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Mercedes E200 BlueEfficiency CDI SE

Click to view picture galleryThe less taxing new Mercedes
  E-Class saloon has never been
  so cultured and received so much
  praise from the motoring press.
  So just how good is it?

THE E-CLASS SALOONS AND ESTATES, for those not familiar with them, are probably best known around the world as the taxis you see first at overseas airports or lined-up outside hotels. The E-Class, in whatever form, are durable, markedly Mercedes, comfortable and roomy hence their popularity not just as taxis but as premium brand executive cars.

In the UK, the latest E-Class models come with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines as well as BlueEfficiency low-CO2, lower-tax versions which company car and business user-choosers will appreciate, as too will retail buyers. BlueEfficiency versions have distinct advantages with lower Benefit-in-Kind tax levels; retail customers will benefit from the lower road tax or Vehicle Excise Duty.

Remember as from April (2010) a new first-year VED rate applies — dubbed the 'showroom tax' — where more powerful, higher-CO2 emitting models will be penalised with a much more costly level of road tax in the first year of registration. Those emitting more than 151g/km will see an increase in road tax with the higher levels ranging from 155 to 950. Models up to 130g/km will be road tax-free in the first year; models from 131-140g/km will go down from 120 to 110 and cars from 141 to 150g/km will stay the same, at 125.

The new E-Class BlueEfficiency saloons are particularly attractive tax-wise, delivering up to a 23% saving in fuel consumption with the most frugal version showing an official 54.3mpg in the Combined Cycle. Take, for instance, the turbodiesel E200 / E220 / E250 CDI versions. Their emissions range from a super-low 137-139g/km meaning a first year road tax cost of just 110 — 10 less than today's price. Business users will also enjoy the very attractive 18% Benefit-in-Kind tax costs.

The new E-Class saloon is the successor to a Mercedes model that has been successful throughout the world and of which more than 1.3 million examples have been sold since 2002 (over 70,000 in the UK). Since 1947, when the Model 170 V (the direct ancestor to the E-Class) was introduced, Mercedes has produced more than 10 million saloons belonging to this series. This makes the E-Class easily the world's most successful business saloon.

With a choice of nine direct injection engines (both petrol and diesel), the new E-Class four-door saloon prices range from 27,570 for the diesel-powered E200 CDI 136bhp BlueEfficiency SE — interestingly, this makes it cheaper than the lowest priced E200 CGI 184bhp BlueEfficiency SE petrol model, which costs 28,035. The E63 AMG V8, 525bhp super-sports petrol version tops out the saloon range at 71,355. Depending on the engine choice, the E-Class range offers the options of SE, Avantgarde, Sport and AMG levels of specification.

The main competitors for the new premium brand E-Class saloon remain the current (and shortly the new) BMW 5 Series, the Audi A6 and the Jaguar XF. But even in this premium large saloon sector, purchase price and running costs are important to the majority of new car buyers. With this in mind, my first drive of the new E-Class saloon was in the least costly model — the 27,570 E200 BlueEfficiency CDI SE saloon which uses one of the three new four-cylinder turbodiesel engines.

My test car returned
52.2mpg on average —
remarkable for a luxury
saloon of this size...”
For a car of this status, size, quality and refinement, the price is ultra competitive. Standard SE specification includes 16-inch light-alloy wheels in a five-spoke design, aluminium trim, Artico artificial leather upholstery, heated front seats and a four-spoke, Nappa leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel. Also included in the standard equipment is a stereo radio system with a twin receiver, CD-player, eight speakers and a Bluetooth interface for a mobile.

The clearly laid-out 5.8-inch information screen in the centre of the dashboard can be operated by the driver or front passenger, using the controller on the centre console. Advanced Parking Guidance is also standard as too are a host of other technologies. These include adaptive suspension (which constantly changes the damper settings depending on driving conditions) to a host of safety measures such as driver drowsiness detection, pre-safe accident protection, nine airbags and an active bonnet system where springs raise the bonnet from the rear in a front end impact helping to soften the blow.

The only issue during my week long test was the 'take-a-break' warning diagram that was permanently displayed even on start-up from cold so I know it wasn't me — even after consulting the comprehensive handbook there appeared to be no way to reset it.

The new E-Class interior is classy yet remains classic Mercedes. While it is the base level of equipment, SE trim still offers most of the things that most people will want. The seating is supportive and relatively firm but comfortable. The head and legroom is impressive both front and rear and there is a large, easy to load 540 litre boot.

As for the exterior styling? What can you say but that it's conservative. But with the illustrious three-pointed star mounted on the bonnet, it can only be a Mercedes. The side styling lines accentuate the car's length with deeply sculptured panels and wide rear wheel arches. At the front, the classic Mercedes face with swept back grille and twin headlights have gone and now we have an upright grille flanked by twin rectangular lights. I prefer the previous style — it looked classier and elegant. But we are told that upright grilles are safer for pedestrians who will not be scooped up onto the bonnet!

However, the most relevant improvements in this CO2-obsessed motoring world are the lower running costs with improved fuel economy and lower emissions which minimise road tax and company car tax.

BlueEfficiency versions — whether petrol or diesel — make up most of the new E-Class line-up. This system is similar to BMW's EfficientDynamics and uses new engine and transmission designs and technologies, Stop/Start functions, energy capture during braking, lightweight construction, detailed aerodynamic changes to 'flow' the air around and under the car and low rolling resistance tyres.

These technologies really do result in massive improvements in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The 2.1-litre, four-cylinder CDI 136bhp might not look anything special on paper and the 'runt' of the Mercedes powerhouse family. But thanks to its 360Nm of torque from just 1,600rpm, this new high pressure turbocharged diesel unit is responsive, quiet and refined.

Around town, in stop/start traffic or on the open road, it is all the engine most E-Class drivers will need, and a good choice if they want to reduce their tax bills and minimise the new 'first year' higher road tax charges in force from April.

My test car returned 52.2mpg on average — remarkable for a luxury saloon of this size. The official combined cycle figure is 54.3mpg so fact and fiction are very close. What is more, with CO2 emissions of 137g/km (with the six-speed manual gearbox) the new first year road tax bill will be only 110 and it stays at that figure for subsequent years as well. And there are no downsides in performance terms: top speed is 130mph and 0-62mph takes 9.7 seconds.

So, buy an E200 BlueEfficiency CDI and you'll enjoy comfort, refinement, safety, low running costs and low tax bills, high residual values and, not to be underestimated, Mercedes executive car status. While I personally am not that keen on the upright grille design, the only real niggle was the test car's faulty 'take-a-break' warning indicator.

In short, this fuel-efficient new E-Class saloon looks good, performs well, is a relaxed cruiser, offers a comfortable and compliant ride and the SE specification is comprehensive so there's really nothing much not to like about the car. — David Miles

Mercedes E200 BlueEfficiency CDI SE | 27,570
Maximum speed: 130mph | 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 52.2mpg
Power: 136bhp | Torque: 266lb ft | CO2 137g/km | Insurance group 29E