Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © MERCEDES-BENZ SOUTH AFRICA
Often the flag bearer for new Mercedes-Benz engineering concepts, the E-Class is revered as the prime example of what an executive sedan should be. Zimbali recently hosted BERNIE HELLBERG at the launch of Merc’s most technically important car.
Mercedes-Benz arguably holds more trademarks for clever in-car feature acronyms than any automaker in the world. Moreover, there is never a shortage of marketing personnel at a Merc launch event, all poised to overpower you with increasingly complex explanations of ever more cryptic phrases such as Drive Pilot, Evasive Steering Assist, and Pre-Safe Impulse. Sometimes you’ve got to wonder whether, in the hallowed halls of the Stuttgart Betriebsanlage, there is a committee whose sole purpose is to come up with new names for systems yet to be developed.
But the Teutonic giants of motoring don’t mess around with phonetics and syntax just for the sake of it. They’re on a mission, all the time, to develop the world’s smartest vehicles, spending countless hours developing new and innovative ways of getting you and yours safely from A to B.
The future is autonomous
It started with the development of the Passenger Safety Cell in the second generation (W110) of vehicles which would eventually become the E-Class range. Soon, the addition of Anti-Lock Brakes, Distronic, Park Assist and others, became the yardstick by which the technological advancement of the automobile was measured. Fast forward to 2016, and the age of the smart device. Just as there isn’t a place for the cheerful but ultimately rather dumb mobile phone of yesteryear, it is no longer sufficient for cars just to be clever, they have to be increasingly smart, too.
Seven years ago, Mercedes launched Attention Assist, an algorithm that monitored steering inputs and other parameters to detect a drowsy driver. Today, the E-Class has the capacity to orientate itself in its surroundings, consider everything from road hazards to imminent unavoidable collisions and – to a limited extent – act autonomously to avoid them or to minimise potential risk. It’s called Drive Pilot – available as part of the R32 500 Driving Assistance package option – and it does everything a Tesla Model S can do, albeit it in a slightly more civilised way.
Although not quite ‘there’ yet in terms of a usable level of autonomous driving functionality, the system certainly offers a firm foundation upon which Mercedes-Benz is building a pioneering car-to-X communication system for the E-Class. This will allow future E-Class cars to communicate with each other, and to respond to physical infrastructure signals and broadcasted warnings of impending doom.
The present is smart
Thankfully, Mercedes-Benz engineers, being the forward-thinking bunch that they are, have brought smart technology forward a few years into the E-Class. Unabashedly described as “the most intelligent car in the world” by its minders, the E-Class employs another Drive Pilot function when you’re swerving to avoid an obstacle, guiding you through the process with Evasive Steering Assist (ESA), or braking for you with Active Brake Assist (ABA). Although ESA is available as an additional option with the upgraded Driving Assistance Package Plus (R41 000), ABA is included with the cheaper assistance option.
For the extra cash you also get Pre-Safe Impulse Side thrown in, which sees an inflatable bladder installed on the outside shoulder of the front seats, which will inflate to push you away from the door, once the car has detected an unavoidable side impact. But the innovation doesn’t end there. Taking collision management to the next level, Mercedes has dreamt up another safety system you never knew you needed. Should it come to the worst, Pre-Safe Sound plays pink noise (I’m told that it sounds like a television without signal) through the speakers to contract the stapedius muscles in your ears prior to a crash, reducing the risk of hearing damage during an accident.
It’s really quite bright
Almost casting a shadow on the vast safety tech built into the E-Class, the optional Multibeam LED lighting system (yours for another R25 000) takes Mercedes-Benz out of the dark ages of vehicular illumination. Finally, a pair of goggles that can rival, and beat, Audi’s brilliant Matrix system, Merc’s new headlights squeeze 84 individual LEDs into each cluster. Combined with the quick-thinking Highbeam Assist Plus system, the E-Class will not dazzle oncoming traffic, almost has the ability to see around corners, and is even smart enough to recognise reflective road signs and avoid casting a full-on high beam at them.
Sensation management (surprisingly, not an actual Merc marketing term) is a high priority inside the elegant cabin. Touch controls have replaced standard buttons and toggles on the steering wheel, and a redeveloped touch pad on the centre console allows for easier operation while driving, and it even recognises your handwriting. Optional extras include two brilliant next-generation high-resolution displays, each with a wide screen diagonal of 12.3” – unique in this segment.
Interior lighting options bring a technicolour rainbow of 64 colours to the ambient lighting setup in the E-Class, lighting up everything from the trim parts, central display, front stowage facility on the centre console, handle recesses, door pockets, front and rear footwells, overhead console, and tweeters (if you’ve optioned your car with the R95 000 Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system). It’s a lot of cash to get your tweeters to shine, but hey…
Power is cleverer too
The E-class launches with a brand new family of 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder mills. In petrol application, the engine makes a slight-ish 135 kW (with 300 Nm of torque) in the E200 – similar to the output achieved by the smaller C200, it has to cope with an extra 180 kg in the larger saloon. Being turbocharged it never felt stretched, but the star of the show has to be Mercedes’ new aluminium-block diesel. Generating 143 kW and 400 Nm of available torque, the first application of the new engine is as smooth as silk and virtually vibration free. In a remarkable about-turn, the diesel actually sounds more refined than the petrol engine, even if it is slightly louder under hard acceleration.
With all its resources combined, the 2.0-liter diesel launches like an oil-burning rocket, but it suffers more than the petrol version when attempting to overtake at speed. However, this is a slight imperfection that is soon forgotten at the pumps, once you realise that the diesel’s 3.9 l/100 km average consumption figure means less filling-up than a Volkswagen Polo.
There is also a 2 987 cc V6 E350d that’s good for 190 kW and a whopping 620 Nm of torque. It’s a fine drive that will propel you to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds, and semi-successfully gives the E-Class a performance feel, but catapults the E-Class base price to a stiff R958 300. Interestingly, the E350d sips less fuel than the 2.0-litre petrol, coming in at a slight 5.1 l/100 km. All models are equipped as standard with the new 9G TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission.
A work of automotive genius, the new E-Class raises the bar for intuitive executive saloons. Brimming with next-generation technology and market-leading safety systems, this is the car to beat right now.