A mid-life revamp brings new digital features to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but tones down its visual opulence. Both point the way to Mercedes’ future.
SINGAPORE — There’s a new Mercedes E-Class in Singapore, and that is a major dealio. In fact, as the most senior dude in the CarBuyer office, I can attest to the E-Class being the brightest star in the Mercedes constellation. The brand has sold 14 million of them, if you count related models that go all the way back to 1946. I learnt that from the press release, by the way. I’m senior, but not that senior.
Anyway, I distinctly remember being at the launch of the 2002 model in Seville and hearing the product team, with almost teary-eyed pride, describe it as “everything we know in one car”. From an engineering-obsessed company like Mercedes, that’s saying something.
The latest E-Class isn’t an all-new car but a facelifted one, so perhaps it isn’t quite as tech-laden as its makers would like it to be, but new connectivity features make it feel pretty cutting edge. And it still embodies what a car with a three-pointed star has to offer.
That’s in spite of the fact that its mid-life facelift has made it look startlingly different, but not in the way Lara Flynn Boyle no longer looks like Lara Flynn Boyle.
It’s still recognisably an E-Class, even though the front grille is smaller and the headlamps are noticeably more slender. At the back, designers altered things even more dramatically, with horizontal taillamps replacing the tasteful wraparound items on the pre-facelift car.
Like what you see? Hope so, because the toned-down looks are in line with how Mercedes wants its cars to look from now on, as we enter what the company describes as a “post-opulence” era. The new S-Class, which arrives later this year, is much the same: clean, simple and elegant.
“Luxury of the past century was gold faucets and velvet drapes in an apartment in Paris,” Mercedes chairman Ola Kallenius told us about that car. “Modern luxury is more understated.”
Mind you, you can still have your E-Class in three guises, and not all are as understated as the Exclusive version you see here. There’s the Avantgarde trim, which costs S$9,000 less and has twin chrome louvres and vertical slats in the grille, along with two power domes on the bonnet. Here’s what it looks like:
The new E-Class even comes with three different steering wheel designs, because why shouldn’t you have your Mercedes just the way you like it?
Then there’s the AMG Line version (pictured below, yours for S$10,000 more than the Exclusive variant), which actually has a different grille shape altogether and a sportier bumper design with larger air scoops, not to mention larger (19”) wheels.
That brings us to another point, which is that like the other Mercedes models, the E-Class is a family of cars in itself. For now the Singapore lineup is all E 200s, but there’s some chance you’ll see the more brawny E 350 and the sporty Mercedes-AMG E 53 roll in, too. Then there’s the utterly bonkers E 63 S, which is powerful enough to rip a hole in the space-time continuum itself.
Want a faster or sexier E-Class? The E 53 4Matic is here, along with Coupe and Cabriolet versions…
Till then, we have 197 horsepower to play with. That isn’t a mountain of hp, but the E 200 hikes its skirt up and gets going pretty gamely when you stand on the right pedal.
The nine-speed transmission helps there, and if you’re in Sport mode the Mercedes is actually a lively car, and feels like one.
It still slings around corners nicely, too, and driving it has made me scratch my head and wonder why people think only BMWs are for keen drivers and Mercedes-Benzes are for their uncles. At the very least, the E 200’s taut handling and gentle but accurate steering mean it never feels cumbersome to drive.
If anything, the suspension is just about as firm as you can get before things start to get uncomfortable. That being so, think carefully before you spring for the Avantgarde or AMG Line versions, because both of those cars come with lowered suspension that’s even firmer.
And giving your E 200 a bouncy ride would be a shame, because the interior remains as sumptuous as it always was, with the sort of plush seating that works best if the going is calm.
The facelift hasn’t brought enormous change, so the cabin is still a paragon of soft materials and soothing curvature, dominated by the twin 12.3-inch screens that make up the modern Mercedes interior.
As with any mid-life facelift, there are new features, many of them useful. For instance, you can now punch your height into the MBUX system (the interface that replaces the old Comand system) and the Mercedes sets the seat position to suit.
The steering wheel spokes have been wiped clean of buttons, and in their place are touch sensitive pads that look infinitely neater. Mind you, looks aren’t everything, because every so often my palm would brush the surface and end up turning the radio on accidentally.
One day even those touchpads will become obsolete, because voice control will replace them. That much is suggested by the “Hey, Mercedes!” voice-activated system that is meant to interpret your spoken commands. But it feels like early days yet — the E 200 either had trouble with my accent or I kept saying the wrong things to it. Getting your E-Class’ infotainment system to do what you want is still best done via the touchscreen or touchpads.
Somewhat more useful for now is the ability to sync the E-Class with your phone, through the Mercedes me connect companion app. You can use it to do any number of useful things — remotely lock (or unlock) the car, discover its whereabouts, keep track of your service appointments, send a navigation destination to the MBUX system, that sort of stuff.
Will the app nudge a buyer off the fence and into Mercedes’ arms? It’s tough to say, but Audi and BMW have had similar offerings here for years, so it’s high time Mercedes got into the act. An E-Class ought to lead instead of follow.
Overall, though, the E 200 will probably sell on the strength of the more traditional qualities that people here want from a Mercedes: refinement, a modern yet soothing cabin and elegant design. Then of course, there’s star quality.
Oddly enough, I never felt myself old enough to desire what has been the most popular Mercedes in the brand’s history, but I could see myself behind the wheel of the current model.
Seniority could be catching up with me, but I suspect (or hope) that it might instead be that the mid-life revamp has made the E-Class younger.
|Mercedes-Benz E 200 Exclusive|
|Engine 1,991cc, turbo in-line four|
|Power 197hp at 5,500 to 6,100rpm|
|Torque 320Nm at 1,650 to 4,000rpm|
|Gearbox 9-speed automatic|
|0-100km/h 7.5 seconds|
|Top Speed 240km/h|
|Fuel Efficiency 7.9L/100km|
|Agent Cycle & Carriage|
|Price S$285,888 with COE|
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