Mercedes-Benz E-Class Saloon Review
For decades, those looking for a large executive car chose between three obvious choices – the BMW 5 Series, the Audi A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Why? Because all three have been very good for a very long time. Today, there are other pretenders to the Big Three’s combined crown, but that doesn’t mean that the E-Class has had its day.
On the contrary; the latest E-Class is as good as it’s ever been, with style, quality, technology and performance to rival anything else on the market.
Select's rating score* - 4.0 / 5
If you’re after a new, large executive saloon then you have a broader choice today than in years gone by. New contenders like Jaguar’s XF, the Lexus ES and Volvo S90 mix with long-time kings of the market like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6.
So where does the Mercedes E-Class fit into this mix? As one of the Big Three with the BMW and the Audi, it’s an obvious place to start looking. But the talent of the 5 Series and A6, not to mention the aforementioned newer rivals means that it’s not the automatic choice that it once was.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the E-Class has had its day. Sure, its rivals have a lot going for them, but none can match the all-round excellence that Mercedes has put together. It’s very good at just about everything, which means it appeals to a wide variety of customers.
All models are beautifully finished with the latest cutting-edge technology to inform, entertain and keep you safe, and the range caters for those that want the best fuel economy through those looking for supercar-rivalling performance. We’re focusing on the E-Class Saloon in this review, but you can also get it as an estate or a coupe.
Each of the big players in this sector of the market has a particular strength. The Jaguar XF and the BMW 5 Series are driver’s cars with pin-sharp handling. The Audi, Lexus and Volvo major on comfort and quality. The Mercedes, by contrast, sits firmly in the middle, aiming to be all things to all people.
That’s a tricky task to manage, but the E-Class manages it extremely well. While it’s not quite as involving to drive as the Jag or the Beemer, or as wafty as the Audi, it’s a better all-rounder than any of them, and by being careful with how you spec it, you can tailor it more to your preferences.
Tweak the trim and engine choices and you can have a relaxing motorway cruiser, an efficient plug-in hybrid or a big-horsepower monster that will spread a huge smile across your face.
Or, as most people will want, you can find a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. All models though, feature the premium luxury features you’d expect from the badge, including an excellent infotainment system and some very clever tech.
The E-Class is designed to offer a refined, comfort-focused driving experience with a relaxed ride and less focus on sportiness than some of its rivals. That said, it’s no slouch, with different trims and engine choices offering extra levels of engagement through upgraded suspension, brakes and steering setups. Whatever model you pick you’ll find a car that feels solid and composed around town, on country roads or on the motorway.
The AMG performance models are very performance focused, and not just because they’re hugely powerful.
Mercedes offers a broad range of powertrain options on the E-Class, including petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options. All have a decent level of performance – there are no ‘entry-level’ low horsepower models, as befits the market position of the car.
Petrol models start with the E200, which has a 2.0-litre engine with 194bhp. That’s plenty of performance for most. The range then jumps to the E450, which has a big 3.0-litre straight six engine with 362bhp; it’s properly fast without going into the relative big bucks of the performance AMG models.
If you do shorter journeys, or just don’t really want a diesel, then these petrol cars are worth looking at, but the fuel economy will be better in a diesel if you’re doing longer journeys.
Speaking of diesels, they start with the 191bhp E220d, which for many customers will give them all the performance they need.
It’s quick enough to never feel wanting for power under normal driving, but if you do want some extra shove, there’s the 261bhp E300d and then the 325bhp E400d, which is a properly muscular, effortless, fast car. The latter two have 4matic all-wheel drive systems.
That’s not the end of the story though. Mercedes is unusual in featuring two types of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models, with both petrol and diesel engines. The diesel model can improve fuel economy over longer journeys, which can be a weak point for petrol PHEVs, but both can run for short distances on emission-free electric power, saving fuel, and both will attract far less Benefit in Kind company car tax, due to low CO2 emissions.
The PHEV range starts with the E300e, which mates a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, giving a combined output of 316bhp. Its counterpart is the E300de, which uses a diesel engine with an electric motor for a combined output of 302bhp, but considerably more torque than the petrol model.
