Car Test   R0307
January 2003
  Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: E220 CDi Elegance Saloon
Were we seriously to criticise the old E-Class saloon or estate version, we would have a host of satisfied owners on our backs. Safe stolid reliability goes a long way, but the truth is that the E-Class never came anywhere near the BMW 5-Series in terms of entertaining road manners. Its relaxed main-road progress could be undermined by the jitters at lower speed, too.
   But now the new (slightly more expensive) saloon has arrived, with an upgraded specification: alloy wheels, full climate control and generous safety features are standard on the “basic” 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 has so far eluded us, but apparently its Supercharger's power delivery is now more mechanically refined, thanks to contra-rotating balancer shafts in the sump.
   This 220CDi (turbo-charged) 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, you’ll 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 more verve, but the standard suspension checks too abruptly over poorer 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. It’s 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 driver’s cockpit is a modicum of elegant ergonomics, with plenty of adjustments. In fact, the cabin is much improved in both style and function, and there are no complaints about back seat comfort, either - unless you’re very long -legged or you’re the one in the middle - a prominent centre hump and less leg room than before are apparent.
   This new saloon’s boot is significantly longer instead, but tilting rear backrests (run-of-the-mill on cheaper rivals) still cost extra.
   Mercedes don’t have deadlocks (the company doesn’t believe in them). Nevertheless, both security and safety are taken very seriously; the E-Class is the first volume-car to incorporate 'Sensotronic' braking by wire. No, not cable brakes, but a computer that actuates 'Sensotronic' braking by wire. No, not cable brakes, but a computer that actuates the hudraulics to each wheel.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Safety Euro NCAP
Security, theft of  not available
theft from  not available
  • double sun visors - ideal on winding roads/low sun
  • light and rain sensors work well
  • height plus rake settings for wheel and seat cushions
  • gentle background interior lighting at night
  • 'old fashioned' analogue clock
  • front belt sockets are a struggle to locate
  • prominent rear centre hump
  • door mirrors' field of view not ideal
  • Classic's mirrors don't fold, either
  • our folding back seat should be standard
This E-Class is real class - and you don’t have to pay big money to get leading edge technology. Of course, the competition is fierce - there are no bad cars in this market segment - but Mercedes-Benz dynamic appeal has, in the past, really been restricted to versions wearing an AMG badge. This E-Class diesel, despite being one of the cheapest in the range, displays integrity, frugality and driver enjoyment in equal measure.

engine 2148cc, 4-cylinder, diesel with balancer shafts; 150bhp at 4000rpm, 251 lb ft at 2000rpm; chain-driven double overhead camshafts, 16 valves   transmission 5-speed stepped automatic (6-speed manual option), rear-wheel drive; 31.2mph/1000rpm in 5th, 25.9 in 4th
suspension front: independent four-link with coil springs
rear: independent multi-link with coil springs
  steering hydraulic power assistance; 2.75 turns lock-to-lock; 10.8m diameter turning circle between kerbs (15.4m for one turn of the wheel)
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear, with standard ABS and electro-hydraulic activation   wheels/tyres 7.5in alloy with 225/55R16V tyres (Continental on test car); temporary-use spare

body large/executive 4-door (premium-priced) saloon; estate car mid-2003   trim levels Classic, Elegance, Avantgarde
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.8 litre (super charged)/163bhp, V6/2.6/177, V6/3.2/224, V8/5.0/306, AMG V8/5.45/476
diesel: 4/2.15/150, 5/2.7/177, V6/3.2/224
  drive 5-speed stepped automatic (with semi-manual mode) standard on 6- and 8-cylinder cars; 6-speed manual on the rest (with optional clutchless semi-automatic on E200K. Rear-wheel drive

HOW THE E220 CDI COMPARES engine (cyl/cc/bhp) revs at 70mph (rpm) 30-70 through gears (sec) 30-70mph in 4th/5th gears (sec) fuel (mpg/CO2) brakes from 50mph (kg/m) maximum legroom - front (cm) typical leg/kneeroom - rear (cm) steering turns/circle (m) overall length (cm)
Mercedes-Benz E220 CDi 4/2148/150 2240 10.0 auto 40.5/177 14/24.5 117 102/78 2.7/10.8 482
Renault Vel Satis 3.0 dCi V6/2958/180 2240 8.9 auto 31/232 18/25.5 112 104/79 3.2/11.1 482
Volvo S80 D5 5/2435/163 2430 9.3 auto 36/207 16/25 111 105/82 3.1/11.8 482
Peugeot 607 2.2 HDi 4/2179/136 2350 14.5+ auto 38/193 n/a 112 102/76 3.2/11.3 487
BMW 530d 6/2926/184 2040 8.2 auto 35.5/221 15/24 116 103/77 3.0/11.0 478
Audi A6 TDi# V6/2496/155 2120 8.9# manual 44#/186 19/23 109 103/76 2.8/11.1 480
  + estimated  # rear seat folded (optional)

