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Mercedes-Benz E350 - Back to square ones

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There was a time not so long ago when a bunch of guys bored of drinking factory-made coffee decided to cash in on the 100-year old pedigree of Mercedes-Benz. The only way, they decided, to do that was to stop engineering cars three times better than that was required. The resulting cars had more plastic, cheaper wiring and lots of electronics that could go wrong. Occasionally, they did go wrong. And when they went wrong, they were prohibitively expensive to fix. Sure enough, the reputation of Mercedes-Benz as a maker of cars ‘built-like tanks’, ‘carved out of billet’ and with doors that ‘shut like vaults’ started on a downward tumble.

Honestly, that is what the history lessons would want you to believe. Not necessarily me. Sure, evolution meant cars that looked newer and car-making processes that were newer. But I thought — and still think — the W210 and W211 are cars that are maligned for no real reasons. The W210s were robustly built cars and I don’t remember them failing me or anyone whom I knew. Just a month back, I spent a week in a W211 Special Edition and thought it had better ride quality and comfort than most contemporary Audis and BMWs. Yes, a few cars in Europe suffered electrical problems and had some issues with brakes, but hey, they still looked classy and they were pretty well-built.

And this was also the decade when the alphabets A, M and G started to mean ‘run for cover’, as some stupendously fast E-Class cars came out wearing them. In short, I am prejudiced walking into this first drive. But those who know me will tell you that the W124 cast a massive spell on my formative years as a motoring scribe — it became the benchmark for almost everything cars were meant to be. At least for me. And guess what, I think the W212 that you see in these pages looks as if it’ ahem, ‘sculpted out of a rock’. Oh God, am I discovering 1990’s jargon again!The twin-trapezoidal headlamps and the upright grille are certainly inspired from the past and so are the squared-out bumpers, flanks and rear view mirrors.   The new E-Class is a very large car from the outside — enormous enough to give you hints of how the next generation S-Class will look, while the prominent wheel arches at the rear are inspired by the current S-Class.

Inside, the squared-out theme continues, with the instrument console leading the way. The wood inserts look and feel classy again (the last generation interior wasn’t bad at all), though space is at a premium for a car that looks oh-so-big. The electric seat adjustments are now on the door so that healthy people like me do not have to bend unnecessarily. As usual, the E-Class lives up to brilliant ergonomics, but comfort more than sportiness seems to have become the focus. Still, the attention is more on the front seats than where most owners are going to spend time in — at least in India. It is high time Mercedes-Benz delivered a ‘mini-limo’ version, stretched at the B-pillar so that more legroom can be liberated.

A host of engines are available for the new E-Class. What will come to India first is the E350 petrol (and not the CGI version) that is good for 268 bhp at 6000 rpm and 35.7 kgm of peak torque. This will be followed by the 231 bhp, 54.8 kgm E350 diesel a few months down the line. There are even smaller (read economical) diesels in the form of the E220 and E250, and we would expect one of these engines to make its debut sooner rather than later since they make for brilliant fleet cars.

Our drive was restricted to the streets of Lutyen’s Delhi and that meant not enough opportunities to check out the performance. So you will have to wait till we subject the car to a proper road test for numbers.   The W212 does not ride as well as the Mercedes-Benzes from the 1990s however — especially on slightly broken roads. But one has to understand that modern E-Class cars with powerful engines are meant to handle way better than the ‘tanks’ of yore and need stiffer suspension setups. The steering, while more precise than in the older cars, still feels more fluid (and hence more luxurious) than the sportier German competition.

 

To sum up, the first impression is that Mercedes-Benz has begun the journey to their hallowed past with this new E-Class. But a whole lot has changed since the days of the W124 — cars need to have performance, they need to be agile and they need to be economical. That also means that Mercedes-Benz needs to set new benchmarks rather than chase old ones, at a price starting at Rs 47 lakh, ex-showroom, New Delhi. It will be interesting to drive a more powerful car (an E63 perhaps?) in its natural surroundings to find out how the new chassis copes. Watch this space. E MAJOR The new E-Class is dripping with features and technology. One of them is the Attention Assist, that detects if a driver is feeling drowsy —using up to 70 different parameters. Highly sensitive sensors continuously monitor a driver and driving behaviour on these parameters, and in case minor steering errors are detected with a sharp over-correction, the car sounds an alarm. The adaptive high beam assist for instance, uses a camera to recognize head lamp beams of oncoming cars and automatically adjusts the beam to ensure they aren’t blinded. The new E350 also features a clever parking sensor system that uses not just a distance detection system, but also the ideal parking maneouvre to prevent unnecessary turns and the possibility of a parking incident.