With the extra electrical componentry in the hybrids comes extra weight, which you’ll feel through the corners. It’s well managed by the suspension, but there’s a touch less agility than regular combustion-engined models, which is the price you pay for extra fuel efficiency.
We then move onto the performance models, which come courtesy of the Mercedes performance division, AMG. There are two to choose from, both with all-wheel drive. The E53 uses a 3.0-litre, straight six petrol engine to develop a very robust 429bhp. That means a benchmark 0-62mph acceleration of 4.5 seconds, which is quick in anyone’s book, and exhilarating behind the wheel.
But if you want the fastest E-Class, then the E63 S is the one for you. It uses a 4.0-litre V8 with a massive 604bhp, giving it a 0-62bhp sprint of just 3.4 seconds. It’s an absolute riot to drive, but you won’t be able to get close to its limits of capability on the public road.
With a Mercedes badge on the front you’ll pay higher leasing costs than similarly-specced cars from less prestigious manufacturers, but starting prices aren’t perhaps as high as you might think. At the time of writing, you could lease an E-Class for less than a 5 Series, but that said, an entry-level Audi A6 will be quite a bit less per month. The differences are smaller the higher up the range you go, however.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the performance and luxury you get from the AMG models is reflected in the monthly cost.
When it comes to running costs, insurance premiums will rise in accordance with performance, starting at group 33 of 50 for an E220d and rising to 49 for a fire-breathing AMG E63 S. These groups will vary slightly by trim level.
Fuel bills will also vary dramatically. Your best bet at keeping them low will be to opt for one of the plug-in hybrids, but how well they perform will depend on how you use them; keep the battery charged and do mostly shorter journeys to maximise electric use and minimise petrol or diesel consumption. Official fuel economy figures are largely meaningless for PHEVs as they’re so dependent on use.
If you don’t fit the PHEV profile, diesels will be more efficient for longer journeys. The E220d has an official figure of up to 53.3mpg, compared to 34.39mpg for the 300d. The more powerful 400d is actually slightly more efficient, with an official mpg figure of up to 42.2.
Of the petrol, the E200 has an official mpg figure of 38.7, versius 31.4mpg for the E450. The AMG models, predictably, sacrifice efficiency for power; the E53 will give you up to 30.4 and the E63 S up to 23.2mpg.
If you’re chasing low CO2 emissions then the PHEVs are the ones to look at, as the 300de has official figures of just 38g/km, putting it in the 11% bracket for Benefit in Kind company car tax in 2021/22. The E300e sits at 41g/km, putting it in the same bracket.
The diesels start at 139g/km for the E220d (31%) and 176g/km for the E400d (37%). The petrols all sit in the top 37% bracket.
The Audi A6 has long been the benchmark for interior quality, but this latest E-Class arguably trumps it. It’s a brilliant cabin, both in terms of its stylish, modern and classy design, and in its use of materials and build quality. It’s a premium environment in every sense of the word, with fine leathers and wood veneers and some exquisite details, such as the perforate Burmester speaker covers. The driver’s seat faces a huge double screen layout, housing driving information and the infotainment system, which is controlled by a touchpad and buttons between the front seats. It all strikes a great balance of having everything close to hand, without seeming all cluttered up with myriad buttons.
The E-Class’s infotainment system is a dominant feature in the cabin, spanning half the dashboard with what looks like an elongated tablet in front of the driver. It’s actually a pair of screens next to each other, both 12.3 inches in size, with the right screen showing traditional dials and driving information and the central screen showing pretty much everything else. The system itself is very impressive, with a huge number of features that you’ll need to spend some time understanding, although it’s all straightforward to use.
This is helped by an excellent voice control feature – just say “Hey Mercedes” and then ask it to, for example, change the interior temperature, give a traffic update or plot a destination into the satnav. Most cars have such systems, but a lot of them aren’t very good. This one is. You can also control things from a central touchpad or buttons on the steering wheel.
