Look, no hands

NICK DAL­TON

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - COVER STORY -

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.

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