Car Test   R0248
 
June 2002
First Drive Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: E220 CDi Classic
Were we seriously to criticise the old E-Class saloon or estate version, we would have a host of satisfied owners to answer to. Safe, stolid reliability goes a long way, but the truth is that the E-Class never came anywhere near BMWís 5 Series in terms of entertaining road manners. Its relaxed main-road progress could be undermined by the jitters at lower speed too.
   The new (slightly more expensive) saloon has just arrived, with an upgraded specification: alloy wheels, full climate control and generous safety features are standard on the ďbasicĒ Classic version, for example. Look seriously at this trim level if your performance requirement is modest- both of the smaller-engine options (petrol and diesel) are worthy of serious consideration, at still sensible money.
   The 200 Kompressor isnít launched just yet, but apparently its supercharged power delivery is now more mechanically refined, thanks to contra-rotating balance shafts in the sump.
   The 220 CDi (Turbocharged) diesel shares this feature and it works a treat, giving exemplary mechanical manners.
   Our car was an automatic (most E Class Mercedes are), but remember, if fuel economy and/or emissions are important to you, youíll do better with a manual Merc.
   The new E Class has tried hard to throw off its dowager image. It certainly steers and corners with a lot more verve, but the standard suspension checks too abruptly over secondary roads.
   There is a solution, however- opt for the airmatic suspension (for £1240 extra) and any complaints will be quelled, as will the bumps. Itís clever because a console switch enables the firmer ride to be restored, should the mood take you. This system looks especially attractive on the estate car (due later), as well. The driverís cockpit is a modicum of elegant ergonomics, with plenty of adjustments to wheel and seat including lumber thrust (the previous model didnít have it, but sorely needed it.)
   The cabin is much improved in both style and function, and there are no complaints about back seat comfort either- unless youíre very long legged or you want to carry three adults there- a prominent centre hump and less legroom than before are apparent.
   This new saloonís boot is significantly longer instead, but tilting rear backrests (run-of-the-mill on cheaper rivals) still cost extra on this Classic version.
   Mercedes donít have deadlocks (they donít believe in them), but otherwise, both security and safety are taken very seriously; the E-Class is the first volume Ėcar to incorporate ďSensotronicĒ braking by wire. No-not cable brakes, but a computer that actuates the hydraulics to each wheel.
  
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • integrated, flush-fit of radio in facia
  • "jaws" style centre console lid
  • easy-to-maintain wiper blades
  • electrically powered rear headrests
and GRIPES
  • folding back seat £330 extra
  • door mirrors don't fold on Classic
  • steering needlessly heavy at low speed
  • temporary spare wheel only
VERDICT
This E-Class is real class- and you donít have to pay big money to get leading edge technology. At long last, there are engines and a chassis that can take on the BMW 5-Series- and all for under thirty grand, with the promise of over forty to the gallon.


THE E-CLASS RANGE
size and type large/executive 4-door saloon - estate car due 2003   trim levels Classic, Elegance, Avantgarde
engines petrol: V6cyl/2.6 litre/177bhp, V6/3.2/224, V8/5.0/306. E200 Kompressor and AMG E55 later diesel: 4/2.15/150, 5/2.7/177, 3.2/224bhp. (at launch)   drive 5-speed stepped automatic standard with 6 and 8 cylinder engines; 6-speed manual on the rest (with optional clutchless semi-automatic on E200K). Rear-wheel drive
notable features Drive-by-wire accelerator and brakes. Airmatic (dual-control) semi-active suspension, electric supplementary heater with diesels,electronic stability control standard, plus 6 airbags with roll-over sensing; alloy wheels, alarm, climate control, wiper rain-sensor, rear centre armrest on Classic.

VITAL STATISTICS (cm)
length x width(inc mirrors) 480x201
front
- legroom 88-117
- headroom(no sunroof) 91-99
rear
- typical legroom 102
- typical kneeroom 78
- headroom 94
- hiproom 134
load space(litres/cu ft) 600/21.3
load length 109-175+
load width 95-147
load sill height (inside/outside) 127/65
boot height 46
+ folding seat option on Classic
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