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Driven: Mercedes-Benz E 220 d. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

Driven: Mercedes-Benz E 220 d
New engine, new interior, new executive benchmark - this is the glorious Mercedes E 220 d.

 



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Mercedes-Benz E 220 d

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: best-looking Mercedes saloon, exquisite interior, unparalleled refinement, new 2.0-litre diesel engine is a gem.

Not so good: never that exciting to drive, can easily get very pricey with options.

Key Facts

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line
Price: from 35,935; 220 d AMG Line from 38,430; 50,090 as tested
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 112g/km (Band C, 0 VED first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 72.4mpg
Top speed: 149mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Power: 194hp at 3,800rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1,600- to 2,800rpm

Our view:

Realisation dawned on me on that annoying sod of a section of the M25, late on a Friday evening. I can't remember where I'd flown back from but it was into Heathrow Terminal 5 and our plane had landed at gone 9pm. Yet, despite that - and despite the fact I'm still one of those nave parochial types who believes rush hour should genuinely be 60 minutes of traffic chaos focused around 5.30pm - the M25/M4 interchange was jammed solid. Given I'd got another 150 miles to get home and was now looking at an ETA in the early hours of Saturday morning rather than late Friday night, it might have been a moment to lose my cool and rant about the dreadful state of Britain or something.

But I didn't. I simply sat there, astonished and with a moronic, gaping-mouthed grin on my face. Because the car I was in was driving for me. Its radar cruise was maintaining a respectable distance to the vehicle in front, without wildly accelerating or braking like it was enacting an emergency stop on a driving test. And the 1,695 driver assist pack meant I could take my hands off the wheel for extended periods of time, without the display screen in front of me flashing up dire warnings of retribution should I fail to accede to the car's demands. In short, the self-driving car had already arrived and was easing fifty grand's worth of executive saloon along without any need for me to intervene.

As a way of completely taking the sting out of a stupid 10pm snarl-up on the road to Hell, it was remarkable, but what it better did was serve as another demonstration of why the new Mercedes E-Class might just be the car to finally vanquish BMW's almighty 5 Series. Mercedes always releases each generation of the E ahead of BMW's class titan and the Audi A6, and this 'W213' MkV (the E-Class name officially started with the W124 in 1993) is no exception. So you'd expect the Merc to be class leader, given it's currently up against the 'F10' 5 Series and 'C7' A6 - both of which are five years old and due for replacement any day now. What was perhaps harder to foresee is that the E-Class is so good, it's difficult to envisage a way in which the impending BMW can knock it from its perch.

Oh, sure, the E 220 d - driven here in AMG Line trim - isn't dynamically sharp. The steering's better than expected and the body control is good (we'll come to the suspension in more detail in a moment), while the new engine is more willing to rev and much punchier than its noisy 2.1-litre predecessor. But while you can hustle the E-Class along, it's never massively exciting to do so. It puts on a competent, assured handling display in the same way that Rufus Sewell is an interesting actor, yet you'd probably rather be watching Nicolas Cage giving it mad eyes in one of his typically absurd performances*. So yeah, we'd expect the seventh-gen BMW 5 Series to retain its crown for 'Best Chassis' when it appears some time in 2017, and you could also make the very reasonable case that the Mk2 Jaguar XF is a more entertaining car to drive than the E-Class.

Yet, as I get older, I realise that having a fabulous chassis isn't the priority any more, certainly not in cars like this. Unimpeachable comfort and technological marvels, however, they're much more important. It's here that the E 220 d unquestionably proves its credentials - and yes, I'm sure you've noticed that the test car was a phenomenal 50,090. This sounds a ludicrous amount of money for a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel saloon, and it in many ways it is, but two things save it: one, in this specification, the quality of the Mercedes E 220 d is so high that it feels easily worth twice as much; and two, you can do much the same thing with its rivals - for instance, only a few weeks prior to the Mercedes we had a Jaguar XF 163hp R-Sport diesel costing 47,585 on test. And it didn't feel anything like as special as the German car.

Some of the options fitted are necessary to make the E-Class feel its sumptuous best. Chief among them are those two glorious 12.3-inch TFT screens within, one for the instrument cluster and one for the Comand infotainment and satnav. They sit alongside each other and make for one of the most elegant, brilliantly laid-out dashboards in the business. You can display multiple different types of information across the two screens, such as the map, what music you're listening to and the trip computer, rather than having to choose one or the other as on other cars. And you control them, intuitively, via two neat little touch pads on the left and right spokes of the steering wheel, meaning you're not prodding about blindly with your left hand trying to change the satnav view while speeding along the M6. As standard, the E-Class gets an 8.4-inch screen for the Comand system, but pay 1,495 for Comand Online and that brings the 12.3-inch item, while another 495 adds the matching instrument cluster. It really, really is worth ticking both boxes when specifying an E-Class.

