The E-class gets a facelift from bonnet to boot
Earlier than would normally be expected comes a new version of the brand’s big seller
Model: E-class Avantgarde
Fuel: Petrol and diesel
Date Reviewed: February 24, 2018
ROAD TEST: The usual facelift involves a new grille, new head and tail lights, maybe for some a new engine or gearbox and, at most, a bonnet. And, in a seven-year life cycle, they usually arrive just before the five-year mark.
Mercedes begs to differ with the new E-Class. Earlier than would normally be expected comes a new version of the brand’s big seller, partly driven by the challenge presented by big sales rivals – BMW’s 5 Series and the Audi A6.
Within 15 months of the E-Class’s unveiling in 2009, work on this new model was already well under way. It’s not exactly a rush job, but it comes a year or so earlier than we might have expected.
That’s understandable given the fast pace of technological advances and the need to defend market share against premium rivals. After all, even in little Ireland, the E-Class represents 50 per cent of Mercedes’s sales, so its popularity is vital to the brand, particularly in what is panning out to be a dismal year for new car sales.
And it’s no minor tweak. It carries the same roof as the outgoing E-Class, but that’s it for the sheet metal. Every other panel has been changed, smoothed out and given cleaner, more coherent surfacing. And there’s now the choice of two faces: a sporty one and the traditional three-pointed one on the bonnet. Classic and Elegance variants feature the usual three-pointed star on the bonnet, while Avantgarde gets a more CLS look, with the famous logo incorporated into the grille.
This dual format has been used to good effect on the C-Class range. The changes also encompass greater flexibility in terms of specification, so owners can opt for the Classic style on the outside but the more modern Avantgarde interior.
There is more of the same semi-urgent revisionist work inside, with the biggest changes being an interior that takes its cues from the recently revamped CLS and the upcoming S-Class. A host of new technology also makes its debut in the E-Class. Features such as the Pre-Safe Plus package that includes steering assist – which effectively steers the car and keeps it in lane – were pencilled in for the new S-Class but brought to launch in the E-Class first. The range of sensors available on the new car is impressive and stretches 200m in front of the car in the case of the on-board radar.
Then there’s the intelligent LED headlights that use radar and stereo cameras to detect oncoming cars and let you stay on high beam while blanking out a section of light around them. The same system also identifies errant walkers and flashes light specifically on them. It’s clever stuff.
Dynamically, the car is much the same as the current model, and while there are changes to the petrol engine range, with improvements in fuel consumption, the majority of sales in Ireland will remain diesel, with just a sprinkling of the new hybrid version.
Ciaran Allen, Mercedes Ireland’s passenger car manager, estimates prices rising by 1.5 per cent on the current range. That means €44,000 for the entry-level E200 CDi. Cars are due in next month, with the estate arriving in April, followed by the coupe and cabriolet models in May.
The star of the range – on paper if not in sales – is the E63 AMG, bringing more power, better handling and all the improvements of the E-Class facelift. That means it cranks out 550bhp and 720Nm. And it’s fast.
What’s more, it encourages you to use its pace, bellowing deeply in a rumbly blast every time you get near the throttle. It’s so strong in the mid-range that you hardly ever actually need to reach its 5,500rpm power peak (and when you do, it’s usually because the seven-speed transmission is just so slow to shift up that you get there by accident).
Superb chassis balance
That gearbox, as ever, is the most annoying aspect of the E63 because it’s now so good, with exquisitely chosen damping ratios for the air rear and steel front springs. The core chassis balance is superb as well, and the choice of four mapping modes means you can have a car that can be thrown at mountain passes with fearless accuracy one hour, then a car that can pick up your granny from hospital the next.
The E63 was always a very good car but could feel a little sled-like and could squat too hard on its haunches under power. That doesn’t happen any more. It retains its balance, keeps the driver engaged and does it all without compromising the straight-line gristle most of its buyers want in the first place. Admittedly, with a price in the region of €120,000, Irish buyers will be in single digits.
Overall, the range reflects more of a complete overhaul than a mere facelift. Mercedes is eager to give its rivals a run for their money, and hopes to attract a few thirtysomethings to take the E-Class plunge. The new Avantgarde E200 CDI seems to fit the bill for this target market.