Lisbon, Portugal –
Driving enthusiasts are an endangered species. After all, Google’s already proven that humans are terrible drivers and while cars aren’t totally autonomous just yet, cars can already take a lot of the workload off the driver.
Let’s face it: Not everyone wants, needs (or can afford) a 1,500bhp hypercar, or even something more ‘modest’ like a rear-wheel drive Lambo or an Aston DB11. In fact the most popular type of luxury cars here have always been big sedans with modest engines, like the Lexus ES 250, the BMW 520i and of course, the Mercedes-Benz E 200.
This is the new, tenth-gen E-Class (depending on where you start counting) and it shares much with the latest-gen S-Class and C-Class sedans too: Curvy new design language, swoopy, luxurious interiors and, in the case of the former, two 12.3-inch screens that form a ‘glass cockpit’ (no conventional instruments, except in base spec cars).
It’s 4,923mm long, just 43mm more than before. But the wheels have been pushed out within the body so the track is wider (20mm in front, 7mm in the rear) and the wheelbase grows by an enormous 65mm – at the very least it can now rub its bigness in BMW’s face, since the car’s now larger than the previously class-leading (in terms of room) BMW 5 Series.
Driven here is the mid-level E 300 model with a 245bhp, 2.0-litre turbo engine. There’s also a 184bhp E 200, 333bhp E 400, two diesel models in the E 220d and E 350d, plus a plug-in hybrid, the E350e.
The E 300 also packs a nine-speed gearbox, Merc’s latest, and is everything you’d expect: It handles easily, almost languidly, there’s just the right amount of thrust from the drivetrain (depending on the mode you select), while the air suspension (likely a cost option in Singapore) delivers a smooth, ride that highlights the very refined nature of the car.
But the new E-Class might be pushing a different kind of luxury as well: The luxury of not having to do everything yourself.
In terms of tech benchmarks, the E-Class doesn’t push boundaries radically, but what it does is bring a practical application of semi-autonomous driving further than it’s been. In cars, advanced sensors, cameras and radar isn’t new, and neither is being able to help you steer, but Merc’s Drive Pilot does almost everything for you at speeds of up to 130km/h.
It’ll doesn’t need lines on the road to follow, it’ll help you change lane and even keep to posted speed limits. From behind the wheel, this means the driver can almost choose not to drive so ‘hands-on’ when he or she wants, which is exactly what we did: Up in the hills we took over to enjoy the turbo engine’s torque and the car’s balanced handling, then let the car do the drudgery when coming back into rush-hour Lisbon.
Not only will the safety systems mitigate collisions if you have a fender bender, you can arrive at your destination and the car will park itself too.
There’s a new Remote Parking Pilot system that lets the car self-park once you’ve selected a lot – it works quickly and it can detect multiple lots too. That might be a futile point though, as the new 7 Series has a similar feature, although it’s not been approved for Singapore.
If that’s not enough, the steering wheel now has touch controls (one for each screen, above), you can use an NFC-enabled smartphone as a key. It might be all too much for some, but no doubt Mercedes will sell a no-frills E 200 for those that want one. But models like that would be missing out on the next kind of luxury – the luxury of not having to do all the driving.
Mercedes-Benz E 300
Engine 1,991cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 245bhp at unknown rpm
Torque 370Nm at unknown rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100kmh 6.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.6L/100km
Availability Q3 2016