Mercedes skips to class above
MERCEDES CLAIMS ITS LATEST INCARNATION OF THE E-CLASS HAS LEAPT TWO DECADES IN TECHNOLOGY, AS DRIVEN’S EDITOR REPORTS FROM THE LISBON LAUNCH
Heading to Lisbon airport after the international launch of Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, my taxi is a previous generation of the car, giving me a clear example of the leap in design and technology.
The 10-generation “business limo“ as Mercedes calls it, sits between the luxury S-Class and the brand’s top selling vehicle, the C-Class sedan. But the change from generation nine (the one transporting me to the airport) to the latest generation is more than an advancement of seven product years. Instead, the company says, it’s more of leap of two decades in technology.
Having just spent two days driving the all-new E-Class around the Portuguese capital, I have to agree, especially when I look at the dash of my taxi and dated interior.
Though the inside of the new E-Class has had a shake-up, it’s what is under the bonnet, behind the five cameras around the car and in the boot, where one of the computers is stored, that gives it such a leap of faith.
The E-Class was revealed at last month’s Geneva motor show, and launched to the international media a few days later in Portugal, ready for sale in Europe next month.
New Zealand will get three petrol models (the E200, E300 and E400) and two diesel — the E220d and E350d. The first to arrive here will be the E200, 220d and 350d in July — and around September we will get the E300 and 400 that will be Mercedes-Benz’s big sellers Downunder.
Next year the E350 e (electric plug-in hybrid) will go on sale in New Zealand.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has 64 light options for the interior
Prices of the current E-Class in NZ are from $114,000, but expect that to rise due to the increased technology in the car.
New to the line-up is a 220 2-litre (143kW/400Nm) diesel engine, and we will also get the 300 2-litre (180kW/370Nm) petrol for the first time.
The E400 3-litre (245kW/480Nm) gets 4Matic (Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system) for the first time in our market.
All E-Class models will get the nine-speed 9G-Tronic gearbox.
Mercedes-Benz New Zealand managing director, Ben Giffin, told Driven the E-Class was a “major step towards accident-free driving on our roads”.
“The E-Class offers a wealth of industry-leading innovation to enhance the safety and comfort of the driving experience, the sum of which makes it the most intelligent business saloon available,” he said.
The E300 will be one of the most popular powertrains available in NZ; it also has two large screens in the dash and is one of the most advanced sedans available (below).
It has the S-Class style dual screen integrated into the dash, the C-Class front grille and is one of the most technologically advanced sedans available with a near autonomous driving system called Drive Pilot, touchpads on the steering wheel, and Car Play so you can use smartphone apps.
In our market, the E200 and E220d gain agility control suspension, which lowers the sedan by 15mm, while the top models, E300, 350 and 400 4MATIC all having air body control suspension where you can set the style of ride.
Unfortunately for Kiwi buyers, the Mercedes speed limit assist (where the car recognises speed signs) is not available in our market due to technology difficulties with Australia signage.
We also won’t get Mercedes’ remote parking pilot, where, via an app on your smartphone, you can park the car remotely — as long as you’re 3m from the vehicle and can see it. We don’t get Car-to-X communications, where you can report an accident or traffic jam by touching the infotainment screen and it alerts other vehicles with the app.
The reason we don’t get either of those functions is because they are controlled via Mercedes-Benz Connect Me app is only available in large markets, such as Europe and North America.
But the new E-Class heading our way does get updated self-parking in and now out of parallel and perpendicular spots.
And all models heading downunder get the Avantgarde front grille — rather than the three point star perched on the bonnet — the touchpads on the steering wheel as standard and the new multibeam LED headlights, which are standard on all models E 300 and up. The headlights have 84 individually controlled LED lights that can square off areas (such as cars ahead and coming towards you) so they don’t get dazzled at night by the full beam.
The new lights also highlight road signs and during our evening drive on country roads outside Lisbon, the lights worked amazingly.
But it is Drive Pilot that is the star of the car.
Mercedes-Benz board member, Dr Thomas Weber, told the Australasian media during an interview in Lisbon, that in four years the company will have its first self-drive car available.
“Drive Pilot is the … next big step for full autonomy,” said Dr Weber.
“By 2020 we are close to (full autonomy) though there lies the question — what does full autonomy mean?”
Currently, the E-Class will only let you have your hand off the steering for close to two minutes. We tested it on the motorway outside Lisbon and my colleague had his hands off the wheel for 1m 46sec before the car took action.
Drive Pilot has 30-second intervals of first visual then audible warnings before the car decelerates by itself, and at 60km/h, emergency warning lights kick in — then the car will stop.
New Zealand will get the Avantgarde front grille on the E-Class sedans.
Later that day a Mercedes staff member at the Lisbon launch made me demonstrate the function on a loop on the motorway. It’s uncanny at first having your hands off the steering wheel, so I had my fingers hovering a few millimetres away from the helm. But the E-Class sat stable at 120km/h, moving with a change in road layout and maintaining speed with no input from me.
To highlight the functionality behind the technology, the staff member had me feign a heart attack (“and the Oscar goes it…”), though when the over-ride kicked in, we had pulled into the slow lane, with little traffic around.
Once that 1m 20sec mark is hit, the car noticeably slow downs and come 60km/h it is all action stations, with the hazard lights on and the car swiftly slowing to a stop.
Dropping the Mercedes staff member back at the launch base, I tested the Drive Pilot system by myself and then did it again on the drive back into Lisbon that evening. It’s amazing technology and I quickly adapted to it — probably too much as I found it easy to give control to the car when really I needed to concentrate on the road. When I noted a hatchback heading into my lane without indicating, my instinct was to apply the brakes — but instead I let the E-Class take evasive action.
It slowed down considerably, then maintained a three-second gap ahead.
During the two-day launch around Lisbon, we drove on motorways and country lanes, as well as inner city loops on the cobblestone roads of the Portuguese capital and a stint along the coastal roads. Then there was the highlight of a 20-minute hoon on the Estoril race track in the E400.
It’s a heavy vehicle at about 1800kg but it handled a tight S-bend and then an uphill climb with more agility than I expected. The kick-down in the exhaust was a delight to hear as I slowed around some tight corners.
But it was hitting more than 200km/h on the straight, with foot flat, that I admired most and with this sort of attitude, Mercedes-Benz’s performance department, AMG, will have plenty to work with.
Driven tested the 220d, 300 and 400 plus the electric plug-in during the two day launch, with a mixed results. Mercedes posted fuel economy figures of 4l/100km in the 220d but our combined conditions had us sitting at 7l/100. The E350e proved suitable for urban driving as an EV though lacked the power the 2-litre 300 petrol produced.
The E-Class will be competing against BMW’s 5 Series (and in some segments the 7 Series) and Audi’s A5 and A7 in our markets.
But what is really relevant for the brand and its future customers is the way this technology will be integrated into upcoming models — not only in the E-Class range but in other cars in Mercedes-Benz line up.