First Drive

First Drive: Mercedes E-Class

The story:
It’s mid-life refresh time for Mercedes’ executive saloon, estate, coupe and cabriolet. A new nose and interior tweaks including a new steering wheel and improved tech are the update highlights.
Key rival:BMW 5 Series
MPG:156.9 mpg
On sale:Now

Amid a raft of new products into increasing number of niches, Mercedes-Benz has moved to breathe new life into one of its traditional core offerings, the executive E-class range that is the biggest-selling line in the company’s history.

The revised model is easy to pick out, because the refreshed nose includes a subtler grille and lights combination, while the rear lights have also been updated to a sleeker split cluster that reaches across into the tailgate, rather than the more rounded but smaller previous iteration.

First Drive- August 2020-Mercedes E-Class- Image 3The cabin also gets some small but significant upgrades, with a new steering wheel and standard fitment of the pair of impressive 12.3-inch screens stretching across the cabin, as well as a couple of clever little bits of technology. The adaptive driver’s seat allows the user to input their height via the touchscreen, at which point the seat automatically adjusts to a position generally suitable, so in theory only fine-tuning is required at that point, although it put me way too high for my liking when tested.  The new steering wheel sensors for whether the driver is holding the wheel when the car is using lane-keep assist to steer now works on a capacitive basis, so can sense the driver’s fingers on the wheel rather than previous systems that required the car to sense minute inputs to know they were still gripping the wheel.

The so-called intelligent steering wheel also inherits the touchpad system seen on Mercedes’ small car family, one on each side to control the two screen displays. They look neat and are clever, but aren’t the easiest to use fluidly while driving, and could be confusing to understand at first glance.

First Drive- August 2020-Mercedes E-Class- Image 2While the E220d diesel model has historically been the best-seller, the plug-in hybrid driven here will take on increased significance in the current climate, where company car drivers are being pushed towards plug-in models due to the very favourable tax situation. In the case of the E-Class, the PHEV comes in saloon and estate form, and petrol or diesel. In the car driven here, that means a combination of 2.0-lirte petrol engine and 13.5kWh battery to offer a 320hp total output and 37g/km CO2 emission figure, along with an official electric-only range of 33-35 miles. The more expensive diesel has a 33g/km CO2 figure and EV range of 32-34 miles, although a higher fuel economy figure as the diesel is more economical than the petrol once than battery is depleted. It’s also worth noting that the battery packaging takes out a huge amount of boot space, making it look like someone has left a permanent box across almost a quarter of the space. Officially the numbers drop from 540 litres to 400, but a big chunk of practicality goes with it.

Mercedes also offers 48V mild-hybrid technology in the entry petrol engine.

With the E-Class fundamentally unchanged from a chassis and engineering point of view, it remains a comfortable, smooth and quiet way to travel, albeit not as nimble in the turns as its BMW 5-Series arch rival.

But the PHEV is well-priced against plug-in hybrids from Audi, BMW and Volvo, and although they are all in the same 10% BiK band, the Audi has the lowest CO2 figure of the bunch. But the E-Class comes out best for residual value and overall running costs, making the PHEV an intelligent and comfortable business choice.

Paul barker

The verdict

Minor E-Class update brings some subtle upgrades inside and out, but probably isn’t enough to sway the choice for or against the Merc versus its talented rivals.