So here we are, where the action is, ready to jump. The office fleet manager is on hold. What we need to know is how much the new ‘W213’ E-Class changes a picture that still feels familiar, the current executive saloon incumbent champion, the Jaguar XF, having only been installed on its throne when the car went through the road test mill back in December. We’re pitting the bigselling four-cylinder diesel versions against each other, because those are the ones you’re most likely to buy – so it’s 192bhp E 220 d versus 187bhp BMW 520d and 178bhp XF 2.0d. What chance another change of executive class leadership in the space of five months?
You might think you know what to expect from an E-Class: heft, gravitas, material substance, occupant space, cabin isolation, ride refinement, some high-end cabin equipment, perhaps. But a classleading four-cylinder diesel engine? Pull the other one. Well, believe it. The new E 220 d is the first Mercedes to benefit from Stuttgart’s newgeneration, aluminium-blocked ‘OM 654’ 2.0-litre diesel motor, which is due to be rolled out across all of its model lines to replace the venerable ‘OM 651’ 2.1-litre lump that has been overdue for retirement for a while. Smaller and significantly lighter than the engine it replaces, the new 2.0-litre motor has low-friction cylinder liners, an offset crankshaft and repositioned balancer shafts. It apparently walks EU6 emissions requirements, designed as much for the EU’s forthcoming WLTP test cycle. And in the nose of the E 220 d – a car that has grown as part of its latest regeneration and still isn’t the lightest cab on the class rank, in spite of its hybrid aluminium and high-strength steel construction – it makes for outstanding manufacturer claims on peak power, 0-62mph acceleration, NEDC fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
But before we get into the differences made to the car’s driving experience, a pause to take in the pertinent details of the spaces in which these three cars invite you to spend such a significant portion of your working week. Our cars are within 50mm of each other on overall length and are even more closely matched on wheelbase. So predictably, they offer similar quantities of cabin space and carrying capacity. The XF is, by a whisker, the tightest car of the three for larger adults travelling in the back seats, but it’s still easily roomy enough for most. More surprising, the new E-Class isn’t the most commodious car of the trio. That distinction goes narrowly to the car that has been on sale for five years, the 5 Series, which has back seat cushions that are longer and more supportive than the E-Class’s and notably more head room in both rows.
But those objective differences do little to communicate the stark differences in ambient character between the E-Class, 5 Series and XF, which should serve as a suitable preamble for the dynamic differences to follow. You sit high in the new E-Class, aware of a higher vantage point than you could get in either of its rivals, with a good view out in all directions, a good sense for the corners of the car and a pleasing impression of space around your extremities. In the XF, you’re hunkered down more intimately, with a high-rise centre console on one side and a higher-rising door card on the other, the steering wheel and instruments closer to your down-theroad eye line. The 5 Series splits the difference: spacious and convenient, with BMW’s brilliant sports seats offering all the comfort, adjustability and support you’ll ever need.