In 2010 I bought my current E350 Break (W212) from an MB dealership in Lucerne, Switzerland, specialized in importing so called “Direktionsfahreuge” (i.e. cars used to ship around more or less important VIP’s on German Autobahns), directly from the MB factory in Stuttgart, and then selling them for very competitive prices in Switzerland. My car, an E350 4-matic Station Wagon, was basically as fully equipped as a car can get and I bought it six months old with around 20.000 kms on the meter, in mint condition and fully guaranteed at almost half the price. That’s the kind of car deals I like and the MB has well deserved the star on its bonnet, taking us around Europe for four years and 90.000 kms without a single problem – by far the best car I have ever owned. As the clock recently passed 110.000 kms however, the thought that it was perhaps time for a change has haunted me since the beginning of December – and as you probably know as a reader of this blog, once that feeling sets in, you won’t get rid of it until something new stands in your garage…
You were, and you still are, a really great car!
As a strong believer in the saying that you should not change a winning team, and given neither an Audi A6 nor a BMW 5-series are real-life options when you regularly ship around two children, two dogs and a wife who, given her small size, carries around amazing amounts of luggage, the first choice was obviously to have a look at the “new” E-class, i.e. the face-lifted model presented last year with minor visible cosmetic changes but more than 1100 parts updated on the inside. The corresponding petrol version is now called the E400 and like in many other cases, says absolutely nothing about the engine, in this case a 3-litre V6 double-turbo petrol engine (if the boring number combinations have no meaning anyway, why not get rid of them completely?).
“My” test car came in a very trendy pearl white, a colour that looks spectacular on this car as long as you opt for the glass panorama roof (which is black) and the 19-inch AMG wheels. If you don’t, you buy yourself a very expensive station wagon looking like a delivery car. Obviously, having driven the old model for the last four years, most things on the inside fell familiar, although MB has made another step forward in build quality – the car feels very premium indeed in everything from the (optional) Arctico-trimmed dashboard, the analogue watch, the (optional) Nappa leather and the (optional) alcantara inner roof. And as that tells you, there is no change in the policy around the (very long) options’ list…
If you go for white, then big wheels and a panoramic roof should be high on the list!
Much has been said about especially BMW’s advances in infotainment systems, and it is true that MB is not up to the standard set by especially BMW and to a lesser extent Audi in terms of the size of the screen or the number of functions on offer. I would however argue that you should be clear on what is important to you. If it’s the size o the screen, then definitely go for Munich or Ingolstadt. If you need to call someone whilst in Germany to ask where the nearest movie theatre is, then BMW’s (optional, subscription-based) concierge service is the one to go for. If on the other hand you order a built-in navigation system for the sake of navigating, being able to store your music on a +/- 20 GB large hard disk and connecting your phone and stream music via bluetooth, then be aware that all systems nowadays have web-based navigation and are quite comparable.
Replacing a 3.5 litre six-cylinder engine producing 272 bhp without turbo with a 3-litre, six-cylinder engine producing 61 bhp more thanks to a double turbo system obviously changes the driving experience quite a bit. The turbo trend that has caught most manufacturers is driven on one hand by emission rules, as it allows cars to meet the absurd EU emission criteria better than a large engine would, on the other hand by tax rules in many European countries that tend to penalize engine size rather than power output, something that with today’s technology doesn’t make much sense either. The E400 thus feels much more lively than the old car with typical turbo torque available from low revs but without any delay in power delivery. Considering it is a 5-metre family station wagon weighing close to 2 tons, its sub-7 seconds time to 100 km/h is very respectable, as does the torque available over a much larger span than a diesel engine.
The multiple changes to the chassis on the updated model have also done small wonders to the car’s perceived agility. My old car was always stable, always reliable and always safe. Throwing it around corners on alpine roads as Switzerland invites you to was clearly doable and the car played along, but doing so it didn’t feel very enthusiastic or responsive. Here, the new E-class is completely different. It feels about half a ton lighter (it isn’t) and is much more dynamic in the way it handles and responds. The engine’s torque makes it feel like a perfect fit, and the 7G gearbox, whilst not able to compete with double-clutch systems, is still clearly up to the job as you hardly notice it working.The steering feels more agile too, without the exaggeration produced by some of today’s electronic systems.
In sum the E-class remains a very, very capable family station wagon and the facelift has done a lot of good to an already very good car. If you don’t insist on buying brand new, around 90.000 CHF (or a similar amount in most European countries) will get you a well equipped, six-month old demo car, that provided you get the right options can be warmly recommended. Should you wish to order new, you will end up somewhere between 110.000-120.000 CHF. A brand new model is due for late 2016, but that is still a long time and many miles away… Should you get the diesel instead? Not really. The torque the E400 provides feels every bit as good as in the E350 (diesel), is more accessible and still achieves 8-9 litres per 100 kms. It also makes the car much more fun to drive.
So did I buy one? Actually… no. Having driven the old model for four years, in spite of all the changes, it still felt a bit too much to the same car for a lot of money in between. In the end I went for a completely different concept, more on that later…