car in front no matter what changes occur in the mean traffic speeds experienced on the motorway. Sensors will keep the car in its lane as the motorway curves, and the car will automatically perform a safe lane change all by itself if you then operate an indicator. It's a level of autonomy that few luxury cars can match at present.

Such gentle use is the best way to get the E 400 4Matic to live up to the 8.4 litres/100km fuel use figures it recorded in its official lab test, and might encourage the car to sip petrol in the high-eights on Kiwi roads according to the trip computer. Harder use will naturally see these figures rise to a level expected of a large, well-equipped luxury saloon that is nearly five metres long, operates all four wheels, burns benzene, and weighs 1.9 tonnes.

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All it takes is the selection of the Sport mode, and you'll soon see that trip computer recording fuel use in double figures. Take it into the more aggressive Sport+ mode, and suddenly the fuel use is climbing towards naturally-aspirated V8 levels.

But this is no AMG, even when driven in the most feral of the modes. The V6 lacks the enthusiasm to rev out that you'll find when it is powering the Mercedes-AMG E 43 alter-ego model, and is never so shout-y in Benz format. There's no rude dumps of boost during upshifts of the nine-speed automatic gearbox, no exaggerated flaring of the throttle on the downshifts to aurally mimic some non-existent heel-and-toe action on the part of the driver. For many, it'll feel a less gimmicky and more honest motor to drive.

Ditto, the steering, which acquires more heft in the sportier driving modes, but still conspires to make the driver feel isolated from the tyres. And the four-wheel-drive system does the car no real favours in terms of its ability to fulfil the aspirations of enthusiastic drivers. Get on the gas mid-corner, and the nose will push wide as the four-wheel-drive has no ability to vary the torque delivery. However, that 4Matic system does have plenty advantages when it comes to ski-field and boat ramp access and egress. And this is definitely a more secure car in winter driving than its rear-drive siblings.

The addition of a $3500 AMG kit to the test car, embellished it inside and out, particularly the 20-inch alloys clad with Pirelli P Zero rubber. The latter were a nice sporty enhancement that made me question the need to own a full-noise Mercedes-AMG. For the easy-going driving personality of this E 400 4Matic arguably makes it a more relevant car to drive on Kiwi roads.

 - Stuff

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