Supremely quiet, spectacular tech, so comfy you’ll want to park it in your living room
Rubbish brakes, tech can be overwhelming, UK doesn’t get air suspension
What is it?
It’s the sixth-generation Mercedes E-Class saloon. Or not, if you want to be pedantic and include the 50 odd years of Merc’s ‘upper mid-range’ history before the E-Class name was coined. In which case you’re looking at more than 16 million sales and a longer origin story than some religions.
This latest E-Class is up against familiar foes; chiefly the BMW 5 Series and to a lesser extent the Audi A6 (much older), Jaguar XF (much cheaper) and Volvo S90 (much Swedisher). The BMW has long been the benchmark for handling in this class and so your first question is probably ’Is it as good as a 5 Series yet?’
Bingo. Is it?
Nope. Nor is it trying to be. Mercedes accepts that its big draw over the competition is comfort, and it’s wisely avoided the trap of chasing tauter dynamics and performance at the cost of keeping you relaxed and happy. Good.
Don’t get us wrong, the E-Class finds a tremendous amount of grip in tight corners and the engines are brisk enough, but it won’t invite you to leather it along a country road. That ain’t its vibe. The steering’s too vague and the brakes - especially in the heavily-regenning PHEV models - are softer than camembert. More on all that in the Driving section.
You mentioned engines. What can I have?
At launch the UK gets three powertrains: a 2.0-litre turbo petrol with 201bhp (E 200), a 2.0-litre turbo diesel with 194bhp and 325lb ft (E 220 d), and the PHEV which marries a 127bhp motor and - you guessed it - a 2.0-litre turbo petrol for a total of 308bhp. The latter is the quickest, hitting 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds. Its 25.4kWh battery is rated for 62 miles of electric-only range. Anything that isn’t a PHEV is a mild hybrid, courtesy of an integrated starter generator and 48-volt tech. You know the drill.
More engines are on the way, but the UK won’t be getting Merc’s impressive air suspension (except on the forthcoming E-Class Estate) and so clever rear-wheel steering looks out too. The latter’s not a big loss but the former is a weird omission given our gnarly roads. Grr.
Mercedes’ (sometimes indecisive) nine-speed auto is standard across the board.
Enough substance, let’s talk style.
Inevitably the new E-Class borrows some of its styling from Mercedes’ electric EQ line-up, and while that’s not the most inspiring source material, the E-Class is still impressive but understated in the metal. Job done. Though the three-point-star brake lights look weird to us.
You can also get the E-Class with an illuminated grille surround now, because customer research says buyers like that sort of thing. Clearly they can’t be trusted.
Is it as techy as the S-Class?
Feels like it. Mercedes has made a big fuss about the latest E-Class’s ability to keep you and your offspring in a state of perpetual awe between A and B. The problem is that it doesn’t so much bathe you in tech but try and drown you in it.
Seriously, even the passenger gets a screen now, turning the entire dashboard into a scaled-down Piccadilly Circus (a la EQS). See that camera atop the dash? That’s for taking selfies (really - TikTok is among the apps) and holding Zoom calls over 5G. While stationary, mind. The E-Class will even overtake for you, so advanced is the ADAS now.
The vents are mechanically driven and can be aimed via the touchscreen; a front-facing camera feed is overlaid with nav graphics telling you where to go; the HUD rivals an Ordnance Survey map for detail. It’s overwhelming.
You seem annoyed.
Look, it’s all well and good being comfort focused, but Mercedes has made the same mistake as so many other carmakers by assuming more must mean better. How are you meant to relax into a drive when you’ve got this much info being thrown at you and so many fiddly haptic buttons to interact with it?
All of this falls against a backdrop of what’s going on in the car industry right now: supply issues and rising costs are pushing everyone upmarket in search of healthier margins. So the E-Class has less room for manoeuvre now and its shortcomings are more obvious than ever.
Simply being a smaller, cheaper S-Class was enough for the Mk5 and it probably still will be for most buyers of the Mk6. But this is likely the last ever combustion-driven E-Class and we’re a little sad it’s not finishing with more of a flourish. Maybe the next AMG E63 S will make a better fist of it.
What's the verdict?
The Mercedes E-Class rightfully shuns a lap-time battle with the 5 Series and focuses on the thing it’s best at: keeping you comfortable. But having tried Merc's clever air suspension, we're a bit miffed it's not available in the UK. Let's hope coils and small wheels are still as good on our naff roads as they were on the old car.
The bigger issue for us is more existential: what is the E-Class for these days? By taking so much inspiration from the S-Class, it doesn’t project any of its own. And as impressive as the tech can be, isn’t belting you over the head with features and information at odds with the luxury vision Merc is trying to pitch you?