Look, no hands
For a short time motoring editor let a Mercedes-Benz drive him
FOR about a minute I placed the E220d in adaptive cruise control and took my hands of f t h e steering wheel.
At 80km/h, as I was leaving Innisfail heading back to Cairns, the car steered itself, taking note of the white markings on either side of the car and making slight adjustments to the path I was taking.
The radar cruise control would not let me hit a slower vehicle in front. It was almost perfect.
Then all hell broke loose. An alarm sounded and a warning sign flashed up on the dashboard telling me to return my hands to the steering wheel.
There it was. A brief moment of autonomous motoring.
The E-Class has the technology to be a self-driving car but, as there is no legal legislation in Australia, it is not permitted yet.
I was actually happy to be back in charge. It was weird having the car steer itself and I don’t like the adaptive cruise control too as it can be jerky if you are following someone when you use the accelerator to speed up. It tries to brake. A bit like a cantankerous horse tugging at the reins.
It’s best to either let the radar cruise control operate on its own or turn it off.
The dashboard display is giant-sized, like a half size Apple mac extending the length of the dash with its own little veranda shielding the display.
The epic screen has colour and clarity to match the latest from the Apple catalogue. It’s light years ahead of the tackedon iPad-style displays in most cars.
It’s also blank until you start up the car.
Benz is rolling out everything it can find and develop on the technology front, from semiautonomous systems to the latest in safety stuff, in the new E.
The big Benz has auto safety braking that operates from 100km/h to set the new global standard, has brilliant LED headlamps, and so much more.
But the tone is set by slipping behind the wheel and watching the black screen spring to life and then the hi-tech keeps on coming.
There is a pad which charges your phone. No need for cables but it costs $350.
There are nine models in the new E- Class family with the brawny E63 AMG and a plug-in hybrid model coming next year.
Away from the hi-tech stuff, the cars have efficient engines and a nine-speed auto gearbox.
The review car was the 220d with options of the mobile phone charging pad ($ 350), $6300 of AMG styling add-ons including 20in 14-spoke alloy wheels, body styling extras of a front apron, side sill panels and a rear apron and a $ 3740 VP3 Vision package, including a huge panoramic glass sunroof and a head-up display. Metallic paint was an extra $1990. Total on the road was $114,520.
Merc’s polarising columnmounted right stalk to change gears may not be liked by all but I found it intuitive after a while.
The instrument screen can be configured in three main ways to customise the view and it’s possible to choose from a wide range of cabin lighting colours to match your mood, even pornographic red. The E220d is well equipped, roomy and quiet.
Not only is the wide-screen digital dashboard display impressive but so too is the view over the bonnet.
The large windscreen appears almost flat, not curved, providing great vision without blind spots, distractions and reflections.
The seats are supportive and easy to adjust, the steering wheel is well shaped and communicates great feel.
But the suspension, which in this car is the basic set-up with steel springs, judders more than I was expecting, particularly on bad sections of the Palmerston Highway between Millaa Millaa and Innisfail, and even around town.
It’s harsh at times on lowprofile runflat tyres, which creates road noise, mainly on coarse bitumen. I’d spend extra for the air suspension
The 2.0-litre turbodiesel is quiet and the nine-speed auto works well. It’s always searching for the most efficient gear and helps absorb noise while cruising.
The headlights are brilliant. They can be left permanently on high-beam and clever sensors and computers “shape” the beam so it doesn’t annoy other drivers.
The safety package includes a 3 6 0 - de g r e e c a m e r a for parking a n d a n t i - f a t igue assistance.
Fuel economy i s good. I achieved 5.8L/ 100km over 350km, averaging 60km/ h. Benz suggests 4.1.
Even though sales of sedans are shrinking in Australia, the EClass is a vital car in some of Mercedes- Benz ’s b iggest markets, and it shows in the level of technology, sophistication and style built into the car, even at an entry level.
The E220d is an astonishingly accomplished, good looking and surprisingly practical four-door car.
It is fuss-free and cosseting,
with cutting edge technology, brilliant safety devices and the pricing is OK, as long as you don’t start ticking all the option boxes.
It is not perfect, particularly the steel suspension on low profile tyres, which disturb the otherwise quiet ambience.
The dashboard is very special and so is the car.