Mercedes-Benz E-Class Saloon (2016 - ) review
The Mercedes E-Class looks like a scaled-down version of the S-Class limousine, but can it provide a similar amount of comfort, luxury and technology?
Interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz E Class?
How good does it look?
To look at, you’ll find the E-Class very hard to distinguish from Merc’s other saloons – the C-Class and the S-Class – other than on size. The styling is virtually identical to that of its sister cars, but that’s no bad thing as they’re all pretty handsome-looking beasts. LED lighting at both ends comes as standard, as do alloy wheels. Die-hard Merc fans might be disappointed to hear that you won’t be able to have the gunsight-style three-pointed star on your E-Class; the company emblem is mounted on the grille rather than the bonnet on all versions of the car.
The range starts with the SE, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights, while the AMG Line cars have 19-inch alloys and a sporty-looking bodykit inspired by the top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG performance models. Hybrid models - labelled as EQ Power cars - have 18-inch wheels.
What's the interior like?
The E-Class' cabin doesn't disappoint, with impressive materials on show and build quality to match. Ergonomically, the interior is standard Mercedes fare -which means one or two quirks in how some of the switches and controls work - and the infotainment system is reasonably easy to work out, if not as intuitive as equivalent systems from Audi and BMW. That’s provided you use the wheel controller on the centre console, mind you. You can also control the system via a couple of touchpads on the steering wheel that respond to the horizontal and vertical swiping movements of your thumbs. It’s pretty much unique, but it’s not the most precise way of doing things.
How practical is it?
Inside the E-Class, you get lots of space for tall passengers, as much as you get in any of the car’s best rivals. There’s also an impressively sized boot that’s nice and square in shape, but like with most cars in this class, you’ll have to pay extra if you want split-folding rear seats. And if you do, the E’s practicality is less-than ideal. You have to load items over a fair-sized lip, you don’t get a flat floor, and the aperture between the luggage compartment and the passenger compartment is an awkward shape.Go for one of the hybrid models, and your boot also become much smaller, and there's also a large step in the floor.
What's it like to drive?
Most of the cars we’ve tried so far have been fitted with air suspension. This is standard on the more expensive AMG models, but on the more humble models the vast majority of people will buy, it’s a very expensive optional extra. That said, if you want your E-Class to be as polished as it can be on the road, the air suspension is well worth the extra cash. It delivers a ride that’s wonderfully smooth and cosseting, yet it keeps things tightly controlled in the bends, making the car feel stable, assured and responsive.
Stick with the car’s standard steel suspension, and things aren’t quite so cultured. The body moves around more in bends and you feel more of the surface beneath you. That said, it’s still a very capable car, delivering a good mix of comfort and agility, and you certainly won’t feel short-changed if you go for this car rather than its equivalent from Audi or BMW. Some versions, including the AMGs, are also available with four-wheel drive for enhanced on-road traction.
How powerful is it?
The E-Class is popular with company car drivers, and for this reason, the E220d has traditionally been the best-seller. We can really see why, as this 194 horsepower unit is all most people will ever need. There’s loads of pull delivered from low down in the rev range, meaning your progress is always easy, and a fair turn of pace is available when you need it. Importantly, it also stays impressively quiet and smooth most of the time. The engine works really well with the nine-speed automatic gearbox you get as standard. The smoothness of the shifts really contributes to the car’s easy-going nature, and when you put your foot down, it always kicks down to the right gear at the first time of asking. It could react a fraction faster, but that’s really splitting hairs.
Company car drivers might also be interested in one of the plug-in hybrid versions. The 300e petrol hybrid combines a 211-horsepower petrol engine with the a 122-horsepower electric motor, while the 300de has the same electric motor combined with a 194-horsepower 2.0-litre diesel engine. We’ve only tried the diesel one so far, but it’s properly brisk, with muscular performance available at all times no matter which of the various power sources happen to operational.
The rest of the petrols are the powerful AMG offerings, and of these, we’ve only had a go in the snarling E63 S. This has a 4.0-litre V8 that delivers a staggering 612 horsepower, and predictably, it delivers properly explosive pace, not to mention an incredible noise..
How much will it cost me?
This is an area in which executive saloons have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and the E-Class is clean enough to cut it with any competitor. The cleanest (the E300de EQ Power) is capable of very impressive fuel economy. The correspondingly low CO2 output makes this the version of choice for company car drivers thanks to low monthly tax bills. You might struggle to persuade your fleet manager to let you have one in the first place, though, as it's rather expensive, but the savings (over the traditional company car choice, the E220d) are big enough that any arm-twisting you can do will definitely be worth it.
In fact, the E-Class isn’t the most affordable car of its type to buy, generally, but its resale values are very competitive, as are the finance deals available. However, you may find yourself paying slightly more in service, maintenance and repairs than cars like the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6. Overall though, these three are likely to be very close in total running costs.
How reliable is it?
This is something of a grey area for the E-Class, because the latest car is too new for there to be any meaningful reliability data available. Look at the scores for the previous version on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and the car gives a decent account of itself. However, Merc’s lowly position in the manufacturer standings might be of concern to some people. That said, JD Power's 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study places Mercedes mid-table of all the manufacturers, with a score slightly above the industry average.
The owner reviews on our website report very few horror stories, and the car comes with a reasonably generous three-year/unlimited mileage warranty.
How safe is it?
The E-Class scored a full five stars in tests by Euro NCAP, but with the colossal amount of safety kit you get as standard, that's no surprise. It includes seven airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, autonomous city braking, an active pop-up bonnet, self-drying brakes, a self-parking function, and a system that detects driver fatigue and tells you to take a break every once in a while. That really is impressive.
The E-Class’ real party piece, though, comes in the form of an optional system called Drive Pilot, which allows the E-Class to pretty much drive itself for large portions of time. It reads road signs to determine the prevailing speed limit and sets the radar cruise control accordingly. It then follows the car in front, taking care of all your acceleration and braking, and even helps you out with the steering. It’s pretty effective on the motorway, but it’s not a system you’ll want to employ on the open road.
How much equipment do I get?
The E-Class range begins with SE trim, but even in this version, you’ll be wanting for very little in the way of luxury kit. Included in the list of standard equipment are climate and cruise controls, keyless entry and go, heated front seats with part-electric adjustment, leather upholstery, four electric windows, ambient cabin lighting and an infotainment system that brings together Bluetooth, DAB radio, sat-nav and a reversing camera. Stepping up to AMG Line trim isn’t really worth the cash in our opinion; it earns you a raft of aesthetic upgrades inside and out, plus more adjustment for your front seats, but that’s about it. The AMG versions get even more aesthetic upgrades, along with more stuff to enhance the driving experience, stuff like air suspension and performance brakes.
You'll buy the E-Class because you value comfort and refinement over driver involvement in your executive saloon, and because you like your car to provide lots of equipment and cutting-edge technology. The E-Class delivers on all that, and it also provides quality, practicality and desirability besides. It's an excellent alternative to the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series, and well worthy of your consideration.