Have you ever thought about the driving pleasure in the case of Mercedes E-Class? Get ready because Mercedes’ business limousine has changed its character and become a lot sportier, but has retained its regal comfort. In test the PHEV version Mercedes E 400 e 4Matic, with an impressive electric range.
For many of us, the E-Class is synonymous with the pale yellow paint, indestructible, diesel-powered taxi cars that have covered tens of millions of miles over six generations if you count the W123, as the E-Class name only appeared in 1993 on the facelifted W124. Comfort, low fuel consumption, and, above all, impressive reliability have characterized the E-Class generations. But now Mercedes wants more, and that’s to enter BMW territory. And not just to enter, but to be as fun to drive as its Bavarian rival. We had our first test drive of the new E-Class 400 e 4Matic with its Plug-In Hybrid powertrain that puts out 381 ps and 650 Nm.
We would have liked to start our impressions of this test in a logical order with the interior and comfort, but we were so excited by the road behavior that we’re reviewing this one first. We have to say that the test car had the Technology package (3,320 euros), which means two essential options: the Airmatic air suspension and all-wheel steering. At speeds of up to 60 km/h, the rear wheels rotate in the opposite direction to the front wheels by 4.5 degrees, and at speeds over 60 km/h, they move in the same direction at an angle of 2.5 degrees.
What does this mean? On 4Matic versions, the turning circle is reduced from 12 to 11.1 meters, so you can turn the almost 5-metre-long limousine in one movement on a two-lane road. Sure, this is also possible with other Mercedes models with all-wheel steering. But what really shocks me, but in a good way, is the number of turns of the steering wheel from end to end. It takes just 2.4 turns of the steering wheel in the 4Matic (2.2 turns in rear-wheel-drive versions), which means the new E-Class has a shorter steering than an Alfa Romeo sports model. But many steerings with a small demultiplication ratio have the disadvantage that it has a certain nervousness when driving in a straight line and reacts too abruptly to lane changes. That’s not the case with the new E-Class, whose steering is simply perfect.
It’s so smooth and progressive that you don’t feel the need to make any corrections when cornering. The car turns just as you command it from the steering wheel, and stays on the line you want it to because the seemingly endless traction helps a lot. The E 400 e 4Matic feels so agile and balanced, it’s incredibly easy to control and can be positioned with millimetric precision. The all-wheel steering plays its part as it works efficiently and subtly at the same time without irritating the driver with overzealousness.
Although there’s a large, heavy 25.4 kWh net battery in the rear under the boot floor, there’s no nervous rear-end reaction when cornering at high speed. The better weight distribution with the 4-cylinder engine pushed far behind the front axle, aluminum hood, and the efficient all-wheel-drive system gives it impressive neutrality. The new E-Class shows an almost provocative nonchalance in the way it moves at high speeds and the way it masks its 2,261 kg.
The suspension isn’t as soft as the old generation, but if you’ve ordered the Technology package with air suspension, the comfort is just as good, magically we’d say. The E-Class absorbs transverse bridge joints, and channel covers with a dead sound, and it’s as if the wheels are wrapped in a cotton wool packet because passengers don’t feel a thing inside.
Under the bonnet works the 2-liter turbo engine familiar from other Mercedes models, but in the case of the E-Class, Mercedes has spared no expense on sound-proofing materials, and so it’s completely silent at motorway speeds. You don’t know whether you’re driving powered by the electric or the combustion engine because there’s no difference. Only when you accelerate hard, do you hear the heat engine somewhere in the background, but the noise is as if you had cotton wool plugs in your ears.
The E-Class runs incredibly smooth at speeds of 140-150 kph even with AMG wheels and narrow beadlock tires with 245/40 R20 in the front and 275/34 R20 in the rear, but at the same time, it doesn’t lean too much in corners, and there is not anymore that pumping sensation when going over long bumps.
The Plug-in Hybrid powertrain responds as exquisitely as the suspension or steering. The combustion engine is always supported by the electric motor, even when the battery is empty, and I never felt a drop in power. The explanation? At the charging station, we only charged 22.9 kWh instead of 25.4 kWh, which is the net capacity of the battery, which means that the E 400 e 4Matic always keeps a reserve in the battery so that the electric motor is always functional.
That’s why, when driving, it feels like there’s a powerful 6-cylinder engine with larger displacement under the bonnet. And the figures confirm the feeling: 0-100 kph in just 5.4 seconds and 0-200 kph in 20.4 seconds. And if you switch to electric mode, you can still move at a fairly brisk pace: 0-100 km/h in 14.1 seconds and 140 kph top speed because the electric motor’s 129 ps and 440 Nm are more than enough. You don’t have to stress too much to maintain the electric drive mode because you can accelerate in this mode quite hard and there’s a pressure point on the acceleration pedal that gives you a very clear signal of how much to push without waking up the combustion engine.
