Your very own luxury cruise missile
Mercedes-Benz E-class [tech/spec]
The revised Mercedes E-class is an extremely desirable car, writes
Faith in your fellow man and in the efficiency of Mercedes-Benz
electronics are required when your driver informs you he is about to
conduct a violent lane-change manoeuvre at 100mph.
Object of desire: the Mercedes E-class
Yes, we are on an empty airfield with plenty of run-off area, but, even
so, 100mph seems pretty quick when he flicks the steering wheel left
and then right.
His aim, however, isn't to fear-fry my synapses, rather to demonstrate
Pre-Safe, a development of the safety system introduced on the latest
S-class that is now to be standard equipment on the revised E-class.
Essentially, Pre-Safe is programmed to sense the onset of a potential
accident and prepare the car for the point of impact - more proactive
During the high-speed swerving, the seat belts were automatically
pre-tensioned to prevent any forward movement by the occupants, and the
front passenger seat rearranged my reclined position to a safer one -
seatback quite upright and the leading edge of the base cushion raised
to prevent me "submarining" beneath my seat belt.
In more extreme situations, as demonstrated at much slower speed,
travelling completely sideways on a very low-friction surface and then
screeching and lurching to a halt on a high-friction one, Pre-Safe will
automatically close the windows and sunroof to keep the outside world
from getting in should you roll.
Yet, with an eye for detail for which Mercedes was once famed, the
sunroof and windows don't close fully, so that, if the airbags are
triggered, then the pressure wave and smoke they create can escape the
cabin. Of course, you may not actually hit anything, in which case
Pre-Safe simply resets itself.
That Mercedes is willing to include Pre-Safe as standard without
raising the price of the new E-class shows how keen it is to maintain
the dominance of its luxury executive saloon and estate models in a
sector where rivals keep getting better.
Pre-Safe is just one element of a host of upgrades to the E-class. It
also features brake lights that flash during really heavy braking as an
extra warning to those behind and headlights that adapt their light
pattern automatically to suit your driving environment - back-roads,
urban streets, motorways etc. But all of these things, of course, add
further complexity to a model that has previously suffered reliability
Question Mercedes' German representatives on this matter and there is
initially a polite denial that any problems ever existed. I don't
happen to have in my pocket a copy of this newspaper's report on
Mercedes quality problems (April 1, 2006; see
telegraph.co.uk/motoring), but hammering the point eventually reveals a
quiet resignation to the fact that the E-class's electronics have been
a bugbear - and a claim that there has been a huge improvement in
The new E-class has a very pleasing and unfussed ride quality
Apparently, in the run-up to the existing model's launch in spring
2002, there was no way of testing all the electronic systems to see how
they interacted with one another. Technology moves on, so now such
tests are possible and the testing programme for the whole car, despite
the new model being no more than an upgrade, has been more extensive
than ever before. We will have to wait and see.
The bits of the E-class that you can see still exude quality and
refinement. The car looks a little neater now, too, thanks to a modest
cosmetic retouching that includes those fancy headlights (or
Intelligent Light System as Mercedes calls them), a bigger radiator
grille with a Mercedes-Benz crest set into its upper edge, a reshaped
front bumper unit designed to create more visual muscle than before,
more elegant door mirrors and a fresh range of alloy wheels.
Additionally, the estate derivative gets a full-width, high-level, LED
brake light and restyled roof rails and aerial.
While these changes don't amount to much on paper, they do give the
E-class a mid-life boost. The new wheels, in particular, might just be
enough to persuade those who can't quite live with the looks of the BMW
5-series to take a peek at what used to be considered the staid
Mercedes must have been niggled by criticism of how the E-class drives
because it has fitted a more responsive steering rack and fine-tuned
the suspension to sharpen the dynamic experience.
The improvements won't have you rushing to tell everybody the news, but
they do mean that the E-class now offers some real motoring pleasure.
Hardcore drivers will still gravitate towards a BMW, but the advantage
of the E-class, especially with the optional air suspension that was
fitted to our test cars, is that its ride quality remains unfussed,
even when you are "making good progress".
The enhancement of the handling allows you to make good use of a new
engine in the line-up, the 383bhp (388PS) 5.5-litre V8 used in the
latest S-class and SL roadster and now fitted to the E500. In years
gone by, this car would have been the dragster of the range, but with
AMG now the company's mentalist motor supplier and with the 507bhp E63
AMG rushing this way soon, the E500 is a luxury cruise missile. The
engine makes glorious use of its power and torque, whipping the car
along at a furious pace while barely raising its voice.
Of course, the more pragmatic - and, doubtless, more popular - choice
is the uprated 3.0-litre turbodiesel in the E320 CDI. It has slightly
more torque than the E500 (398lb ft against 390), is pretty much as
quiet and as quick as the V8-engined car in real-world conditions, goes
much farther on a gallon and produces less CO2.
Both models benefit from Mercedes' excellent 7G-TRONIC seven-speed
automatic gearbox, which has a manual override if you are that way
There are still a few little things that you might wish Mercedes would
fix. The mobile phone kit only accepts certain types of Siemens models,
for instance, and, if you want to plug in your iPod, you need a special
However, on the whole, Mercedes' most important model is more desirable
than ever. Its cabin is comfortable, opulent and well built, and the
way it moves down the road and reacts to its controls is characterised
by a sense of calm composure and nicely measured response.
It does make you wonder why you really need to spend the extra money
for the S-class...
Mercedes-Benz E-class [tech/spec]
Price/availability: full range £27,520-£66,545. On sale July 5.
Engine/transmission: (versions mentioned in text only; for existing
range refer to First Drive of March 2, 2002, 5,461cc, petrol V8 with
SOHC per bank and three valves per cylinder; 388bhp at 6,000rpm and
391lb ft of torque at 2,800-4,800rpm; seven-speed automatic gearbox,
rear-wheel drive. 6,208cc, petrol V8 with four valves per cylinder;
514bhp at 6,800rpm and 465lb ft of torque at 5,200rpm; seven-speed
automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive. 2,987cc, turbodiesel V6 with SOHC
and four valves per cylinder; 224bhp at 3,800rpm and 398lb ft of torque
at 1,600-2,400rpm; five-speed or seven-speed automatic gearbox,
Performance: E500, 155mph (restricted), 0-62mph in 5.3sec, EU Urban
fuel consumption N/A, CO2 emissions N/A. E63 AMG, 155mph (restricted),
4.5sec, 12.7mpg, 341g/km. E320 CDi, 155mph (restricted), 6.8sec, N/A,
We like: Easy-going performance, soothing ride quality, cabin ambience,
all-round sense of luxury motoring.
We don't like: Wondering if the reliability issues have been sorted out
as well as Mercedes claims.
Alternatives: Audi A6, from £24,340. BMW 5-series, from £27,110.
Jaguar S-type, from £27,995. Lexus GS, from £30,400. Volvo S80, from