Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: We drive the most advanced Benz yet on UK roads
For the past few years, the S Class has been the most sophisticated, technologically advanced saloon Mercedes you could buy. But in 2017, that honour falls to the Mercedes E-Class. Automotive technology is growing at a rapid rate, and carmakers can’t afford to save the latest car tech for their traditional flagship cars. Instead, they’re deploying their new innovations as soon as they can, and that means models usually considered mid-range – such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class – now represent the most advanced vehicles on the road.
But just how good is the 2017 Mercedes E-Class, and more importantly, is it a match for the new BMW 5 Series? I drove a 2017 Mercedes’ E220d AMG on UK roads to find out.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Design
If you were a fan of the last E-Class, you’ll probably like the new one too because, on the outside at least, not that much has changed. The E-Class is a good-looking car and although there are some bolder, sharper designs on the road right now, the Mercedes holds its own. The colour of the car I drove probably helped: the E200d AMG Mercedes provided was finished in a rich, wonderful Designo hyacinth red colour, and when combined with chrome highlights and the AMG bodykit, it certainly looks like a luxury car.
As with most Mercedes in the current range, the E-Class has a huge grille and bonnet, while the sides of the car are dominated by swooping lines. At the rear, the E-Class has a rounded boot and neat lights, imparting an attractive but understated look.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Interior
The interior of the new E-Class is far more radical than its exterior and takes a novel design approach that sets itself apart from the rival BMW and Audi saloons. As soon as you get in the car, the first thing you notice is a huge screen that extends from the driver side, all the way to the centre of the car. Look closer, and you’ll find it actually contains two, 12.3in high-definition displays in a tablet-like chassis. This isn’t deeply inset into the car’s dashboard, though; instead, Mercedes have made it appear to hover in front, like an enormous widescreen tablet.
Aside from its huge screen, the Mercedes E-Class interior is traditional in feel, with the high level of fit and finish you’d expect from a car costing £49,000. There are physical switches on the centre console for the car’s audio system and air conditioning, while most of the car’s functions are controlled by a hybrid touchpad and dial control that I’ll get to later.
Overall, though, the E-Class’ interior is one of the more comfortable you’ll find in the sector, and although it’s not as driver-centric as, say, the BMW 5 Series, it does cocoon you effectively. And, just like the 5 Series, the Mercedes’ ambient interior lighting can be set to one of 64 different colours: I went for a moody red this time.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Infotainment
The BMW 5 Series might have one of the larger screens I’ve used, but the Mercedes has it thoroughly beaten in this area. Although it can be mistaken for one swathe of screen, the E-Class actually uses two screens joined together, and the left-hand screen is the one you’ll use for the infotainment side of things. It’s by far the biggest screen I’ve used in a car – perhaps aside from the Tesla Model S – and it’s incredibly sharp. Whether it’s showing maps or displaying text, I couldn’t make out any pixel structure at all.[gallery:9]
Pairing an iPhone was a more convoluted process than you’d think and other features, such as changing the car’s lighting scheme, are buried in pages and pages of menus. It’s important to note that these are things you’ll probably do once or twice ever, so they don’t cause a huge inconvenience.
Once you’ve found the settings or page you want, the E-Class’ screen comes into its own, but it’s certainly let down by a slightly dated menu system.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Performance
Despite its occasionally tricky-to-use interface, the Mercedes’ in-car system is generally pretty responsive. For example, zooming in and out of maps takes place without pause and the animation is clean and smooth. That’d be good on a normal screen, but on the high-density screen in the E-Class, it’s particularly impressive.
The Mercedes E-Class doesn’t use a touchscreen, and that’s fine by me, provided it comes with a great menu and control system. However, I found the Mercedes’ menus to be somewhat fiddly, and sometimes counterintuitive.[gallery:12]
The Mercedes E-Class doesn’t do so well when it comes to physical controls either; more specifically, the hybrid, dial and touchpad system that Mercedes is using throughout its current model lineup.
Essentially the E-Class gives you two modes of operation: you can either use a dial and buttons, or you can use something akin to a touchpad, with the same function buttons. Both of these systems are effectively stacked one on top of the other and although it offers more choice, the overall experience isn’t as good as a more focused system like that on the Audi range or BMW 5 Series.
The controls on the car’s steering wheel aren’t ideal either. Most of the navigation is done through capacitive buttons, and offer nothing in the way of feedback. And that means you’ll often find yourself staring at screens trying to work out if your inputs have worked.
It’s a shame, because the range of functions you can access via the steering wheel, and the digital dash behind it, is highly impressive. Using those swipe buttons and several menus, the E-Class allows you to control all aspects of the car’s infotainment system, from the navigation to music and car settings, and it also allows to configure the digital dash to a huge degree.
In fact, the E-Class lets you change almost every aspect of the dashboard. You can choose Sport, Classic or progressive templates, but you’re then able to go in and tweak exactly what’s on the screen. So if you want to change out the rev dial for a map, it’s pretty easy to do. If you’re feeling sport,y you can have the centre console display additional engine data, such as battery charge, oil temps and kW used. Just like the rest of the Mercedes E-Class, the design of these screens is smooth and polished.
Using the satnav is especially straightforward and, after inputting the address using the dial or tricky touchpad, the E-Class doesn’t take long to calculate a route.The Mercedes’ sat nav system particularly benefits from its huge screen, and it also displays 3D landmarks so it’s easier to get a handle of where you are.
The Mercedes E-Class I drove didn’t come with a heads-up display (HUD), although you can spec one. HUDs are probably one of the most useful features you’ll find on modern cars, so it’s a mite frustrating that it isn’t standard equipment.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Connectivity and apps
The E-Class is the most connected Mercedes you can buy right now, and has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as its mobile-phone-friendly Mercedes me system. Both Android Auto and Apple Carplay handle as you’d expect (although the lack of a touchscreen here is a little annoying), but it’s Mercedes me that represents the most innovative part of the car’s connected offering.
We’ve seen counterpart apps before, but Mercedes me goes one further. Whether you want to find your car, preheat the cabin, remotely lock the doors, or check the status of things such as the brake fluid or tyre pressure, you can do it all within this app. What’s more, the app is also used to perform remote semi-autonomous functions, but I’ll get onto that later.
In terms of connectivity, the E-Class comes with not only Bluetooth but also a Wi-Fi hotspot for electronic devices, which is particularly useful when your phone has no reception – or if passengers have Wi-Fi-only tablets.
Mercedes E-Class (2017) review: Audio
The car I drove was fitted with a high-end Burmester audio system, and it was without a doubt one of the most impressive elements of the car. From quiet background music to heavy rock played at maximum volume, the 13-speaker, nine-channel system provided rich sound with clarity throughout the soundscape. Even with more bass-heavy music, the Mercedes was able to deliver a tight, disciplined lower end and mid-range, which made tracks feel more energised. Although it costs £3,895 as part of the Premium Plus package, it’s worth getting if you can have it.
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