Driven! 2017 Mercedes-Benz E350d

Driven! 2017 Mercedes-Benz E350d

With speed being of the essence today I start this review from the back seat of the new E-Class, the most important model in Mercedes-Benz India’s lineup. Starting with the fifth generation W124, 34,000 E-Classes have been made and sold in India, representing a neat 34 per cent of all Mercedes sales in the country – and most of those cars have been enjoyed more from the rear seat than the front. Keeping that in mind Mercedes have equipped all the new V213 test cars with a neatly attired chauffer and insist we start our test drive experiencing the most important attribute of this new E-Class. And that’s space. Acres of space.

Stretched out

This could be a game changer; if nothing it’s a gutsy move by the leader in the luxury space and one that will have sent its competitors into many a board room huddle. In India the new E-Class will only be available in the extended wheelbase variant. In fact this is the first, and till now, the only right hand drive market in the world where the E-Class is made in the long wheelbase configuration.

Of course we aren’t new to long wheel base variants – the S-Class and its rivals are only sold with a stretched-out wheelbase and we even have a long wheelbase 3 Series, cleverly disguised as the 3 GT. And in China, a market that is very similar to India in that expensive cars are primarily chauffer driven and back seat space is very important, the C-, E- and S-Class (and all their rivals) have been sold in the long wheelbase format for quite some time now.

What’s new is that this is the first time this stretching business has been applied to a right hand drive car. And what it does is blurs the lines between the E- and S-Class because there is a heck of a lot of space in here.

The wheelbase has gone up by 205mm over the current E-Class to now measure over three metres while overall length is over 5 metres. Viewed in profile, the sheer length of the new E-Class is apparent and what it does is provide a whopping 320mm of rear seat space. To give you a benchmark, the current E-Class has 203mm.

With all the space, the rear seats also recline to give you a very comfortable perch and it also gets those super-soft head pillows from the S-Class. What it does not have are doors that suck themselves shut, seat massagers (both acceptable) and even seat coolers (a big miss).

Hugely comfortable

We head out on the narrow by-lanes of South Goa and after the space, the next thing to hit you is the comfort of the new E-Class. Running air suspension as standard, the ride in the Comfort setting is fantastic, providing brilliant isolation from road imperfections and getting even better as speeds build up to even mask an unmarked speedbreaker the chauffer fails to slow down for.

There’s also excellent sound insulation and you can barely hear the rumble of the diesel V6 motor or any other tyre or road noise.

Behind the wheel

We ask the chauffer to head back to the hotel and I take the wheel to find out that the E-Class does not feel like a stretched out car. Of course you are made aware of being in charge of a rather large vehicle but it does not feel cumbersome, and when we get lost it, becomes apparent that the turning circle is actually better than our Innova tracking car. Also, the long wheelbase does not pose any problems over Goan speedbreakers though I suspect the suspension-lift function will have to be employed over some of Mumbai’s streets.

The new E-Class is best experienced in Comfort mode where the ride is supple and the driving experience unhurried. This is a hugely relaxing car to drive, the V6 motor pushing her along in a mighty wave of torque, the suspension soaking up imperfections, the steering allowing her to be placed precisely over narrow roads and isolation near-S-Class-like. Stick it in Sport mode (there’s even Sport +) and the ride gets noticeably stiffer though still quite comfortable, the gearbox gets quicker, the steering gets weightier and there’s more enthusiasm to piloting the E-Class. I even got a screech from the rear tyres when I gave it a bit too much gas round a tight bend. But that’s not how the new E expects to be driven. It will cover ground very quickly but it does it in a relaxed and unhurried manner, so much so that you’re surprised by how quickly you’ve reached your destination. And how fresh you are!

That said this is not a car for driving enthusiasts. Hustle it and you do feel its size, there is appreciable body roll and understeer is apparent.

Boat loads of torque

Two engines are available at launch, the four-cylinder E200 petrol and the 3-litre V6 diesel (the only engine we experienced on the drive) that perfectly suits the character of the new E. With every new car, manufacturers are finding more power and torque from existing engines and the headline number of this motor is the 620Nm of twist force that gives the E a solid turn of pace without ever feeling stressed or hurried. You tickle the accelerator, surf the wave of torque and big numbers pop up on the speedo without you even realising. It makes 255bhp of power and thanks to nine speeds in the automatic gearbox, the acceleration times have gone down to 6.6 seconds for the 0-100kmph sprint (top speed, as before, is limited to 250kmph). On the subject of the gearbox, this new 9G Tronic gearbox never felt like it was shuffling unnecessarily between cogs and in Sport mode and downshifts quick enough to not draw any complaints.

The family look

We stop off at Cabo de Rama to take some pictures and it gives me an opportunity to scratch my head trying to make out the differences between the E-, S- and C-Class. This is Merc’s new family look, one that looks more dynamic and modern, but I also think the new E-Class looks far too similar to the other cars in the range.

And there’s a lot of the S-Class inside the new E! The 12.3-inch TFT screen (it’s not a touch screen though) is taken straight from the S-Class, so too the overall design theme and even a lot of the switchgear. It makes the E-Class cabin feel really high quality, very plush and expensive. And you can knock yourself silly choosing between the 64 different ambient lighting colors. There’s also a killer 13-speaker Burmester stereo and a more sophisticated menu interface complete with Apple Car Play and Andriod Auto.

Expect it to be more expensive

The current E-Class costs Rs 63.5lakh, expect the new E-Class to be at least seven lakh rupees costlier and be priced in the region of Rs 70lakh. The obvious question is – doesn’t this leave a big hole between the C- and the E-Class? Well not really, with prices of the C-Class having gone up, there was a very small gap between the two and tweaking the pricing strategy does space out the cars. And will the new E eat into the S-Class’s space? Again unlikely as the S-Class still has the luxury, features and more importantly the brand cachet to maintain its customer base.

There’s no question that the new E-Class is a significant step up on all the key parameters – luxury, style, cabin furnishings – even setting the benchmark on all these fronts. But what will be interesting to see is whether E-Class customers will stomach the seven lakh (12 by the time you add taxes) price hike (prices will be announced on the last day of February). It’s a bold gamble and the entire industry will be keenly watching how this unfolds.

evo India rating: 4.5/5

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