Apart from the imperious S-Class, which has ruled the luxury limo ranks for as long as most of us can remember, Mercedes hasn’t had a genuine class-leading saloon in its line-up for more than a decade.
However, if anything’s going to change that it should be the car you’re reading about here: the all-new E-Class. A long-time rival of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF, the latest version of this five-metre-long saloon is positively brimming with technology to make it safer, more efficient and cleverer than any of its contemporaries.
The 2016 E-Class also marks the arrival of Mercedes’ all-new four-cylinder diesel engine. The 2.0-litre unit takes over from the noisy old 2.1-litre unit that’s been powering Mercedes’ saloons for years and that should spell good news for both refinement and fuel economy.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 220 d like to drive?
The new engine is slightly more powerful than the 2.0-litre units in rivals, including the 5 Series and XF, and it certainly feels it. It pulls strongly from around 1500rpm and the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox kicks down promptly when you floor the accelerator. This may be the entry-level E-Class but it's a punchy performer.
There's more good news when it comes to refinement because the new engine is far less intrusive than the one in the outgoing E 220 d. In fact, it's as smooth and hushed as the engine in the rival BMW 520d, and the E-Class is a peaceful cruiser in other respects, with little road noise on the motorway and only a small amount of wind flutter from around the windscreen pillars.
Executive saloons spend much of their life ploughing up and down motorways, so although sharp handling is never a bad thing it shouldn’t come at the expense of a supple ride. Fortunately, even on standard suspension, the Mercedes is all about comfort; its soft and spongy suspension smooths over larger obstacles with ease. True, you are jostled around a little along patched-up urban streets, but the motorway ride is always composed.
Just don’t expect agile handling because the E-Class leans heavily through corners and doesn’t appreciate being asked to change direction quickly. Numb steering that gets quicker as you turn the wheel also disappoints, so the Mercedes certainly isn't the best choice if you enjoy your driving. Rivals such as the Jaguar XF and BMW 5 Series handle more sweetly.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 220 d like inside?
The new E-Class looks and feels very much like a junior S-Class from behind the wheel, and there are few bigger compliments than that. The giant display that appears to stretch continuously from the centre of the dashboard to behind the steering wheel is an option on the E 220 d, but it’s well worth considering because it puts more important information closer to your line of sight. However, if you're much more than six feet tall you’ll probably find the steering wheel blocks your view of some of the digital instruments.
Mercedes’ signature gloss black centre console makes just as much of a visual impression as it does in the smaller C-Class and the GLC SUV, but here it feels more solid and doesn’t flex and creak so obviously when you prod it. In fact, overall quality in the E-Class pips the 5 Series and even matches the Audi A6.
A Garmin-powered sat-nav comes as standard on all trims, but our test car had the optional (£1495) Comand system. It’s a real step forward over the equivalent in other Mercedes models for usability because it makes commons tasks, such as changing the radio station or tapping in a destination, that bit more straightforward.
You’ll have no issues carrying three adults on longer journeys. True, rear head is a bit tight if you go for the optional panoramic roof, but there's a decent amount of leg room. The E-Class officially has a slightly bigger boot than the 5 Series and A6, and there’s certainly enough space for a couple of sets of golf clubs or large suitcases. The opening is fairly narrow, however, and Mercedes charges extra for split-folding rear seats.
Should I buy one?
The new E-Class makes more of a case for itself than any other mainstream Mercedes saloon in years. It’s elegant on the outside, supremely classy inside, well equipped and pretty good to drive.
Importantly, too, this E 220 d version stacks up on the financial front. CO2 emissions of 102g/km place it in a lower band for company car tax than any of its automatic gearbox-equipped rivals, which helps make up for the fact it costs around £1500 more than an equivalent 520d and £2100 more than an A6 2.0 TDI Ultra.
A BMW 5 Series is still a fractionally better all-rounder, but the margins are now small enough that you won't be at all disappointed if you decide you'd rather waft around in an E-Class.
What Car? says…
Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 220 d
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel Price from £35,935 Power 192bhp Torque 295lb ft 0-62mph 7.3 seconds Top speed 149mph Fuel economy 72.4mpg CO2 102g/km