Confirmation the entry level Z4 gets a stick-shift might mean a manual Supra
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Still no AMG E-Class? Not yet. The new, 600bhp+ E63 AMG is on the way. In the meantime, welcome to the polar opposite of the Mercedes range, but the one that really pays the company bills. Being specific, it’s the new E220d, making this our first go in a Benz powered by the all-new ‘OM654’ diesel engine that Mercedes has spent an eye-watering £2billion developing. Makes the £38,430 you pay for the base car a bit of a bargain, really. Our test car had a lot of tech included, however, so it was north of £50k. Oof. Why the big spend on a sensible diesel? What’s so special about it? Diesel sales remain strong in Europe, but for obvious reasons, the tests used to determine their effects on the health of our planet and fellow humans are getting far tighter.
That’s why the new 2.0-litre turbodiesel four, which finally sees off the 2.1-litre engine that’s been knocking about (literally) for far too long in heartland Benzes, has an aluminium block (13kg lighter), nanoslide cylinder liners (lower friction and faster crankshaft spin up) and the most ambitious exhaust-cleaning ‘AdBlue’ system yet. It’s all thanks to pipework as complex as London’s tube network, which means 80 per cent of NOx produced by the engine is eradicated before it exits the tailpipe. So we all live longer, allegedly. If you really want to geek out, click here… Will the E220d make me fall irrecoverably in love with driving diesel? Perhaps not, but this is a lovely car to while miles away in. And as far as powertrains go in this class, you’re looking at the new class-leader. Let’s quickly tick off where the gains have been made over its predecessor… It’s miles quieter on a cold start than the engine it replaces, and doesn’t jiggle your jowls with vibration as you pull away. It also settles down into a relaxed hum much quicker, after the engineers slaved to reduce warm-up delay. Maximum torque is an equal 295lb ft, and it’s maintained from 1,600rpm (which you’re never below once underway) to 2800rpm, which there’s no reason to top, though it will rev out cleanly if you’re actually bothered. And it’s joined up to a nine-speed automatic gearbox that’s swift and intuitive. Thanks to all the optional self-driving gubbins, this E-Class will happily take over in traffic, or on a free-flowing motorway. But even if you don’t spend £1,695 on the necessary Driving Assistance package, the car is an unashamed exercise in isolating you as much as possible from the road, the wind, other road users, and frankly even your own mistakes. Doesn’t sound like I’m going to have much fun, though. Not driving it. This is not a driver’s car. Sorry. The car we tested had the AMG-line trim, but that’s more about jazzing up the nondescript ‘C-Class XL’ bodywork than adding handling smarts. Even £1,495 of adaptive air suspension can’t sort that. This is an unashamedly comfort-orientated car. It smothers the road, rather than let you in on what’s passing under the wheels. The steering, when you’re not letting the car take control, is utterly numb. But the E-Class isn’t about being a an E63-lite right now; instead, it’s a shrink-wrapped luxury saloon. If that offends you, you’ll buy a BMW 520d, or better yet, the even sweeter Jaguar XF 2.0d. This E-Class is actually quite an Audi-like Mercedes, if you think about it. Conservative exterior, clothing a fabulously modern cabin, festooned with bleeding-edge technology that’s mostly a doddle to operate. The cabin’s good then? Fabulous. Easily the E-Class’s trump card, even more than its polite, powerful engine, obedient gearbox, and long-legged comfort. The design is pure S-Class; the quadruple air vents, door cards worthy of an art gallery and delectable material choice. But there’s more. ‘Comand’, Merc’s entertainment interface, has been totally reimagined with new menus and graphics, and the result is among the best in-car tech set-ups we’ve ever come across. Spend £495 to replace the physical dials with another 12-inch screen, and you can extend the configurability to the instruments. It’s like driving along in the TV aisle of John Lewis. Enough to make you want one over the BMW or Jag? Such a tough one. Neither of those cars have anything like the warmth and richness about their cabin as the Benz, which is also the most refined, comfortable and among the quickest. We just wish it had a thimble of their handling balance. That’s presumably where the AMG steps in. In the meantime, anyone after an executive saloon to subvert the misery of the daily grind needs this thing at the top of the test-drive list. It’s a bewilderingly accomplished car.