Other tech includes a suite of self-driving features via the Driving Assistance pack, bringing together adaptive cruise control and steering assistance systems to let you drive almost hands-free on the motorway (don’t actually take your hands off, it’s illegal). This works really well to take the stress out of driving in slow-moving traffic.
The E-Class is a big car, and accordingly there’s plenty of interior space for both passengers and luggage. Head and leg room is as good as anything else on the market, while the 540-litre boot is slightly larger than the Audi A6, the same as Jaguar’s XF and just a shade smaller than the BMW 5 Series. You’d have to want to absolutely cram it for that to make any difference though, and if you need any extra space then there’s always the E-Class Estate.
One note of caution if you go for a PHEV model; the electrical components mounted at the back of the car reduce boot space to 400 litres.
For everyday storage, there’s a double-doored cubbyhole between the front seats and a small bin in front of the central touchpad, as well as a good-sized glovebox and door pockets.
The E-Class was given a maximum five-star score when tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP, and all models have plenty of the latest safety features installed.
You’ll get nine airbags and automatic emergency braking, which intervenes if you don’t react to an impending accident, as well as Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
Other active safety systems are also available, such as a blind-spot warning system and tech to stop you veering out of your lane, plus the self-driving systems previously mentioned.
There are several trim levels to choose from when it comes to speccing your E-Class. The entry-level model is the Sport, but it’s still loaded with kit, including 17-inch alloy wheels, electric boot lid and bright LED headlights.
Next up is the AMG Line Edition, which bumps the wheels up to 18 inches in size, and adds a sportier AMG-influenced bodykit, as well as perforated brake discs. If the AMG models are too hardcore for your everyday use, you can at least have a bit of the look…
Confusingly, the next trim level is called AMG Line, which has a different 18-inch wheel design and clever headlights that use 84 individual LEDs to enable you to keep high beam on at night without dazzling oncoming traffic. These are brilliant on dark country roads. You also get three-zone air conditioning inside.
Next up is AMG Line Premium, which has 19-inch alloys and keyless entry and engine start, as well as a 360-degree parking camera and augmented reality navigation. This nifty tech shows a live camera feed of the road ahead on the screen, but overlaid with directions to stop you missing your turning.
Top of the standard car range is the AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus, which has 20-inch alloys (18s on the PHEVs), the Burmester sound system and more adjustment on the driver’s seat.
The AMG cars are broadly specced in the AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus trims.
When it comes to rivals, we’ll start with the obvious ones. The BMW 5 Series doesn’t have the interior wow factor of the E-Class (although it’s still very good), but it is more fun to drive throughout the range. If you’re the kind of driver that likes to take the longer country road home, then it’s worth checking out. The Audi A6 has a brilliant quality interior, albeit not quite as flashy as the Merc, and probably has the edge in ride comfort too, but it’s not as agile through the corners as the E-Class. Neither the A6 or the 5 Series offer a diesel hybrid option.
Of the other major contenders, the Volvo S90 takes a similar philosophy to the E-Class, focusing on comfort and interior quality while still offering a decent driving experience, and it also has a very different, decidedly Scandinavian interior that will appeal to many. It’s also far less ubiquitous, in case you want something a bit different.
Jaguar’s XF is great for driving enthusiasts but its interior lets it down, and it’s not as practical either, while the Lexus ES is also a left-field choice but is let down by an interior that doesn’t feel particularly plush, a ride that isn’t particularly refined and a pretty disappointing infotainment system.
While those looking for the ultimate in comfort, or the ultimate in driving precision might be tempted by some of the rivals, the Mercedes E-Class should and will appeal to a very wide audience. It’s a brilliantly engineered machine that caters for almost all tastes, with a wide range of trims and engines to suit different requirements and budgets. There’s nothing that it does badly and plenty that it does very well indeed. If you’re after a premium badge and driving experience to match, then don’t you dare leave the E-Class off your short list. You’d only regret it later.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes Benz E-Class
**Correct as of 08/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2926.69 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.