The new diesel powered Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI looks set to give its petrol sibling a tough time
Here’s some blasphemy right upfront – I don’t particularly care for the new E-Class’ styling. Sacrilege? Perhaps it is. But for me, the new car looks a bit, well, Korean. Those elongated oblong headlamps, the egg-crate grille, the tail end treatment, and even the design of those alloy wheels – all these whisper Hyundai XG 30. Not so much Stuttgart salami, more Seoul curry.
The new M-B cars perform better than ever before (that’s the conclusion I came to, when I first drove the new E240 about six months ago), but still, it’s a pity we don’t have more choice in this segment in our country. But what if we did? Would there be something more desirable than the E-Class? Let us, for a minute, digress, and look at some of the E-Class’ world-wide competitors. The first car that springs to mind is, of course, the new Bangle’d BMW 5-series. The antithesis of traditional BMW good looks, the new slab-sided Beemer manages to convey a sense of haughty, aloof superiority. In a weird reverse-chic anti-cool way, the new BMW actually ends up being cool. Then there is the suave Audi A6, which is getting on a bit in years, but is still so overtly German. Hi-tech and efficient, the strong-and-silent type A6 could almost be the Robert De Niro of automobiles. More options? How about the very capable Lexus GS? Build quality might not be as high as the Merc E-Class, but the Lexus conveys a younger, sportier image. Or the exuberantly-styled Jaguar S-Type, which couldn’t be anything but British. And there is also a performance-oriented ‘R’ badged variant for those who like to go heavy on the throttle pedal, so there. Off-beat? The Renault Vel Satis,perhaps, which just about manages to look like a car! You could drive the thing, be driven in it, or even dismiss it as art-deco trash, but there’s no denying that the Vel Satis is individual. Then there’s the big old Peugeot 607, the quirky (but fast) Volvo S 80, or the competent VW Passat which puts up with the image of being stodgy, and... I could go on, but the thing is, none of these cars is available here, and that’s the way it’s going to remain in the foreseeable future. Limited volumes in the segment mean limited choice, so let’s get back to the car in question – the new E220 CDI.
Compared with the car that preceded it, the new E-Class might not be as great to look at, but the E220’s performance is not too bad. For a base-model E-Class car, that is. The 2148 CC inline-four has been carried over from the last-generation E220, and is adequate as ever.It produces 147.5 bhp at 4200 rpm, and a substantial 34.3 kgm of torque at only 2000 revs. These figures actually compare well with the petrol powered E240 which is powered by a 2597 CC V6 that makes 165 bhp at 5750 rpm, and 22.8 kgm of torque at 4500 rpm. The E220 CDI, at 1610 kilos (kerb weight) is only five kilos heavier than the E240, so performance is none too shabby. As with its petrol sibling, the E220 utilises a five-speed automatic to transmit power to the rear wheels. This autobox also has the ‘Touchshift’ mechanism which lets a driver shift gears manually simply by rocking the gear lever sideways (I admit I never bothered using this feature), though the resident computer remains the boss, and will still automatically upshift once you reach the rev limit for any one gear. Actually, the automatic is capable enough on its own, though if you floor the throttle, the car takes a heartbeat to gather itself up – a downshift happens, four pistons gather momentum, and blam, you are carried away on a thick, rich stream of torque. I know, I know, you can’t wait for the numbers, and you shall have them too. But remember, this a relatively small diesel, so don’t expect AMG-style histrionics here. That said, the 4.86 seconds which the E220 CDI takes to lunge from
0 to 60 kph are actually 0.25 seconds less than the E240’s time. Then again, the E240 takes only 10.59 for the 0 to 100 kph sprint, whereas the E220 takes 11.42 seconds to get to 100. The diesel car’s torque tells in the 80 to 120 kph run – 8.5 seconds, as opposed to the E240’s 8.74. Of course, the latter is ultimately more powerful, and gets it own back in the 100 to 140 kph run, which it does in 9.43 seconds, whereas the E220 takes all of 12.39. As you can see from these figures, the E220 CDI is no VTEC-style hotrod, but then it was never meant to be one. Effortless, high-speed cruising is the Merc’s forte, and it’s very good at that. During testing, we did up to 210 kph in the E220 (though I suspect it might go up to 215 with the aircon switched off), and the car felt completely calm and composed at those speeds. With the windows down, you can hear a bit of diesel rumble at idle, but the engine is smooth and vibe-free at high speed, and the car never really feels underpowered. In fact, when I drove our long-term C200 CDI test car immediately after testing the E220, the former felt considerably slower and less responsive. But with the C200’s 30 horsepower and 10 kgm deficit compared with the bigger car, I suppose that was to be expected. With the E220, another 40-50 horsepower wouldn’t go amiss either (a bigger engine – the E270 CDI perhaps – should be just about perfect!), but then greed is endless. And with a bigger/more powerful engine, the E220’s mileage of about 8.5 kpl will likely drop to something much lower, so this isn’t such a bad deal after all.
