What is it?
Six decades and 13 million customers later and the E-class still sits "at the centre of the Mercedes brand" accorging to Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche. It remains one of the company’s biggest selling cars, with the sales it has lost to SUVs and crossovers in Europe and America more than compensated for by demand in emerging markets. It’s a vital model, which is why this W212-generation E-class has received the most extensive facelift in its history, and why it’s also showcasing some technologies that will shortly appear on the new S-class. This 11-strong bundle of features, now collectively labeled ‘Intelligent Drive’, majors on expanding the capabilities of the firm's active safety systems. A new stereo camera can see obstacles 50 metres away, including pedestrians, while other systems include lane-keeping that can detect and avoid oncoming traffic in an adjacent lane, and braking assist that can detect oncoming traffic from side roads.
The rest of the facelift content includes tidier styling that does without the strange swellings in the rear wings of the previous model, new grille designs, more equipment (but a sizeable price increase to go with it) and a simplified range offering a choice of SE or AMG Sport trims and front-end stylings for the six engines on offer in addition the E63 AMG.
What is it like?
The most popular engine in the UK is the four-cylinder 250 CDI, which is unchanged. And that’s a bit of a pity, because the not-quite muffled enough clatter of its combustion spoils an otherwise exceptionally restful experience, especially if you choose to exercise this torquey four and its reduced-torque-slip seven-speed automatic gearbox. Which you might well do, this Mercedes moving with a satisfying fluency that makes for tidy cross-country progress. A switch to the electro-mechanical steering system used in the AMG version improves the car’s precision and your confidence despite there being more body roll than might be expected.
This is quite a soft-sprung car on the standard 17-inch wheels and coil-sprung, electronically damped suspension (Airmatic is an option), but the 250’s agility is little compromised and the soothingly pliant ride well worth the trade-off. Sharper bumps you’ll feel, and there’s some tyre roar besides, but reassuring refinement is nevertheless the hallmark of this car, as it has been in so many of its antecedents. The aura of well being this conjures is underlined by the cabin’s comfort and robust finish, and if the E’s dashboard architecture looks slightly sharp-cornered and dated compared to an Audi’s, the new analogue clock, a gear selector relocated to the steering column and the resulting centre console redesign part-compensate, as do largely intelligible ergonomics.
Should I buy one?
The result of this extensive facelift is a car that gels well. The E-class not a sports saloon, but it’s a very able, civilised, comfortable and safe consumer of big distances, just like its 13 million predecessors.
Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI SE saloon
Price £36,590; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top Speed 149mph; Economy 57.7mpg; CO2 131g/km; Kerbweight 1765kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 2143cc turbodiesel; Power 201bhp at 3800rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1600-1800rpm; Gearbox 7-spd automatic;