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Click to view picture gallery“If polished good
  looks and a million
  sales since 2002
  aren’t persuasive
  enough to interest you
  in Mercedes-Benz’s
  new E-class range,
  then there are 2,000
  other reasons why
  you should buy one...

THE E-CLASS IS NOT so much all-new as very significantly refreshed with 2,000 technical changes made to both saloon and estate models for the second half of its lifespan. The current E-Class shape has been in production for four years now, so the new range that went on sale earlier in July could be considered the usual mid-term makeover.

Prices have increased by an average two per cent across the range and now start at £27,520 for the saloon models (rising to £66,545 for the top E 63 AMG version) and £29,320 for the estates — the flagship AMG estate costs £68,045. However, there is no change in the price difference of £1,800 for estate over saloon bodies and neither is there any price increase for the specification upgrades. Trim bands are Elegance, which adds £2,100 to the base Classic price, followed by the most popular — the Avantgarde pack — that adds £2,600. Specifying the Sport specification trim adds £3,570 to the price.

The million sales worldwide (860,000 saloons and 140,000 estates) notched up by the outgoing models since their 2002 debut confirm the E-Class's status as a global car. If you have taken a taxi ride abroad, the chances are that it will have been in an E-Class. In Western Europe it accounts for 30 per cent of the executive car market, and in the UK it has enjoyed a similar level of success with 49,000 saloons sold since 2002 and 18,500 estates since 2003. In the UK it is the third best-selling Mercedes model behind the C-Class and A-Class ranges. The UK is also the third largest market in Europe for E-Class sales, behind Germany and Italy, and the fourth largest market in the world behind Germany, USA and Italy.

In the UK, 80 per cent of E-Class buyers choose a diesel-engined model. The vast majority of customers are corporate, business user-choosers or fleet buyers, with estates having a slightly higher proportion of retail customers over the saloons.

Popular E-Class add-ons include Bi-Xenon headlights (60 per cent of customers choose them) and the pre-wired telephone option, which
is chosen by 50 per cent of buyers. Other popular items from the comprehensive options list are a CD autochanger, leather seats and parking sensors. Silver, followed by black, are the two most popular body colours. Traditionally, 60 per cent of E-Class buyers go for the Avantgarde option pack specification, followed by 20 per cent for Elegance. Fifteen per cent specify Sport and 5 per cent go for the Classic trim. Compared to the volume sellers just mentioned, the AMG specification model sales are minimal.

Engine-wise, diesel units fill the top three spots. The 220 CDI unit is the sales leader, followed by the 280 CDI and the 320 CDI. Top of the pops so far as petrol goes is the E 200 Kompressor powerplant, followed by the E 280, E 350, E 500 and E63 AMG.

Mercedes says that with their constantly-evolving engine technology programme, each new range brings with it marked improvements in
the balance between performance and fuel economy. They say that while the new E-Class's fuel economy generally remains constant, on average the range of engines now has 26 per cent more power and
18 per cent more torque than before.

As an example, the 2.2-litre E 220 CDI third-generation direct-injection diesel unit sees power increased from 150 to 170bhp, with torque up from 251 to 296lb ft. Fuel economy and acceleration times are likewise improved. The 2.0-litre E 200 Kompressor supercharged petrol engine has increased power (163 up to 184bhp), more torque (177lb ft up to 185lb ft) but with the same fuel consumption — and it is marginally faster on acceleration.

The new E 500's 5.5-litre V8 petrol engine has 388bhp and 391lb ft
of torque. And the new E63 AMG's 6.3-litre V8 petrol engine — the
one Mercedes says is the world's most powerful and highest revving normally aspirated eight-cylinder production engine — outputs 514bhp with 465lb ft of torque. The 0-62mph acceleration time is just 4.5 seconds and the top speed is limited to 155mph. Despite the power and performance, the AMG saloon's average fuel consumption is 19.8mpg.

Exterior styling changes to the E-Class are minimal but effective: re-vamped front-end design incorporating distinctive, transparent horizontally-louvred twin-headlamps and V-shaped front bumper and radiator grille, new light clusters front and rear, new side skirts and rear bumper, a new design for the door mirrors, white LED parking lights and new style wheels being the major areas of change.

Inside, the E-Class models have received significant and substantial changes both in their new high levels of specification, their overall design and with a significant improvement in quality. Highlights include new eye-catching colours, improved upholstery materials, a new four-spoke steering wheel featuring elliptical thumb-operated multi-function buttons and a new clearly laid-out control unit for the standard fit automatic climate control.

