The last overhaul of Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class in 2016 was its most significant in recent history — with its autonomous driving capabilities and an app that helped the car park itself, it felt like KITT (from the 1980s TV show Knight Rider) was becoming a reality, except that the car wasn’t able to crack a joke or provide clever come-on lines. Hold my car key, Mercedes-Benz might have said, and then worked on its proprietary MBUX system that can’t quite provide the valuable counsel KITT did but, at a minimum, gets the car to speak back to you. This means that the 2020 E-Class, which has an improved MBUX system, can quite literally do it all.
Fancier than the C-Class with the same lightness of being but less obnoxious than the S-Class yet having inherited much of its luxurious tricks and toys, the E-Class, to analogise the famous fairy tale, exemplifies Mama Bear’s appealing middle ground and why what she had was so desirable to Goldilocks. Worldwide sales of the current E-Class have already surpassed 1.2 million, which is unsurprising considering the entire series boasts a large number of models from entry-level ones that cruise flawlessly to performance-driven AMG models, as well as the Estate, Coupe Cabriolets and all-terrain models in between.
For the Malaysian market — for whom the new E-Class launch was delayed for a year owing to Covid-19 — the choice is easier to make: the E 200 Avantgarde and the E 300 AMG Line. The E-Class is refreshed with a dynamic attitude, combining a new form of luxury with the latest innovation and exclusivity by championing, in equal measures, all the elements of a typical Mercedes-Benz — safety, comfort, luxury and drive quality. In essence, Mercedes-Benz has distilled everything it knows about executive saloons over its generations of experience and packed it into the E-Class.
The enhanced dynamics of this upgraded executive saloon are immediately reflected in the exterior, creating an overall impression of lightness and agility. As standard, the E 200 comes with the attractive Avantgarde exterior, which significantly emphasises the dynamism and elegance of the vehicle. Its features include a sleek new grille with newly designed LED high-performance headlamps and tail lights, and bonnet with a pronounced power dome complemented with 18in 5-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels. Meanwhile, the AMG Line on the E 300 boasts a new bumper in the style of the AMG Performance model and 19in AMG 5-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels. Its rear design is also new, with split tail lamps and a new boot lid. The visual changes are enough to make recognisably different, but not so drastic as to be polarising.
Once strapped into the driver’s seat, you can really feel the upgrade, beginning with the steering wheel and the multiple touch-sensitive buttons that make it feel like an F1 car — the more tactile buttons on higher performance cars are much preferred, but this is hardly a deal-breaker. In the driver’s direct line of sight are twin 12.3in screens but joyfully, the central display is now a touchscreen and features an updated MBUX interface. Choose your music, adjust your temperature, pick out from 64 colours of ambient lighting — Hey Mercedes, we asked, and it complied with no glitches, even when presented with a (purposefully) unusual accent. The black open-pore ash wood trim, Artico leather dashboard, Nappa leather seats, a Burmester sound system — nothing to complain about at all.
In getting comfortable before the long drive ahead, we quickly get accustomed to the storage (there is an inordinate amount) and ports to charge phones and the like. The car operates like a mobile office as well as it does a travelling creche, as there is space to store everything a busy executive or mother could possibly need. Full marks in this respect, without a doubt. The rear is also generous, but can comfortably fit a car seat and one additional person — three in the backseat is a tight fit and won’t be enjoyable for long rides. Overall, the cabin boasts a general feeling of well-being, which again underscores a commitment to comfort and luxury.
Upon depressing the start button — one does miss cranking a key, but this seems to be standard now and probably works better for quieter engines — the car gently hums to life and glides forward rather than speedily takes off. The E 300 AMG Line is driven by the M264 engine (why didn’t Mercedes-Benz opt for the newer M254, one wonders), and is powered by a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit that serves up 258 horses and 370 Nm of torque. The standard transmission here is a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic, fed to the rear wheels.
Naturally, the E 300 is quicker to do the 0-to-100kph sprint, taking just 6.2 seconds to complete, while the E 200 requires 7.4 seconds. Neither of these are particularly boastworthy statistics, but then again this is not a car one uses to show off one’s racing stripes.
However it is not slow by any means; the E 300 overtook many other potentially more powerful cars on the highway incredibly easily and was an absolute joy to manoeuvre. Its strength is in its restrained power and performance, its lightness contributing to a more dignified driving experience. Better suited to swallowing the miles than enlivening it, the E-Class did an absolutely respectable job of putting away the 400km drive to Desaru Coast, Johor. There are multiple driving modes, but the car operates best on Comfort — pedal to the metal, and off we go.
The new E-Class is endowed with the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz’s assistance systems that provide cooperative support for drivers, none of which anyone would be comfortable testing outside of a controlled, simulated environment — this was the case when Options was able to test out these technologies during its 2016 launch. This includes a hands-off recognition that works on a capacitive basis, which enhances user-friendliness when driving in semi-automated mode. Previously, a slight steering movement was required as feedback that the driver was awake and in control.
Standard for the E-Class is the Active Brake Assist, which in many situations is able to use autonomous braking to prevent a collision or mitigate its severity. The system is also able to brake for stationary vehicles and crossing pedestrians at typical city speeds and even to prevent collisions, depending on the circumstances. Other safety bells and whistles that come with the E 300 in particular are the Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Steering Assist, Active Brake Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist. While no possible technology can keep you from getting into an accident, this car certainly makes it easier for all its passengers to remain safe should the unthinkable happen.
What we found fascinating but were unable to try is Urban Guard, an intelligent interlinking of hardware and digital solutions that satisfies a growing rise in customer demand for security and property protection. The package comprises an anti-theft alarm system, tow-away protection with visual and audible warning in case of a detected change in position, an alarm siren, interior monitoring (triggers in case of movements in the interior) as well as a pre-installation for theft and parking collision detection. Movement in the vehicle interior also triggers visual and audible warnings, with notifications to the owner delivered through the Mercedes me app. For all potential owners, this is a hugely comforting thing to have.
Our verdict: There is absolutely nothing negative to say about this car at all. It is a versatile vehicle ideal for family holidays and grocery runs alike, affably taking to long drives, high speeds or heavy traffic with equal ease. Coming straight up against BMW’s 5 Series, Audi’s A6 and Volvo’s S90, this car is the quieter older brother who can’t be arsed to argue and simply gets on with the job quietly. Ahead of a test drive, which we highly recommend for the sheer joy of it, we’d say manage your expectations: the E-Class is a smooth-sailing Barry Manilow, so just make sure you’re not a Led Zeppelin fan when you go out to buy it.
The price of the Mercedes-Benz E 300 AMG Line (on the road, without insurance) is RM375,432.19. For details on the marque’s financing plans or to book a test drive, see here.
This article first appeared on Nov 1, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.