The rest of the E's interior is similarly brilliant, as it's beautifully finished and magnificent to look at. Nappa leather (1,595; Artico man-made leather and Dinamica cloth is standard) leads to seats that are almost as nice to gaze upon as they are to park your backside in, while the 64-shade adjustable ambient lighting is not as gimmicky as it sounds. Choose a nice mid-blue and the Merc's cabin is suffused with a thoroughly classy glow at night. Spacious, well-equipped, not in the least bit infuriating in terms of ergonomics: this is comfortably Mercedes' best cabin yet.

Outside, it is a case of big-version-of-a-C-Class-which-in-turn-is-a-shrunken-S-Class design, but the E-Class seems to wear the current corporate styling better than either of its stablemates. It's proportionally better at the rear haunches/windscreen area than the four-door C and it's sleeker than the S, while AMG Line trim with its bigger air intakes, subtly muscular lower body styling and 19-inch alloys, suits the E 220 d without making it appear gauche. Granted, the recently announced Estate version is prettier again, but there's no doubting the E-Class saloon is a thoroughly handsome bit of kit.

Back onto the options again and another essential has to be the 1,495 Air Body Control air suspension. There's a five-mile lane linking my village to the nearest big A-road and it's pretty much a shambles for its entire length, rucked up like a badly laid carpet by tree roots and years of minimal investment, littered with yawning potholes and featuring crumbling edges that lead into mini-ravines whose sole purpose seems to be to comprehensively ruin any alloy wheels that dare to venture into them. And the E 220 d glided along this lane so serenely that The Wife, who normally only ever complains about ride quality in test cars, felt moved to profess that the Mercedes was the best thing she'd ever travelled in, and that's a list that includes various Bentleys, Range Rovers and Jaguars. She might even have mentioned the oft-derided words 'magic carpet'...

So once the E-Class was out on the sort of roads it was designed for, such as fast A-roads and motorways, its ride was faultless. The E 220 d spent most of the 447 miles I spent behind its flat-bottomed steering wheel giving the singular impression that it wasn't connected to the road at all. This unremitting ride comfort turns potentially infuriating hundred-mile-plus commutes into complete non-events, a feeling of wellbeing only enhanced by the supreme levels of noise suppression Mercedes has engineered into the big saloon.

Which brings us to the biggest talking point of all, the engine. After eight years of service, the venerable - and noisy - OM651 2.1-litre Mercedes turbodiesel has been retired, in favour of this 2.0-litre OM654 unit. This is the first in a family of modular turbodiesel lumps coming from the three-pointed star in coming years, with Mercedes saying the pioneer 194hp engine is more powerful, more efficient and more subdued than its predecessor. And it is, quite markedly so. It isn't, however, completely silent or indeed class-leading on the noise front; the Volkswagen Group's 2.0 TDI probably takes that accolade.

Nevertheless, the OM654 can still be categorised as a 'peach'. It's so smooth from idle to redline, never once introducing shudders into the cabin or transmitting them through the steering wheel/pedals, and though you can hear its exertions once the rev counter passes 3,500rpm, it doesn't become coarse or wheezy. In fact, it likes to pull hard right the way to 4,500rpm and beyond, and it provides the E 220 d with more than adequate pace in all conditions as a consequence. Even better, it's realistically excellent on fuel. Maybe not 72.4mpg excellent, true, but after its sentient driving display along the clogged western artery of the M25, the E 220 d then breezed its way 153 miles back home at 57.6mpg with a 54mph average speed, in a little less than three stress-free hours. During the 447-mile week, it managed 49.5mpg overall at 41mph and it wasn't driven carefully all the time, either.

All told, it wasn't just the spooky way the E 220 d negotiated the M25 on its own that won me over. It was the fact it is dripping with absolutely top-level quality in every single department. Even the road-holding, clearly its weakest facet, is good enough for most people's needs. The latest Jaguar XF is already relegated to second place in the class, yet what's even more astonishing is that I cannot fathom how BMW and Audi can make their mid-sized execs any better than this. Fifty grand it may have been, but as the Mercedes E 220 d is absolutely bang on its design brief, such money no longer seems outrageous for a car that's close to perfection.
* = not his performance in the remake of The Wicker Man, though. Dear God, that's a bad film.

Alternatives:

BMW 520d M Sport: getting on in years now and an all-new one is in the pipeline. Still a tough car to beat - but unless you need ultimate B-road ability, the E 220 d has it comfortably covered.

Jaguar XF 2.0d R-Sport: You'll want the 180hp version, which is less powerful, but torquier than the Merc. Great ride, good handling, nice looks... yet Jag's interior not a patch on the E-Class's cabin.

Lexus GS 300h: with no diesel option, the clever hybrid petrol is the alternative. Great looking car and a natty EV powertrain, all undone by a CVT and odd interior ergonomics.


Matt Robinson - 1 Jul 2016









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2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz E 220 d AMG Line. Image by Mercedes-Benz.








 

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