DRIVEN: 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class range impresses, but it could be the last
JOHANNESBURG - The latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class, a deep facelift of the car that was launched here four years ago, brings a host of new technologies as well as performance to the party, and although it’s arguably one of the best passenger cars you can buy, it might be the end of the road for the luxury sedan in South Africa as more and more motorists switch to SUVs.
DECLINE OF THE SEDAN
According to Felipe Munoz, a senior contributor to JATO: “Our data from 54 markets across the globe indicated that demand for these ‘traditional’ cars was negatively impacted by the volatile environment, more so than any other body type [in the past few years]. This marks a big change for the industry.”
In South Africa, several OEMs have already culled sedans from their line-ups focusing rather on sport utility vehicles and bakkies, with the big three Germans being the ones that are really pushing hard when it comes to keeping the luxury sedan alive and kicking.
Nevertheless, the E-Class is here for now and Mercedes-Benz South Africa expects it to remain on the price list for at least the next five years, but whether or not an all-new E will be launched here is to be confirmed. Mercedes-Benz’ SUV portfolio is growing and with a dearth of these models to choose from, and electric cars becoming more mainstream in the future, the E-Class’s days might be numbered.
THE 2021 SOUTH AFRICAN MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS RANGE
On a more positive note, there are several latest-generation 2021 E-Class models to choose from, including a four-pot oil-burner and a 450kW V8. Here’s what the South African E-Class model line-up looks like, with prices:
Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde - R 927 680
Mercedes-Benz E220d Avantgarde - R 988 200
Mercedes-Benz E200 AMG Line - R 993 980
Mercedes-Benz E200 coupe AMG Line - R 1 044 040
Mercedes-Benz E220d AMG Line - R 1 054 500
Mercedes-Benz E300 coupe AMG Line - R 1 139 280
Mercedes-Benz E200 cabriolet AMG Line - R 1 172 640
Mercedes-Benz E300 cabriolet AMG Line - R 1 276 640
Mercedes-AMG E53 coupe 4Matic+ - R 1 630 600
Mercedes-AMG E53 cabriolet 4Matic+ - R 1 768 960
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ - R 2 436 440
WHAT THE 2021 MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS FEELS LIKE TO DRIVE
E200 AMG Line
Perhaps the model that makes the most sense in the E-Class line-up locally, if you aren’t gunning for supercars on the weekend, the E200 sedan strikes that perfect balance between smoothness and performance. It also rides amazingly well, considering its sportier intentions with its standard-fit AMG Line package.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. It’s also blessed with a compact starter-motor/generator combo that gives you a little more punch when overtaking or pulling away briskly from a standstill. The petrol engine makes 145kW and 320Nm as standard but when the electric starter/booster system engages, total system output jumps to 155kW and 400Nm for a limited period of time.
Acceleration wise, the car feels brisk thanks to its nine-speed autobox, and even when trying to make haste when overtaking, the vehicles nonchalantly gears down and picks up the pace without a fuss or too much noise intruding the cabin. Mercedes claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.5 seconds and an average fuel consumption figure of 7l/100km in a combined cycle.
The overwhelming feeling in the E200 AMG Line, however, was one of serenity and cruising capability. It made me think of older generations of E-Class models, such as the E350 Avantgarde V6 with its silky-smooth engine and compliant ride quality that wouldn’t leave you shaken and stirred after a long stint behind the wheel.
The cabin, in our test car, was also very nicely appointed with two-tone leather sections and soft-touch materials used in abundance. It features the latest MBUX systems, so expect voice control capability, touch screen interactivity and superb levels of connectivity with your smartphone.
The car really has more than enough of the tech that you need these days in a vehicle and perhaps the only real gripe I had with it was its new steering wheel. The shape and size of the steering wheel is actually perfect, but it’s the addition of far too many capacitive buttons that work in conjunction with actual buttons that you have to push and a trackpad that controls the screens. The steering wheel is far too complicated when you jump in for the first time, and yes, it does give you access to all the functionality you will ever need, but it’s a bit of an overkill and I would prefer the option to have a cleaner steering wheel with just the cruise control and audio control buttons on it.
If I were in the market for a large executive sedan that’s brimming with luxury and technology and presence, the E200 AMG Line will certainly sit high up on my list, perhaps even ahead of the latest Audi A6 and BMW’s 5 Series at this entry-level point of the market.
E300 coupe AMG line
The E300 range of E-Classes also make use of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with some electric boost, but it has a total system output of 200kW and 450Nm. It feels strong when revved hard to the limiter and it will certainly manage to keep pesky hot hatches at bay from the line if you encounter them from time to time on your commute.