This top performance for a business limousine is matched by outstanding efficiency: just 6.7 l/100 km in economy driving and an impressive 106 km real electric range. Virtually any journey in the big cities and suburbs can be made in pure electric mode. What’s more, Mercedes is one of the few PHEV models to offer DC charging (595 euros option), so the battery was charged with up to 57 kW in just 27 minutes. It’s an advantage worth considering, as it allows you to charge the battery even when you travel on long distances.
In addition to Individual, Hybrid (activated by default at start-up), Electric, and Sport modes, there’s also a B mode that theoretically conserves battery power. In practice, however, this mode also charges the battery a little at a time by recovering energy when braking and by boosting power from the heat engine when not all the power is needed, without increasing consumption as in the old generation. The driver can choose four degrees of recovery from D+ (Coasting), D Auto, D, and D-, in which case the E 400 e can be driven almost in One Pedal mode.
This conclusion looks like a contradiction. How can the interior be sober and spectacular at the same time? Quality materials, solid assembly, very well-configured seats even if they don’t have dynamic side adjustment, a very comfortable rear bench for two passengers, and generous interior space give you the feel-good factor you’d expect from a business limousine. But then comes the spectacular side. The 3D digital instrument cluster, the camera on top of the dashboard for Zoom or Webex conferences, augmented reality for navigation, dynamic ambient lighting linked to assistance systems, the Burmerster 4D audio system with the bass you feel in your seat, touchscreen-controlled air vents or the ability to set what Mercedes calls routines (for example turn on seat heating if you set it to do so when the temperature drops, say, below 10 degrees, or turn on seat ventilation if it’s over 30 degrees outside) give that high-tech ambiance unusual for a traditional limousine. You can even play sudoku and a few other games on the center and passenger displays, watch YouTube videos, or access various streaming services – Spotify, Amazon Music, or Apple Music.
The E-Class comes with the Superscreen, which is basically 2/3 of the Hyperscreen from the EQS because the instrument cluster display is oriented at another angle compared with the multimedia and passenger display. The central display has large icons, and the Zero Layer function allows you to store shortcuts for various functions that you access directly when, for example, the navigation map is displayed on the screen. Augmented reality with a detailed head-up display also comes with live images from Crossroads.
What’s missing, however, is an automatic zoom of the map when approaching a crossroad (it’s only available on the head-up display), climate control is only accessible via the touchscreen, and the volume knob, which is operated by pressing rather than turning, is placed away from the driver (OK, the driver can adjust volume from the steering wheel). The passenger can’t play games or watch YouTube on its display while driving but only when the car is at a standstill, which reduces much of the motivation to opt for this third screen.
Instead, the assistance systems integrated with the ambient lights offer perfect protection and are perhaps too thoughtful. Adaptive autopilot automatically reduces speed to the legal limit on that sector of the road, the ambient light glows red on the side where a vehicle appears in the blind spot, and emergency braking greets you with a bright triangle in the dash and an audible warning that would wake the dead, at which point the seatbelts tighten. If you’re in a tight spot, you can rely on the excellent brakes (32.7/32.8 m stopping at 60 mph cold/warm). Speaking of brakes, the brake pedal is very linear, and you don’t feel the transition between regenerative and hydraulic braking.
The seats are placed almost on the floor, and the thick steering wheel, but without the larger diameter of the previous generation E-Class, offers a perfect grip. The paddles behind the steering wheel are just for varying degrees of recovery, but you don’t feel the need to change gears manually either as the 9-speed automatic gearbox reacts smoothly and precisely with no jerks. The seats on the test car are very comfortable for long drives but on corners, I felt the need for more lateral support.
For a business limousine, the boot volume is small, at just 370 liters, but now the boot shape is more practical. Thanks to a redesigned rear axle that’s more compact, there’s no longer that impractical sill in the boot, although the battery now has a larger capacity. The floor of the boot is flat but quite high. The PHEV version also has a 40/20/40% split rear bench but the relatively low boot height means you can’t load larger suitcases upright. There’s no room for cargo cables under the floor, but Mercedes has packed them in two stylish bags anchored with a carabiner so they don’t wander around the boot.
The new Mercedes E-Class does the job with class and the price is surprisingly low compared to the EQE. 80,242 euros costs the E 400 e 4Matic compared to 88,215 euros for the equivalent electric version EQE 500 4Matic, and you can actually drive 649 km, of which 106 are pure electric compared to only 400 km in the EQE 500 4Matic.
Ultimately, driving pleasure determines the overall impression, and that means a lot for the new E-Class. On the other hand, comfort and refinement are top-notch. Also impressive is the electric range, fast charging at DC stations, and exemplary efficiency. Respect, Mercedes!