First Drive: The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a classy, frugal executive saloon

What is it?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

In the world of Mercedes-Benz saloons, you tend to think of the C-Class, which has been one of the big players in the executive car class for decades now, while the S-Class sits at the top of the premium car world, with a high-class interior and innovative technology. But in between the two sits the E-Class.

The good thing about that, though, is that it’s given some of the technology from its bigger brother but with a slightly more down-to-earth style inside and out, taking on the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF. The result? With over 14 million saloons and estates sold since 1946, it’s the best-selling model in the firm’s history.

What’s new?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

The E-Class underwent a comprehensive update last year, getting a new exterior with sleeker lights and all-terrain versions more closely linked to Mercedes’ SUVs. It also received some high-tech driver assistance systems including advanced cruise control updates and braking assistance.

Inside it’s more comfortable than before and has a more modern ambience thanks to twin screens (or an optional widescreen upgrade) and voice control. Meanwhile, the engine range includes a variety of petrol, diesel and hybrid options.

What’s under the bonnet?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

Whatever you need the E-Class for, there’s a powertrain that will fit. Lower in the price range you’ll find petrol models that are useful for people who do mixed driving, while the diesels are well-suited to this segment as they’re appropriate for longer-distance motoring.

There’s also a choice of petrol or diesel plug-in hybrid options – the latter being a rare combination – ideal for company car use and those who do a lot of inner-city driving with access to a charger.

Our test car was an E 220 d, which is the entry-level diesel making 191bhp. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and recorded 53.3mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of 139g/km.

Despite being an entry-level engine, it’s brilliantly refined and incredibly frugal – to the point where a long motorway run saw us exceed official numbers. Unless you really need the extra power of the bigger diesels we’d recommend saving your money and going for the E 220 d. It’ll be cheaper to buy and running costs should be lower, too.

What’s it like to drive?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

If you spend hours every day traversing the nation’s motorways and you’re looking for something to be a comfortable companion, the E-Class should be one of the first on the list. It genuinely rivals cars twice the price for its abilities here, with the engine and ride quality seeming to settle into their comfort zone at a 70mph cruise.

However, while some rivals sacrifice a little comfort to be fun in the corners, the E-Class falls behind in this regard. This is far from a car you’ll seek out the twisty long route home for, but the flip side is that when you’ve spent hours behind the wheel on a cross country schlep there are few cars that would leave you feeling fresher.

How does it look?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

If you look around the automotive industry right now, we appear to be in quite a bold era of design, where eye-catching, standout features that grab your attention in a social media feed have become the norm. So while at first the E-Class’s more subtle design can seem underwhelming, it quickly becomes a welcome breath of fresh air.

The Mercedes has a large front grille, but its soft edges and short height mean it looks subdued in other company, while the headlights have a soft, circular shape. There are also few sharp creases in the sides, giving it an almost cutesy feel as the roof curves smoothly into the rear end. There are more rounded edges at the back, completing the car’s subtly elegant appearance.

What’s it like inside?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

If you’re familiar with modern Mercedes you’ll immediately recognise the E-Class’s interior, which is slightly fussier than, say, its BMW rival. That does mean it’s more interesting to look at, though, and it’s great that Mercedes still tries to keep a blend of touchscreens and physical buttons.

The touchscreens are some of the best in the business too, with the large units giving the interior a modern feel, while the actual interface is slick and easy to use. The only downside in the cabin were the seats of our Sport trim, which weren’t particularly cosseting, while the leather wasn’t quite as premium-feeling as you might hope in the segment.

What’s the spec like?

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

Prices start at £39,760 for the Sport trim, with equipment including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, cruise control, heated front seats, and the latest MBUX infotainment system.

Upgrade to the AMG Line from £42,760, and you get 18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded LED headlights, black ash wood trim, and automatic climate control. The plug-in hybrid-only AMG Line Edition has an AMG body styling package and privacy glass.

AMG Line Premium starts at £45,285 and brings 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless go, parking package with a 360-degree camera and augmented reality for the sat nav system.

Finally, the top-spec model (with an unnecessarily long name) is the AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus. It starts at £48,120 and gets 20-inch alloy wheels, panoramic glass sunroof and a Burmester surround sound system.

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz E-Class
(Mercedes-Benz)

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a fantastically executed premium saloon. Its understated looks exude an elegance its rivals can’t muster, and the cabin is as modern and upmarket as anyone could hope for.

It has carved itself a niche in this regard. If you want a little character and driving spirit from your executive car then the BMW 5 Series is for you, but if you’re after something with a simpler, more rational appeal, the E-Class is up there at the top of the class.

  • Mercedes-Benz E 220 d Sport Saloon

  • Price: £40,285

  • Engine: 2.0-litre diesel

  • Power: 191bhp

  • Torque: 400Nm

  • Max speed: 149mph

  • 0-60mph: 7.2 seconds

  • MPG: 53.3

  • Emissions: 139g/km CO2