Badge draw

The at­trac­tion of the pre­mium Ger­mans is still strong — and so is the ri­valry


BMW and Mercedes-Benz once had the lux­ury car mar­ket to them­selves but to­day’s well­heeled buyer has more choice than ever. If you’re af­ter a large lux­ury sedan, you can pick from Audi, Jaguar, Lexus, In­finiti or Volvo. Most still pick a 5 series or E-Class, though, which makes the ar­rival of Benz’s new E-Class big news. But can it put its big­gest ri­val in the shade?


In a de­clin­ing mar­ket, it takes brav­ery to jack up the price by $10,000 but that’s ex­actly what Mercedes has done with the E220d. The brand says the new model has roughly $13,000 of ad­di­tional “value” over the pre­vi­ous model, in­clud­ing an all-new diesel en­gine.

That new en­gine is a pearler, too. Smaller and more ef­fi­cient, it’s more pow­er­ful and qui­eter. The num­bers don’t lie: fuel use is down from 4.9L to a hy­brid-like 4.1L/100km and power is up from 125kW to 143kW.

It’s the pick of the en­try level en­gines for per­for­mance, too, reach­ing 100km/h in a claimed 7.3 sec­onds com­pared with 7.7 for the carry-over petrol E200.

Com­bined with a nine-speed au­to­matic, it makes light work of hills and over­tak­ing, barely rais­ing a sweat — or a mur­mur — when asked to kick down. It’s pretty quiet, too, although you can still hear a faint diesel rattle around town.

The auto’s not per­fect, though. In traf­fic it could slur its gear changes bet­ter.

The new E-Class’s head­line act is the cock­pit. Dom­i­nated by two huge 12.3-inch screens and lit through­out by classy am­bi­ent light­ing, it is the most im­pres­sive cabin we have seen in re­cent mem­ory.

Con­trols are hi-tech — there are sen­sor patches on the steer­ing wheel to scroll through the var­i­ous en­ter­tain­ment and nav­i­ga­tion menus — and re­fresh­ingly sim­ple to use. The party trick is choos­ing from a wide palette of am­bi­ent light­ing colours to change the mood. It is to the Mini but has a wider range of choices.

The un­seen tech­nol­ogy is even more im­pres­sive. Stan­dard equip­ment in­cludes “Drive Pi­lot”, which can main­tain a safe dis­tance be­tween you and the car in front at up to 210km/h. It can also steer for you through gen­tle bends on the free­way and change lanes au­to­mat­i­cally when safe to do so. Other driver as­sis­tance in­cludes pedes­trian de­tec­tion and au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing, au­to­matic park­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and blind spot mon­i­tor­ing.

If a crash can’t be avoided, the E-Class will pre­pare the cabin for im­pact. Air cham­bers in the seat sides will push you away from the door and the au­dio will de­liver a fre­quency de­signed to pro­tect your ears from the sound of nine airbags ex­plod­ing.

On the road, the Mercedes is a mixed bag. The steer­ing has a meaty, pre­cise feel and on smooth roads it carves through cor­ners with the best of them.

The stan­dard sus­pen­sion — matched with the (op­tional) stiff-walled 19-inch run-flat tyres on our test car — can get up­set by road joins and mid­corner cor­ru­ga­tions, skip­ping about rather than iron­ing out the wrin­kles and sharp edges.

BMW 520d

The 5 Series comes to this con­test with an $8000 price ad­van­tage. How­ever, a lengthy op­tions list blew the price of our test ve­hi­cle to $109,000. The cur­rent 5 Series was launched in 2010 and, de­spite a 2013 up­date, it is look­ing tired — if a year is a long time in the car in­dus­try, six years is an eter­nity. A new model is due early next year.

Against the E-Class, it loses the showroom show­down. The in­te­rior feels dated and too closely linked to cheaper cars in the BMW range.

From the graph­ics to the am­bi­ent light­ing and the func­tions avail­able in the menu, it has been left be­hind by the new Mercedes — and Audi’s lat­est A4.

That said, it all works well and the vir­tual in­stru­ment panel adds a modern touch.

The cabin may be a bit dated

but the seats are real leather (un­like those of the E-Class) and they still pro­vide su­perb com­fort and sup­port. The var­i­ous screen menus are easy to nav­i­gate, while the boot is bet­ter than the Mercedes for long items.

The 5 Series diesel matches the Mercedes for power and fuel ef­fi­ciency, pump­ing out 140kW/400Nm, while us­ing a claimed 4.3L/100km and tak­ing slightly longer for the 0-100km/h sprint, 7.7 sec­onds.

Slightly more no­tice­able un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, the diesel has a sportier note than the E-Class. The eight-speed auto loses noth­ing to the E-Class’s nine-speed, as ninth doesn’t come into play at le­gal speeds.

Driver as­sis­tance tech­nol­ogy is a no­con­test, though. The cruise con­trol has a brak­ing func­tion, the car will dial emer­gency ser­vices if it senses an ac­ci­dent but it can’t match the E-Class for as­sis­tance tech.

Lane de­par­ture warn­ing, au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing and pedes­trian avoid­ance tech­nol­ogy cost ex­tra, as do au­to­mated park­ing and the head-up dis­play. Adap­tive head­lights add cost. The 5 Series brochure has four pages of stan­dard equip­ment and nine pages of op­tions. Ex­pect some pen­cil sharpening soon.

What the BMW loses in the cabin and on paper, it gains on the road. It is still the pick of the class for road hold­ing abil­ity and steer­ing feel. The E-Class matches it for ef­fort­less, re­fined free­way mo­tor­ing but the BMW pulls away on twist­ing, pock­marked back roads.

The ride may bor­der on too firm around town but on a coun­try back road it comes into its own, feel­ing more set­tled and se­cure than the Benz.


The BMW may look dated but it re­tains the driver’s car man­tle. It’s the most ac­com­plished per­former through the bends and over bumps. But the Benz still wins com­fort­ably. The cabin is su­perb, the level of tech­nol­ogy avail­able is class-lead­ing and the new strong, silent diesel just shades the BMW.

Photo lo­ca­tion cour­tesy of Bel­genny Farm re­cep­tion cen­tre, Cam­den South, NSW. (02) 4654 6800.

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