The 2013 Mercedes has undergone the most extensive face-lift the company has ever conducted on any of its cars.
The new look is instantly apparent, with curvaceous one-piece headlamps replacing the angular two-part units on the outgoing car. The front bumper and bonnet have also been revised, and all models now wear Mercedes' three-pointed star on the grille – gone is the bonnet-mounted 'gunsight' emblem.
The changes under the skin include tweaked suspension settings and a range of new or revised engines; all of which are more efficient than the ones they replace.
The trim structure has also been simplified. There's now a choice of just two trims – SE and AMG Sport – although the range of options available on both has been broadened.
What’s the 2013 Mercedes like to drive?
The only petrol version we’ve tried is the 208bhp E250, but the diesels will be the more significant engines for most UK buyers, and we’ve sampled all except the E300 hybrid. That means the 168bhp 220 CDI, the 201bhp E250 CDI and the 248bhp E350 Bluetec.
Of these, the E250 CDI diesel will be the biggest seller thanks to its strong performance and fairly low CO2 emissions of 131g/km. The engine pulls strongly and smoothly and doesn't suffer from any of the uneven, boosty power delivery that characterises some diesels.
However, refinement isn't as impressive as you might hope. A resonant diesel dirge is transmitted through the cabin under even light acceleration, and the gearbox isn't perfect, either, being a little dim-witted and jerky when you accelerate hard.
Company car drivers will be particularly interested in the E220 CDI, which is cleaner still at 125g/km (in manual form) or 128g/km when fitted with the seven-speed automatic. As with the E250 CDI, the gearbox can feel clunky in anything but gentle pottering, ahough the lower-powered 220 CDI is a touch more refined in general use.
The 350 Bluetec is the pick of the range for refinement and driver reward. It's available only in range-topping AMG Sport trim, which means it's pricey, but this V6 diesel is a joyously hushed and relaxing thing to drive.
The petrol E250 accelerates briskly and in-gear flexibility is also good. However, even in this model, refinement isn’t what it should be in a luxury executive car. There's an almost diesel-like clatter at idle and the engine sounds rather too raspy when you work it hard. It does settle down at a steady cruise, though.
As before, the E-Class is available with optional air suspension, but comes on steel springs as standard.
The outgoing car had three set-ups for its steel suspension; the super-soft settings on SE cars were too slushy, the super-stiff Sport models were too firm, but the in-between settings of the Avantgarde model provided a good balance of comfort and control.
Mercedes has now updated these settings, dropping the super-soft suspension altogether, so entry-level SE cars now come with an ever-so slightly softer version of the Avantgarde suspension.
This is the set-up our E250 CDI and E220 CDI test cars came on, and it copes well with undulations and eroded surfaces, although does get a little jittery over bigger ruts and creases in the surface of the road.
We also tried the optional air suspension on the E350 Bluetec. It's undoubtedly more composed, although still a tad jarring over bigger bumps at low speeds. There's a 'sport' and a 'comfort' setting, and in the latter the Merc's hefty bulk is kept neatly controlled while cornering.
The E-Class isn't as agile as a BMW 5 Series, but there's plenty of grip and the steering is responsive and well weighted, if a little slow.
What’s the 2013 Mercedes like inside?
At first glance, not a lot has changed inside. The dashboard still has the same confusing, button-heavy layout and those old Mercedes quirks – such as having the indicators and wipers controlled by a single stalk – remain.
There have been some improvements, though. The top of the dashboard gets a new artificial leather covering, which gives the otherwise rather ordinary cabin a lift. The front seats now have full electric adjustment as standard, too, which makes it easier to find the ideal driving position.
The cabin dimensions haven't changed, so there's still generous space for four tall adults, and a large boot. However, split-folding rear seats are still an optional extra for which you'll have to pay £415.
Should I buy one?
On most versions, prices have risen by thousands rather than hundreds of pounds compared with the outgoing car, and that means the E-Class costs significantly more than an equivalent Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series.
Go for the AMG Sport model, and it'll cost you £2495 more than the entry-level SE.
You do get more kit for your money, though. The infotainment system now features a DAB radio, satellite-navigation, voice control and a 10GB hard drive as standard. The car's standard safety equipment has been enhanced, and there's a wide range of new or improved safety systems on offer as options.
What's more, the new E-Class is cheaper than ever to run. The E250 CDI we drove returns average economy of 57.7mpg and emits 131g/km of CO2, which makes it marginally cleaner than a BMW 525d.
The E220 CDI matches a regular BMW 520d for efficiency, with an average of 58.9mpg and a CO2 output of 125g/km, though with an automatic fitted it falls into a higher tax band.
Despite this, there's still no escaping the fact the E-Class isn't as refined or as good to drive as the best executive cars.
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