Lots of seat adjustment (some electric) which, with wheel reach/rake, guarantees a good position for all shapes and sizes; lumbar support better, too. Clear, near-accurate dials with sophisticated information display. Nasty foot parking brake less of a nuisance on an automatic.
Despite press comment, we still rate this car's handling and, especially its steering, as less precise and poised than the BMW 5-Series. It's vastly better than its predecessor, however. Poor self-centring on street corners, but a good lock.
Although both absorbent and thump-free over ruts, this E-Class still reveals some cushioned, wobbly agitation on its standard steel springs. Impeccable climate control all round, little engine noise, even from a cold start, and an aura of dignified well-being.

This lowest-powered version still gives adequate overtaking response and the 'box is very smooth and shift-sensitive. Best not to manually override - it knows best and isn't a truly manual mode option, like some.
  acceleration in seconds using kickdown in D* using manual hold
  20-40mph 3.2 3.2
  30-50mph 4.0 4.0
  40-60mph 5.0 5.0
  50-70mph 6.0 6.0
  30-70mph 10.0 10.0
  max speed in each gear (* using 4350rpm for best acceleration)
     gear      1st*      2nd*      3rd*      4th*      5th
     speed (mph)      28.5      46.5      75.5      112.5      129 (4125rpm)

No complaints here - a long main-road drive gives the best results, however. Of course, the six-speed manual will do even better and sounds attractive. The Audi A6 Multitronic is the only auto that will improve on these results.
  type of use (air conditioning off) AA test (mpg) 
    urban (17mph average/heavy traffic) 25
    suburban (27mph average/6.4 miles from cold start) 29
    motorway (70mph cruising) 46
    cross-country (brisk driving/20 miles from cold start) 41
    rural (gentle driving/20 miles from cold start) 45
    overall mpg 40.5
    realistic tank capacity/range 59/525
    official mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 28.8/53.3/42.2
    CO2 emissions 177g/km
    car tax band D

Isofix child anchorages are a low-cost option. Excellent NCAP test results, as you would expect. Braking by wire (ie electronics) is standard - it gives faster response to pedal applications and avoids 'rain-fade'. Pedestrian impact results poor.
  from 50mph (with standard ABS)
front impact     81%
side impact     100%
overall     90%
overall safety rating    
pedestrian rating    
pedal load     stopping distance
unhurried 10kg     30m
sudden 14kg     24.5m best stop
+ 4kg 18kg     25m
fade resistance/consistency    
Euro NCAP = European New Car Assessment Programme: independent crash safety tests evaluating protection for occupants and pedestrians in an offset frontal collision, side impacts and pedestrian strike conditions
click here for more NCAP details/test results etc.

Hard to see car's extremities, but clever rear head restraints have a remote control. Adequate rear passenger space, but headroom curtailed by optional twin sunroofs. Big boot, modest sill - our car's optional seat folding (£330) desirable.
  in centimetres (4-door saloon)
  length 482
  width - including mirrors 201
    - mirrors folded~ 182
  height 145
  load sill height (inside/outside) 13/66
  turns lock-to-lock 2.75
  turning circle (metres) 10.8
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 88-117
    - headroom 88-97-(91-99)§
  rear - typical legroom 102
    - typical kneeroom 78
    - headroom 93 (94)§
    - hiproom 134
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 109-175#
  load length to facia no
  load width 95-147
  load height 46
§ no sunroof  ~ won't fold on Classic  # rear seat folded (optional)

Folding seat retains boot security and the locks and alarm work unobtrusively. Good courtesy lighting on entry and egress, as well. There's a keyless option, if you think it necessary or desirable - at £860!
central locking  
remote control  
remote window closing  
alarm (perimeter + interior)   
self-locking (static + drive-off)   
two-stage unlocking   
attack-resistant glass   
AA load area security rating
=standard    =option    =not available
NCSR - "theft of" not available
NCSR - "theft from" not available
NCSR = New Car Security Ratings: a 1 to 5 star system which rates anti-theft protection, both of the car itself and the theft of valuables from within the car
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