Mercedes-Benz says that the E300 coupe AMG Line will accelerate from a standstill to 100km/h in just 6.4 seconds. It will also consumer unleaded at a rate of 7.3l/100km in a combined cycle provided you aren’t too aggressive with the accelerator pedal. On the launch route, in Sport+ mode through the Dynamic drive selector, chasing our C63 S lead car, I managed to maintain 9.5l/100km, which is actually quite amazing considering the sheer number of times I had to maintain wide open throttle to keep pace with the C-Class in front.
Like the E200 sedan mentioned earlier, it also has that new steering wheel fitted. The small shape of the steering wheel makes it a pleasure to pilot through the bends, but to be frank, there isn’t much in the way of seat-of-the-pants feel or feedback through the steering wheel in these cars; they are built for luxury.
I enjoyed the E300 quite a bit on the launch drive, and it is quite a fantastic product considering the latest technology that’s fitted to it, but it’s not going to set your heart on fire from a driving perspective. I feel that if you’re spending this amount of money on a sportier version of the E-Class, it really has to be an exquisite vehicle. If it’s a coupe you’re really after, you really need to consider the E53 AMG, which comes with the straight-six turbo engine from the GT53. The E53 has more than enough power to keep the E63 S honest from a dig, more on that later, and it just has this character to it that’s missing in modern cars. There’s a sense of drama in the E53 coupe, it has a fantastic sound, it has stupendous amounts of grip allowing you to really hone your skills if you enjoy grip driving and it just hits that sweet spot; enabling you to enjoy a fast car without the shoutiness of the full-fat V8 AMG models. Ultimate sleeper car, it just might be.
E63 S 4Matic+
Finally, I was let loose on the Zwartkops skidpan and track in the latest E63 S with 4Matic+. This manic car makes 450kW and 850Nm courtesy of a hand-assembled twin-turbo V8 engine. As the badge suggests, it comes with all-wheel-drive too but like the A45 S, it has a drift mode that enables you to de-activate the front driveshafts for those particularly “sideways” moments in life.
We went HAM on the skidpan for an hour, sliding both the E53 and the E63 S around, but as expected the 63 was the one that made more smoke and noise. It was easy to feel what the front axle was doing through the steering wheel despite the slippery nature of the skidpan and thanks to all that torque on tap from fairly low revs, the car is just amazingly adjustable on the throttle pedal.
On the track, it’s a completely unrelenting beast that just won’t stop picking up speed. Zwartkops is just too short a track to truly let the E63 S breath because before you even get to the top of 4th, you have to brake hard for the next corner. It just goes and goes and goes and the harder and more aggressive you are with your inputs, the more it starts to snap, crackle and pop like the pre-OPF cars did.
For me, it’s just too much performance in a car, on-road and the track and it’s really proof that cars like this should only be built for the German market. It can easily sit at 300km/h all day on the highway and will have no trouble scaring supercars back into the garages, but it’s just way too much car, and I never thought that’s something I’d say.
The E53 AMG I mentioned earlier is the performance E-Class I’d pick for my fleet, considering its combination of manic performance and luxury. It also uses half the fuel that the V8 does and this is an important consideration if you plan on using the E63 S as your daily driver. Mercedes-Benz says it will take just 3.4 seconds for the range-topping E-Class to reach 100km/h from a standstill, but it feels quicker than that.
IS THE E-CLASS WORTH BUYING?
If you’re a fan of sedans, the latest E-Class has to be on your list of must-haves or must-drives. It is able to blend comfort, luxury and performance so well together that it really is one of the best cars Mercedes-Benz has ever produced. In fact, I’ve always been a fan of the BMW 5 Series but after spending time in the latest E-Class, I’m starting to understand the allure of the E.
There’s no denying that it’s a very expensive vehicle, but its competitors are equally hard on the pocket, and considering the high levels of standard features you get in the E, it’s well worth the asking price, in my opinion, particularly the entry-level E200 and the E53 models.
If this is the last time we attend an E-Class launch in South Africa, it’s a fitting end to the vehicle that has been on the road from the 1950s in one form or another. We also noted that this is probably the last time Mercedes-Benz will launch a V8 range-topping E-Class, so this is perhaps your last chance to own a piece of Mercedes history if you have the bucks and can afford the lairy E63 S 4Matic +.
All models come with a five-year/100 000km Mercedes-Benz maintenance plan.