We’re getting closer to a car that drives itself, judging from our first impressions of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, one of the most technologically-advanced cars on the road today. John Oxley reports.
Taking your hands off the wheel, even for a few seconds, is scary, especially if you’re going into a tight corner. But you CAN do this with the new Merc E- Class – although it’s not recommended. Under ideal conditions the car will continue to follow the road markings, but will switch off its Active Lane Keeping Assist programme unless you get a grip on the wheel pretty quickly.
And we say “ideal conditions,” because the on-board sensor camera battles to read the lines if they’re obscured by streaming water, as they were at times during the Media launch of the car in the Yarra Valley, outside Melbourne.
In fact the function isn’t really designed for hands-free driving at all, rather it’s an assistance system to make it easier to steer around corners, and you can feel it “helping” while you drive. And never fear, for those who prefer to be in control of their cars at all times, it has to be activated – it’s not an automatic function.
But that was only one aspect of the new E- Class that tickled our fancy, among a whole plethora of new features.
More important, though, was the fact that this dramatically-updated range is considerably lower-priced than that it replaces, with additional or replacement models which give the same or better performance and equipment for many thousands of dollars less.
Yet even though the core vehicle remains the same, Mercedes engineers have done a lot of work to bring it up to safety and technology standards that are in fact ahead of the current S- Class, and it has more than 2,000 new components.
Obviously the nose is all-new, and designed with pedestrian protection in mind, as well as startlingly good looks, with “intelligent” 37-LED headlamps standard. The sports package is standard, so we see new side sills and a twin exhaust system at the back featuring “night design” tail lights, as well as better brakes, while the E- Class for New Zealand buyers comes with the Avantgarde interior package as standard.
And that interior, as we expect from Mercedes-Benz, is high- class, featuring black ash wood trim as standard, although other trim options are available.
Mercedes is keen to point out the big leap forward in telematics on-board its new baby, with the latest Comand system able to seamlessly connect with the Internet via iPhone or Android smart phones, giving access to Mercedes- designed apps for weather, Facebook, news, and Google street view, displayed on a large screen in the dash.
There are five models in the E Class saloon range, plus two wagons.
And it’s the petrol engines which have come in for most changes. All are Euro 6 compliant, and give more power yet better economy, and all have the seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox.
And in one case, replacement of a V8 with a V6 has resulted in a massive price cut without losing out on performance or features. The new 245kW/480Nm petrol 3-litre E 400, which replaces the 4.7-litre E 500, comes in at $131,000, a huge $ 45,900 less than the E 500, and $12,900 less than the old E 350, which it also replaces. And it loses only 0.1 secs in the 0-100km/ h sprint against the V8! Plus fuel consumption ( and emissions) drops dramatically, from 9.9L/100km to 7.6.
For many people the spacious E- Class represents the iconic Mercedes, and the basic model is still a four- cylinder. The E 250 now comes with a 155kW/ 350Nm twolitre turbo- charged direct injection motor, and combined fuel consumption drops to 6.4L/100km, while 0-100km/ h comes up in 7.4 seconds, both figures better than the outgoing model. Price is unchanged at $114,000, but it gets extra features with a value of $ 6,000.
The 2.1-litre E 250 CDI two-stage turbodiesel, which continues unchanged with 150kW/150Nm ( combined fuel economy 4.9L/100km), is priced the same, an increase of $ 4,100, but with extra features valued at $ 8,000. These models were both launched in June.
Similarly the E 350 CDI turbo- diesel shares its features with the E 400. No figures are available yet for this model, but both cars now get Active Park Assist. This helps the driver park the car, where all the driver has to do is accelerate and select drive or reverse gear – the car does the steering AND the braking, the latter a first. The E 400 launch date is September, and the E 350 CDI November.
There’s only one V8 in the NZ line-up, and that’s in the rumbustious E 63 AMG S, with its 430kW/ 800Nm powerhouse – 20kW more than before – and lots of features which include multi- contour seats and climatised front seats. They blow hot or cold air up your back, depending on what you fancy!
Again, pricing is keen compared to the outgoing model, a $ 53,750 saving – and once more there are more features. Launch date is September.
The E 250 CDI wagon, launched in June, comes in at $121,000, and includes a third row seat as standard. This is $1,900 less than the outgoing model, but there’s $15,000 worth of new features.
The E 400 estate, available from September, costs $137,900, $ 5,000 less than its predecessor, but with $ 25,000 of extra features.