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MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

Simplified body styling belies the mind-boggling technology within the latest E-Class range dedicated to safety, with the E250 CDI AMG Sport destined to be a best-seller in what is Mercedes’ core territory, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

Ever since the first, mutton dressed- as-banana CLS served notice of the company’s intent to dribble a little designer jus over a hitherto staple diet of granite handbag durability and practicality, the Mercedes-Benz drawing office French curves have enjoyed scant respite.

Clearly, however, disgruntled huddles of core market codgers shuddered at their Etch-A-Sketch application to the E-Class, eliciting something of a crisis of confidence in this mid-life face lift and a suggestion that, in the lexicon of the company’s most important model, ‘B’ stands not for ‘bolder’, but ‘blander’.

Because the predominant styling feature of the last, 2008 iteration – a vestigial rear wheel arch blister paying homage to the company’s 1953 ‘Ponton’ – has now vanished, migrating gleefully to the new CLS (the more cavalier buyers of which can obviously cope with such outrageous flair) and been replaced by a pair of tentative, apologetically straight creases that begin and end nowhere in particular.

So, safe in the knowledge that a further pallet-load of safety technology now includes a system that simply won’t allow a sub-30mph Mercedes to run you over, you’ll now have to stagger in front of a new E-Class to identify it.

Here we find a more pronounced proboscis, which actually looks pretty good in the metal, low level air intakes modelled on the flared nostrils of an enraged cartoon bull and the somewhat regrettable, range-wide absence of that bonnetmounted, three-pointed gunsight.

Twin headlamps have been replaced by single halogen units, or an optional LED set up incorporating a superbly complicated mechanical beam masking system which allows you to drive pretty much everywhere without having to juggle between low and high beam settings.

But what really gives the game away is Mercedes’ latest entry in the hilarity that has become the Global Daytime Running Lights Stakes. Upping the absurdity to best even the new Range Rover’s tangleof- fairly-lights-lobbed-into-the-Christmastree, the new E-Class settles for air raidsubtle hints at how delighted Cleopatra’s make–up artist would have been to have the LED light bulb in her armoury.

On board, very little has happened.

This, a launch-shackled designer tells me, is because – save for a new three-spoke helm, slimmer air vents nicked from the CLS, a whiff of over-chroming and swathes of ‘man-made leather’ (way below ‘luxury coach’ and ‘fun run’ on my list of all-time favourite oxymorons) – they feel they’ve taken this particular cabin about as far as they can, especially in terms of quality and switchgear operability.

So, in the context of an interior which – though undeniably comfortable, functional and capacious – always seems to remain just that whisker older than me, I’m told we must wait for the forthcoming S-Class to witness genuine modernisation aboard a Mercedes.

Meanwhile, a simplified E-Class range accompanies this simplified styling to the UK launch pad with, as ever, an estate available within which owners may lock their panting dogs and then singularly fail to notice the alarm going off for the duration. A choice of just SE and AMG Sport models plays host to a modest increase in both pricing and equipment, the company’s outstanding Comand satnav and multimedia system with DAB radio now fitted as standard in a range priced between £32,400 and £42,025.

As mentioned, safety technology content takes another stout hike. Key to this upgrade is an optional (£735) 360 degree camera which provides the basis for a collision prevention system now recognising both pedestrians and cars crossing in front of you, and a lane keeping assistant that’ll nudge you back on course at those times when you really shouldn’t be driving in the first place.

A range of ever more efficient engines the nomenclature of which no longer bears any resemblance to their actually cubic capacity (BMW is also equally guilty of this, and comes up with equally lame justification for same) includes four diesel and two diminutive petrol engines.

The £73,720, 577bhp biturbo V8 AMG monster saloon and its estate cousin are sold separately these days. Sadly the UK won’t be getting the outstanding new 4x4 AMG version, because Mercedes’ Tefal heads have deemed it impossible to engineer in right-hand drive format. Pantomime booing all round.

I sampled the £39,085 E 250 CDI AMG Sport, which is armed with a 2143cc, 201bhp 4-cylinder diesel destined for best-seller status in the UK. Though undeniably smooth courtesy of a predictably oleaginous 7-speed automatic gearbox, such a small cubic capacity dictates that the engine often becomes somewhat raucous in its efforts to shift such a large car with any alacrity.

Moreover, the desire to keep the gearbox in Sport mode and avail yourself of manual override in the quest for added overtaking zeal will not so much nibble away at this unit’s vaunted fuel efficiency, as take Great White-sized chunks out of it.

Albeit pricier and thirstier, the lustier, quieter, 3.0 litre, er, E 350 Blue TEC is a better fit, offering swift, silken progress unsettled only by the optional air suspension’s occasional lack of composure.

Lacking the sophistication to absorb minor imperfections, it can be surprisingly reluctant to settle on poorer surfaces such as the whole of the UK road network, bouncing around like a hermit’s fist with insufficient provocation.

Whichever powerplant you opt for, those who have always associated a Benz with cruising comfort should err towards SE models with standard 17” wheels rather than the AMG Sport versions’ 18” offerings, and, shunning adaptive suspension, stick with cold steel.

Superbly comfortable, gently stolid and honed to the point whereby you need to pick nits to find fault, the only thing the E-Class really lacks is the Mercedes doors of yore, which closed with a ‘thunk’ the absolute finality of which can only be matched by that first sod of earth landing on a coffin lid.

MERCEDES-BENZ E 250 CDI AMG SPORT TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Price: £39,085
Engine: 2143cc,
4-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 201bhp @ 3800rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-1800rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Top Speed: 151mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Fuel/CO2: 57.7mpg (combined) / 131g/km

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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