Model tested: Mercedes E-Class E 280 CDI Elegance
Price as tested: £35,697
Range price: £27,802 - £67,597
Insurance group as tested: 16A
Insurance group range: 15A - 20A
Date tested: August 2007
Road tester: Stuart Milne
Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 81%
The Mercedes E-Class has traditionally gone head to head with the BMW 5 Series. But while BMW took some huge risks with the look of the Five, Mercedes has followed its traditional route – classy and understated.
This model may have been around since 2003, but the comprehensive facelift in 2006 kept the E-Class at the head of the pack.
We took to the road in an E 280 CDI for a week to see whether the changes have made an impact.
For anyone who hasn't driven a Mercedes before, there's a huge sense of occasion staring down the bonnet at the three-pointed star sitting proud on the car's nose. It’s a true automotive icon. The E-Class is immediately identifiable from its saloon car relations by four headlights up front. It’s a sleek-looking car, with a sloping rear and almost looks like it's moving at speed when it's standing still. Our Elegance test car (the second of four trim levels) features 16-inch alloys and body coloured/chrome rubbing strips along the sides.
The mid-sized Benz feels exceptionally luxurious inside, with leather seats and door cards – the latter of which are padded like a high quality sofa. There's a swathe of 'wood' trim, which works its way from the doors and across the dashboard, bowing out in the centre console which houses most of the car's ancillary controls. The car's dials are understated but very clear. A speedo needle which wraps around the outer edges of the speedometer allows a circular space in the centre for the trip computer. The armrest lifts to reveal a small cubbyhole, while the lid splits and opens to provide a home for the telephone integration system. All of the controls are well laid out, with only the strange plastic covered buttons on the steering wheel feeling a little cheap.
There's a huge amount of room for both front and rear seat passengers, especially in the rear, where leg and headroom is particularly good. With 540 litres of space in the boot, it's not the biggest, and the saloon car bootlid means loading bulky items can be tricky. There are plenty of storage spaces in the cabin, including a pop-out tray for change next to the glovebox.
Our test car was fitted with Mercedes' Airmatic suspension system, allowing the driver to optimise the suspension through one of three progressively stiffer setups – Comfort, Sport 1 and Sport 2. It also had the facility to raise or lower the suspension to make negotiating speed bumps easier. The car is best suited to a fast cruise, although selecting one of the Sport modes allows the E to become an accomplished B-road beast – although not up to the standards of BMW's 5 Series. Ride was excellent on all but the bumpiest of roads, while wind and road noise was minimal.
The E-Class range offers something for everyone – from a wheezy 1.8-litre petrol, through a variety of excellent diesels to the supercar slaying E 63 AMG. The 3-litre diesel fitted to our E 280 CDI was superbly refined and offered very good performance – 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 149mph. Having said that, the E felt slower than the figures suggest. The power was transmitted to the rear wheels via an automatic gearbox, which had a six-speed semi-auto mode.
At almost £36,000, the E 280 Elegance we drove is a lot of money, especially when the options are factored in. We managed around 27mpg, well down on the official figure of 34.4mpg. Emissions of 195g/km place the Merc in tax Band F, which currently costs £205 per year. Insurance groups across the whole range are about typical for this kind of car. It's not all bad news though; used values are exemplary.
Despite its facelift in 2006, many of the E-Class' components date back to 2002, and are well proven. In fact many of the replacements were to answer reliability problems with early cars, and needed to be extra tough. Every panel and piece of trim looks and feels high quality and the fit and finish is as good as it gets.
The E-Class scored a full five stars for adult occupant protection in the EuroNCAP crash test programme. It features driver, passenger, front side and curtain airbags across the range, brake lights which flash under emergency braking and adaptive brake system, which incorporates hill hold, brake drying, hill start assist and priming. All models come with electronic stability programme (ESP), ABS with brake assist, whiplash-reducing active headrests and a tyre pressure monitoring system. The Elegance model adds an automatically-dimming rear view mirror. Mercedes' Pre-Safe system is also available, which automatically tensions the seatbelts, closes the windows and sunroof, and moves the electric front passenger seat (if fitted) to maximise the airbag's effectiveness.
The E-Class is better equipped than many other Mercedes. All models get climate control, electric windows front and rear, partial electric front seats, a radio/CD with nine speakers and telephone keypad. Many of the accessories fitted to our test car were costly options, including the sat-nav (£1,990), leather upholstery (£1,280) and metallic paint at a hefty £620.
The E-Class is an excellent all-rounder. It remains competitive in terms of the way it drives and the comfort it offers. With its understated styling, the E-Class has – and will continue – to win over thousands of motorists.
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