The new E-class Mercedes-Benz has arrived and if you can wangle access to a big bundle of cash, you should do yourself a favour and take this dreamboat on wheels for a test drive.
Anyone looking for a luxury sedan will be hard pressed to go past this wedge-shaped Merc that marries luxury to comfort, with heaps of innovative high-tech engineering to create some amazing safety features.
Some of these will undoubtedly point the way forward for other automobile manufacturers, for just as airbags were novelties before their introduction to mass production only a few years ago, I reckon these Mercedes-Benz innovations will be commonplace when the next generation of car buyers go hunting.
But first, how does it drive?
In short, like a dream. The seven-speed sequential automatic was silky smooth to the point that changing gears was virtually unnoticeable. Braking was assured, the cruise control really worked in maintaining a steady speed (and not slipping when going downhill) and handling was excellent.
Suspension comes in the self-explanatory "comfort" and "sports" modes. The E-Class comes with a petrol or diesel engine and in two versions - the Avantgarde for those favouring the sportier look and Elegance for those opting for comfort and luxury.
The test car was the E500 - the V8 which produces 285kW and comes at a hefty $178,900. At 100km/h, the rev counter sits on 1500rpm. It's as if the engine decided 100km/h wasn't worth bothering about enough to get out of bed.
The interior is tasteful and elegant without being ostentatious. Call it Teutonic sobriety. But lots of walnut burr and leather give it an understated sense of luxury. There's a central console for navigation, telephone and audio system and the smart key which doesn't need to be taken out of your pocket for the car to be opened and started.
The boot is more like a cavern. It seems to stretch forward into the car for an eternity to create 540 litres of storage space.
The car's aerodynamics is supposedly world-beating, helping to contribute to lower fuel consumption than in previous models. Mercedes-Benz engineers appear to know no limits when it comes to ingenuity to keep fuel consumption down - take the electro-pneumatically controlled fan shutter for the radiator which limits the intake of cooling air by closing the radiator grille with louvres.
As a result, Mercedes-Benz boasts a fuel use figure of just 5.3L/100km for the E 250 turbodiesel, while the petrol models range from 7.3L/100km through to 11.0L/100km for the bigger engine.
The best I achieved was 10.2L/100km driving sedately along the freeway and a typical drive to work along West Coast Highway (a 26km drive at an average speed of around 40km/h) typically consumed 11.3L/100km.
But it is the safety features that impressed me most. Take Blind Assist, a radar-based system that lights up a red, triangular warning symbol on both wing mirrors when there is a vehicle in the blind spot of the wing mirror. Activate the indicator to change lanes and you'll get an audible warning that it's not safe to do so, thanks to a camera inside the windscreen which can detect road markings.
Then there's the lane-crossing warning - a three-time vibration of the steering wheel to alert drivers that they are drifting across a lane.
The really smart thing about this feature is that it doesn't function if you actively steer, brake or touch the accelerator when you change lanes.
There's also Attention Assist, a system which detects driver drowsiness by means of sensor signals. Fitted as standard, it operates at speeds of between 80km/h and 180km/h and responds primarily to steering wheel movements to detect when a driver is weary - apparently a greater cause of accidents than drink- driving.
And how about the Distrononic Plus as an option, another radar system, this time one that keeps the car at a set distance from the vehicle in front. If the distance reduces too fast, there are visual and audible warnings. If the driver fails to activate the brakes, an option called Pre-Safe Brakes will slow the car.
Price ranges from $80,900 for the cheapest diesel to almost $179,000 for the V8 petrol.
Perhaps not surprisingly for cars in this price bracket, there's not many things to dislike, but the foot-operated park brake was one.
Plus, I'm not a great fan of having the windscreen wiper and indicator on the same steering wheel stalk, which Mercedes tends to favour.
But these are minor issues in the great scheme of things and the E-class is a great car.Activate the indicator to change lanes and you'll get an audible warning that it's not safe to do so, thanks to a camera inside the windscreen.
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