Many of the 2,000 changes are to do with improving the interior and providing advanced performance, handling and passenger safety integ-rated driving systems. All models now feature the unique anticipatory PRE-SAFE® occupant protection system first pioneered on the S-Class that recognises potentially dangerous situations and primes the car's active and passive safety elements for a potential accident; Neck-Pro head restraints and a tyre pressure loss warning system.

Also standard is Mercedes' new Adaptive Brake system — lifted from the latest S-Class range — complete with flashing brake lights that warn following drivers more effectively than conventional units and which are activated if braking force exceeds a predetermined amount. Interestingly, activating the hazard lights in dangerous situations had only a minor effect on other drivers' reaction times. Joining them is the new Intelligent Light System — the first such system in the world — whose adaptive headlamps respond to the prevailing driving and weather conditions.

In addition, the latest-generation E-Class's comprehensive package of passive safety features includes dual-stage front airbags and belt force limiters that can adjust to an accident's severity and front sidebags and windowbags. Improvements have also been made to the E-Class's handling and suspension performance.

Not surprising then that the current advertising campaign for the
new Mercedes E-Class range majors on the 2,000 improvements by suggesting: "Lots of small things add up to a major improvement."

To launch the new E-Class range to the UK motoring media, Mercedes opened the gates to a new multi-million pound Mercedes-Benz World
at Brooklands in Surrey. This new facility — when it opens to the public in October — is a 'brand experience' built to incorporate part of the famous Brooklands racing circuit. It contains showrooms, a museum, test track facilities, off-road course, showroom and service facilities, function rooms, five-star restaurant, café, shops and a cinema. A five-star hotel will also be built on the site. Mercedes is also providing a public park for the local community.

We were the first group of guests ever to be allowed into the new facility and to use its tarmac handling courses and the wet and
dry braking and acceleration lanes. It is only test facilities such as these that could possibly show off the radically improved technical capabilities of speed, positive steering, emergency braking, automated suspension and computer-enhanced handling that the new E-Class offers. In fact, other than being in a real-life accident, there's nowhere else that these new technologies could safely be demonstrated with-out causing damage to the car or harm to the drivers.

I mention this because one might look at the new E-Class from the outside and think nothing much has changed. But a great deal has.
And all of it is good. Inside the E-Class it is a whole new world with
a very modern appearance and a radical improvement in design, specification and quality that — happily — is in keeping with other
new premium Mercedes models launched recently.

But it is under the skin that the E-Class has changed the most. Yes,
it still remains a high-quality premium saloon or estate competing for sales against the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 models. But more than that, it now competes as well for driveability and sharpness of handling. No longer is the E-Class 'just' a comfortable executive car: you now get fully-integrated handling, enjoyable performance, state-of-the-art safety equipment and the latest in modern engine technology.

In real-world public road conditions the new E-Class will not turn many heads because it looks so similar to the outgoing versions. But then
the new car is all about pleasing existing E-Class owners (don't forget those million satisfied customers), attracting new owners and, naturally, enticing customers away from BMW, Audi and other premium brands. Whatever type of engine is required, it is in the range and, as
I have already stated, you get much more than that with the new models.

After some conventional public road driving, the engines and trans-missions proved to be first-rate. The best-selling E 220 CDI diesel will not disappoint in any way — neither will the E200 Kompressor super-charged petrol unit. E-Class saloons are more popular than estates
and Avantgarde is the most popular trim level.

If I was buying, I would be very tempted by the E 280 CDI over the others as I feel its turbocharged 3.0-litre direct-injection V6 diesel engine presents the best realistic option for performance versus economy: 190bhp and a muscular 325lb ft of torque on tap from just 1,400rpm. Add the 7-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission (with Tipfunction and SpeedTronic cruise control) and you have a 149mph car that will zip up to 62mph from standstill in a very brisk 7.6 seconds yet still return a wallet-friendly 36.4mpg overall.

I have to say I didn't find the revised standard suspension quite as sharp as that of the BMW 5 Series and it does transmit road noise and changes in road surface into the car. The air suspension models do seem better balanced, particularly the estates. On the plus side, the new E-Class has a full hand of trump cards to play: technical wizardry; vastly improved interior; and a mass of automatic safety, braking
and handling systems and equipment. Other than that, and the little-changed — but more sophisticated — looks, the E-Class is certain to enjoy a pretty rosy future. — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz E 280 CDI Avantgarde
| £35,250
Maximum speed: 149mph | 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 36.4mpg | Power: 190bhp
| Torque: 325lb ft

----------------------------------------------------------- Mercedes-Benz E 280