20 years of capturing the consciousness of the corporate czar has made the E-Class a force to be reckoned with. Mercedes-Benz has brought the perfect successor to India.
A LENGTHY REPLACEMENT
Landing onto the sultry stretch of tarmac of the Dabolim airport instantly puts your synapses in slow-mo mode and even before you’re whisked away to your resort, your heartbeat is down to a languid 65BPM. And this bodes well with what the folks at Mercedes-Benz India have lined up for us.
No, it’s not a complimentary spa weekend, but something that comes pretty darn close to the experience on four wheels. A fleet of factory-fresh E-Class limos lie concealed under cover, waiting for eager drivers to tell its tale. On the sparse spec sheet that Mercedes has provided until the actual launch of the car happens on the 28th of February, it’s evident that there won’t be any variants of this long-wheelbase E-Class.
The only model at launch will be a powerful V6 diesel with a four-cylinder petrol to follow up soon, but that’s not to say that Mercedes is playing it safe. In fact, with the segment's first and only long-wheelbase car in the country and the only country in the world to get it in RHD form, Mercedes Benz India has taken a huge leap of faith here.
It seems to pay off the moment you step into the money seat which, in this case happens to be at the rear. More than 5mts in overall length and 184mm longer than the previous gen E-Class, the legroom here is now in S-Class category. Clearly aimed at the chauffeur-driven segment, the all-new E-Class puts a premium on the back seat but the elevated standards of comfort, quality and design carry forward to the front of the cabin.
While the exterior is a size smack between the C and the S-Class, a different DRL signature and the extra quarter glass to fill up the extended wheelbase are the only cues that you are looking at something different. Look closer and you may be able to appreciate the crushed crystal effect on the LED tail lights and the wider air intakes on the front bumper that look inspired by the AMG-line.
It’s not as lithe and sporty as the C-Class nor as effortlessly regal as the S-Class, making it somewhat of an oddity in the Merc line-up. But open the large doors and there’s no denying that this is one of the finest places you can spend having a working lunch.
The huge 12.3in HD screen that rocks the COMAND infotainment system is crisp but sadly, more confusing than ever. The multiple modes of input persist and now there are steering-mounted touch pads in addition to the rotary dial and touchpad in the centre console. What is an unforgiving omission is the lack of touchscreen on the otherwise great looking 12.3in screen. It’s optimally positioned to be touch intuitive, especially if you’re plugged in with your iPhone and using the Apple CarPlay interface.
The big, chunky iOS icons just begged to be touched for instant response but instead you have to fiddle around with the rotary dial to highlight the desired app. Mind you, the touchpad on the steering wheel doesn’t work on CarPlay. Yes, strange but true!
The Sat/Nav system here works much better than the Garmin MapPilot on offer with some other current Mercedes models and renders 2D or 3D maps with rich graphics and accurate turn-by-turn info, almost as good as Google Maps. It’s an HDD-based system as opposed to the SD-card based system in other Mercs and the zippiness definitely shows.
Voice input may sound like a great feature but in reality, you’ll be better off just inputting your destination address manually, no matter how slow that process is. Elsewhere in the world, Mercedes offers a twin-screen layout on the new E-Class where the traditional analog dials for the rev counter and speedometer are also replaced by an additional 12in screen.
Not so in India where the dials still remain but are housed in fancier chrome rings to give it the gravitas an E-Class demands. Yet, I can’t help but miss the huge screen the international models get.
The 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system makes it to the India spec list thankfully and gets 590W of power with a surround mode for a more diffused sound field. It sounds crisp with enough bass punch and airiness around the treble to make for entertaining drives, but let’s just say it’s not a patch on the Volvo S90’s Bowers & Wilkins offering.
It also isn’t the full-bore Burmester 3D Surround system which gets a roof mounted speaker and rotating tweeters on the A-pillars but to be fair, most customers will be completely satisfied with this sound. What they might long for though, are controls on the rear seat of any sort.
There is no aspect of the system you can control from the rear seats, not even the volume control and if you’re using Apple CarPlay, you’ll just have to hope that the cable is long enough to reach out of the centre armrest USB slot to the rear seat. Even then, you will have to rely on the chauffeur to mute the morning radio Malishka when you want to answer a call.
There is no dearth of control for the seats themselves though. They can recline up to 35 degrees and the headrests are equipped with additional pillows that will make your bed feel utilitarian. You can also control the front passenger seat, motorised window, rear windscreen blinds and the sunroof!
The additional 184mm of length compared to the previous generation car has seemingly been utilised entirely for the rear legroom and it is humongous. Even if you’re NBA-level vertically challenged, you’ll never be complaining about space at the back of the new E-Class.
But hang on, don’t be carrying any beverages with you since strangely (again), there are no cup holders in the centre armrest!
BEHIND THE DRIVER
There is a serious push from Mercedes-Benz to establish the new E-Class as a chauffeur-driven carriage, what with the long wheelbase and all. It does make sense. So, we started off the drive from the back seat, which while feeling unnatural for the natural born driver was so plush, it made it hard to peel me off it.
The generous ingress and large doors are only helped by perfectly sculpted seats and narrow front seat backs aid in keeping the environment airy. The ride on the newly-developed trick air-suspension is simply marvellous, soaking up bumps and undulations without ever compromising on stability and keeping the passenger cocooned from surface elements like a Mercedes executive limo should.
You could easily spend the whole day in the back without ever complaining about discomfort of any sort. Noise insulation is commendable too with a 20dB drop in noise levels when you thud the solid doors shut. With all the seat adjustment controls and the perfect recline angle, this may well be the new class leader when it comes to comfort.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
But switch to the front seat and the good news continue. During the off-day of the chauffeur, the driver won’t need to think twice before taking on the wheel. With the Drive setting in Individual mode and everything but the steering in Sport mode, there is a superb compliance to the ride that is neither too floaty nor too crashy.
Mercedes has calibrated the suspension perfectly for Indian conditions and the steering is fantastic in its directness and fluidity too. Smooth and refined, the steering is the perfect alibi to the ride quality in taking the refinement levels to a new high. Of course the 258bhp diesel motor is virtually noiseless inside the cabin and mates well with the 9-speed transmission to help build triple digit speeds effortlessly.
The torque curve is smooth with no nasty surprises when you kick down aggressively but the transmission can make its presence felt in Sport+ mode. Yet, the amalgamation is hard to fault when you go around long sweeping corners and actually enjoy the feeling of agility the E350d displays.
For a car that is five meters in length, it shrinks itself remarkably well around the driver. It’s not meant to be driven enthusiastically but it does hold its own when it comes to providing the satisfaction of getting behind the wheel of a powerful RWD luxury sedan, size notwithstanding.
The air suspension also gives it an additional 15mm of ride height at the touch of a button if you are encounter a bumper-devouring speed bump and Mercedes has wisely avoided the temptation to ride on impractical wheel sizes. The 17in 10-spoke wheels are perfectly judged between filling up the wheel arches and soaking up thuds on expansion joints and broken tarmac.
Some might feel no need to stretch (literally) for the S-Class considering how accomplished this new E is. Of course, if it’s status that you seek, the S will give you parking privileges at the club that the E can’t muster, but for every other practical purpose, this car is astonishingly capable and just as pampering.
Sure, there are some glaring omissions that don’t bode well with its chariot-like nature of being passenger-oriented and certainly, a touchscreen interface is overdue.
But when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of it, the E350d nails it with a class-leading ride quality and interior design. It’s equal parts luxurious and sporty without ever deviating too far from the brief – to be the best executive sedan there is in the market. It sure meets the objective.