Now more than arguably any other generation, Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class bites fiercely on the heels of its bigger Sonderklasse sibling. So much so that the executive saloon, now in its W214 generation, benefits from technology not even seen in the luxo-limo.
Here, we drive the mild hybrid petrol and diesel variants of the E-Class saloon, now with added impressions from our first encounter with the E200 in the UK. Interested in the plug-in hybrid model? Check out our separate E-Class plug-in hybrid review.
So, what’s new with the W214?
The platform and engine range might, at first glance, seem rather familiar. The E-Class runs on Merc’s MRA platform (albeit on MRA2, a revised version for a new generation of cars, including the latest C, GLC and S) and the engines initially available in the UK are the E200 petrol and E220d (as well as the E300e plug-in hybrid). All of the initial cars coming to the UK use four-cylinder engines with mild hybrid assistance, and drive power to the rear wheels via a nine-speed auto. A six-cylinder E450d 4Matic is in the pricelist, too, and also features the same 22bhp mild-hybrid boost.
Design-wise, the E continues Merc’s trend of looking-quite-familiar-while-also-different-enough evolution. The biggest differences are at the front, with curvy headlights and an almost badger-like face on AMG Line models (the only trim we’ll get in the UK); and at the rear, where the lighting signatures include red DRLs that wrap around three-pointed stars. The S-Class’ pop-out doorhandles feature here, too.
Inside, it’s very much a mini S with an impressive array of materials used. There’s a satisfying thunk to the door pulls, non-tacky clicks to the indicator stalks and some sweet veneers and leathers (Artico or real) applied liberally.
But where the E-Class really smacks us around the chops is with the technology offered. The E debuts with Merc’s new MB.OS – an entirely self-developed infotainment system and software infrastructure which has been loaded with apps, services and content platforms. And it all rests neatly in Merc’s new Superscreen.
As you may have already guessed, Superscreen is a smaller version of Merc’s Hyperscreen that launched first in the EQS electric car, and incorporates a large central touch screen as well as a passenger display. The system allows for the installing of apps and games, and our test cars came pre-loaded with things like Angry Birds to play while you’re parked, or Webex and Zoom video calling services (which work with the dashboard-mounted camera) which allows you to take video calls (again, only while parked). Even the ambient lighting can react to the music you’re playing through the (likely optional) high-end audio system that includes Dolby Atmos.
And that’s not all. Merc has equipped the E with all the latest safety tech, including systems that alert you to cars/cyclists/pedestrians passing if you reach open your door, and optional digital light systems that display graphics on the road ahead. There’s even a new lane change assistant that, when the car’s drive assist systems are active on the motorway, will even overtake or change lanes for you without you even prompting it. We’ve tried it, and it’s spookily impressive.
How does it drive when you’re at the wheel?
Let’s start with the engines. We’ve tested the E200 petrol and E220d diesel here and, while both aren’t massively inspiring in terms of the power or sound they provide, they are capable of impressive efficiency. The very traditional diesel engine hasn’t gotten any less gruff between generations, but trying the E200 most recently in the UK we were taken aback by how coarse and breathless this felt. Its significantly less torquey that the E220d, and you feel that keenly when the minimum kerbweight is 1825kg.
Frustratingly, however, all of the cars we tested on the original launch in Austria came equipped with Airmatic air suspension and rear-wheel steering – engineering and chassis improvements that aren’t coming to the UK market.
This turns out to be an even bigger shame than we feared, because while the air-equipped Es we initially drove all felt remarkably planted at speed, the conventionally sprung E200 we’ve sampled in the UK proves a much clumsier affair. Not helped by 19-inch wheels and standard-fit suspension that’s 15mm lower than the set-up you get on the E300e, we’re sure – but it delivers a rather desperate combination of floaty, lurching body control and a brittle sharpness over surface imperfections that’s fundamentally unpleasant.
The ‘agility control’ damping is adjustable, but this is by no means enough to rescue the situation in either direction. It’s always too firm to be comfortable and too imprecise to be dynamic. Frankly, it’s not good.
On the plus side, the rear-wheel steering is no great loss. While this makes the E-Class feel smaller at lower speeds, the trade-off is twitchy steering, even at higher speeds. And the twitchiness continues with the throttle modulation, which felt a little half-baked. A gentle prod at some speed induced a three-gear downshift at times, sending the revs climbing and… not a huge amount of progress made.
Where the E really does impress is rolling refinement – as you’d expect. The E remains a remarkable cruiser, built for cutting cleanly through the air at a considerable pace, riding smoothly and dulling any serious road or tyre noise. These aren’t cars to be thrown around, and excel much more at a gentle waft.
Mercedes E-Class: verdict
While the E-Class reaffirms its position as the refined choice in the exec segment and throws every possible bit of tech at you that it can, the driving experience of the E200 model in the UK leaves a lot to be desired. An uninspiring engine combined with what seems to be rather thoughtlessly set-up steel-sprung suspension doesn’t have the makings of a decent short drive, let alone a long-standing relationship.
We’d also question whether the tech is all a bit too much. But is that may be so, it’s possible you’ll be too busy autonomously lane changing while fiddling around with the E’s endless settings to notice.