Like with other M-B cars, what’s remarkable is the E220’s safety margin at very high speeds. The car sits on proper 16-inch alloys, which are clad in 225/55 Goodyear Eagle NCT rubber. Suspension comprises of McPherson struts at front, multi-link independent at back, and stabiliser bars at both ends. During high-speed lane-change manoeuvres, the car felt calm, composed and completely safe. Unlike some other big cars (the Accord, for example), the new E220 CDI never feels like it may suddenly let go without warning, which, given its propensity to head into triple-digit-speed zone at the first possible opportunity, is a blessing. The steering feels more directly connected and somehow seems to offer more feedback than Mercs of old, and that’s certainly a good thing. What’s even better is that the horn now doesn’t need too much effort – you can actually operate it with just one thumb, which is not something you can do on our long-term C200. And the horn is not the only notable thing about the interiors. This, after all, is where Merc cars are head and shoulders above their competition. The facia looks like it belongs on a high-end home entertainment system. There’s leather everywhere, power adjustments galore, and a six-CD changer. As with earlier Mercs, most functions can be accessed and controlled from buttons on the steering wheel. Materials look and feel expensive (a must for a car that costs as much as this E-Class does), and there is a tactile-pleasant feel to controls. Contemporary, and quietly elegant – the interiors almost make up for the new E-Class’ exterior styling.
There’s more to the E220 than just leather and wood though. As usual, there are a host of electronic driver-aids quietly toiling away in the background, making sure the driver doesn’t get into trouble. There’s the very efficient anti-lock braking system(ABS) which seems to be better than ABS systems employed by most other manufacturers. Mash the brakes to the floor, and the pedal doesn’t pulse and quiver madly – it just stops the car in double-quick time. Our E220 did the 0-100-0 in 14.14 seconds, and the car simply came to a standstill in a straight line, without any sideways drama whatsoever. The ABS is complemented by what Mercedes Benz calls ‘Sensotronic Brake Control’ (SBC), which represents another advancement in braking technology. What SBC does is calculate optimum braking force for each individual wheel, and modulates braking accordingly. This, together with EBD (electronic brake force distribution), BAS (brake assist) and ESP
(electronic stability program) makes getting into trouble close to impossible, though there’s still a full brace of airbags (SRS) if you do manage to crash the thing somehow. Indeed, these are not some meaningless acronyms thrown at buyers to impress them. All these electronic gizmos, except the airbags of course, got a thorough workout during our testing, and they really do work. The Mercedes Benz E220 CDI is indeed one very safe car to be in.
So, is the new E220 CDI worth Rs 35 lakh? Well, it’s difficult to justify spending that much on a car – any car – but if you have to justify the expense, you would have been walking to work. The E220 is substantially more spacious, refined and powerful than the C-Class cars sold here, has much more torque than the E240’s petrol V6, is only 20 horsepower down on that car, and offers much lower running costs. I would only say that until M-B bring the E270 CDI to India, this, the E220 CDI, is the Mercedes Benz to buy. And come to think of it, the Vel Satis really is ugly, Volvos just aren’t special enough, BMW’s flame surfacing isn’t so hot after all, and...
We’re passing through one of the long tunnels on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, with the needle hoisted at 100 kph, and the engine faintly rumbling somewhere in the front. It’s quite dark, the lights of the tunnel fall in a strobe-like effect on the leading star and the bonnet, and combined with the deep blue light emanating from the sophisticated instrument console, the feeling is futuristic. For all that Sameer may say about the new E’s ‘Korean’ looks, that one moment was evocative enough for me to undo all his criticism. The new E is as contemporary as cars get in our country, and you’re truly privileged if you own one. The diesel motor’s performance, as the figures show, is decent, but its strongest point is its ability to chew up distances with remarkable ease. This is the car to criss-cross the subcontinent. Still, being greedy and asking for an E270 CDI would not be out of place, would it?