From £38,2308

Sixth-generation executive saloon and estate ramp up the luxury and tech

Modern car buyers may be more interested in SUVs, but the launch of a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class still feels like a significant event.

The E-Class is now up to its sixth generation, and that’s if you only count the models that were officially called E-Class. The lineage of the sub-S-Class saloon arguably goes back to the W120 ‘Ponton’ of 1953. It’s an important part of Mercedes history, and it’s still beloved by taxi fleets and individuals looking for high-end luxury motoring alike.

As with every generation since the W123, there is both an E-Class saloon and an E-Class estate, and we’ve driven both of them, in diesel and plug-in hybrid forms.

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More conservatively styled than its electric parallel, the Mercedes EQE saloon, it retains a classic ‘three-box’ design with a long bonnet, a large grille (two grille designs are offered in Europe with an optional illuminated surround), and a traditional selection of wheels depending on spec.

Dimensionally, the E-Class has grown compared with its predecessor, but not by much. Length is 4949mm (up 4mm), width is 1880mm (up 28mm) and height is 1461mm (1469mm for the estate). The wheelbase has also been lengthened by 22mm to 2961mm and the tracks increased by 30mm to 1634mm at the front and 38mm to 1651mm at the rear.

As tradition dictates, there's a Mercedes E-Class Estate as well as a saloon. It shares its front-end styling with the saloon through to the trailing edge of the B-pillars, but it adds an extended roof with integrated rails as well as a new rear glasshouse and an electronically powered tailgate. It’s a smart-looking alternative to the likes of the Audi A6 Avant and BMW 5 Series Touring, especially on the larger wheels. Those seeking a bolder look can choose optional illumination for the new grille.

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The new E-Class is offered with mild-hybrid or plug-in power, and all models receive a nine-speed automatic transmission. Six-cylinder engines will be added to the line-up later, but the UK range launches exclusively with four-pots. It starts with the 201bhp E200, which uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine boosted by a 23bhp electric motor. Then there is the perennial E220d (available with rear- or all-wheel drive), whose 2.0-litre diesel engine makes 195bhp.

Perhaps the most important model, however, is the E300e plug-in hybrid. Thanks to a huge 24.1kWh battery, the rear-wheel-drive model (four-wheel drive will be offered as an option) is said to cover up to 71 miles on a charge without the engine stirring, making it one of the most long-legged PHEVs on the market.

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Passengers will also find themselves surrounded by a much more striking interior design than in the previous generation. Sharing a number of its styling cues with the EQE, it has a glitz and glamour that’s normally associated with a Gulfstream jet. Ostentatious ambient lighting and materials abound, and it all feels pleasingly well screwed together.

It almost goes without saying that the cabin is crammed with tech. The E-Class’s party piece is the MBUX Superscreen. Essentially a smaller version of the Mercedes EQS’s Hyperscreen, it features a single-panel display that houses the central infotainment screen and a separate passenger display. It’s a slick-looking set-up, but more importantly the in-house-developed MBUX infotainment software has taken a major step forward when it comes to connectivity and entertainment.

Passenger comfort hasn’t been compromised to fit the 24.1kWh battery under the rear seats, but it does eat into boot space. A raised boot floor drops capacity from 540 litres for non-PHEVs down to 370 litres in the E300e.

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Third-party apps such as TikTok can be used, and you can even take Zoom meetings with a high-definition camera mounted on the dashboard. We sampled the latter and it worked flawlessly.

Thanks to the new car’s added width, the new E-Class is even more suited as a luxury taxi than before. With an added 15mm of leg room and 25mm of elbow room, the rear is a very pleasant place in which to travel. The estate’s nominal load space has been reduced by 25 litres to 615 litres beneath the cargo blind at the rear, although this increases to 1830 litres, or 10 litres more than before, when the rear seats are folded down.

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We’ve so far tried the E300e saloon and the E220d estate.

With a fully charged battery, the E300e defaults to Electric mode, which is as smooth and quiet as you would expect. With just 154bhp powering over two tonnes of saloon, acceleration isn’t exactly sprightly, but there’s enough punch to deal with rush-hour traffic, and it can even accelerate up to 87mph on battery alone. This makes for a serene experience for passengers, with no engine noise or gearchanges to disturb the ambience.

When the four-cylinder engine does kick in, the transition from electric power to petrol is hard to detect unless you’re giving it a bootful. This smooth handover, combined with well-suppressed wind and road noise, makes the E300e quite relaxing on the motorway.

The 220d is powered by an updated version of its predecessor’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, developing 194bhp and 324lb ft, along with 23bhp and 151lb ft from an integrated starter-generator in the front section of its standard nine-speed automatic gearbox.

They’re relatively modest reserves for a car weighing 1915kg, but with a broad spread of gear ratios and plenty of low-end flexibility to the delivery, the E220d feels reassuringly urgent.

Mechanical refinement is a strong suit. The updated engine is even quieter and smoother than its predecessor once up to operating temperature and there’s rarely ever more than a distant hum from the four-cylinder unit in automatic mode, where the gearbox chooses to shift up early in everyday driving.

Throttle dosing is first-class, giving the car excellent low-speed traits. However, the E-Class is even more impressive on the open road, where its tall gear ratios and class-leading aerodynamics make for calm progress at motorway speeds.

The accelerative performance of the E220d will never win awards, but the fuel economy just might. With a WLTP figure of between 49.6mpg and 56.5mpg, this model is remarkably frugal. So it’s a consummate, long-legged, cross-continent cruiser.

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Mercedes may be known more for comfort than sportiness, but the E-Class handles gamely for such a big car. It may lean a bit in corners, but there is plenty of grip and the steering is precise. Our test car’s rear-wheel steering made it surprisingly nimble on switchback roads, but that’s an option that UK buyers will be denied. The only real weakness is a spongy brake pedal that can rob you of confidence on the way into a corner.

Estate versions receive single-chamber air springs at the rear as standard and full air suspension is an option on both the saloon and estate – if you live in Germany, that is. Instead, the UK will get steel spring suspension with adaptive damping. This might not seem like a big deal, but our air-equipped European press car exhibited impressive body control over dips and crests and took the sting out of potholes and raised ironwork. With the state of our roads in the UK, it seems something of an oversight not to offer such a set-up to British buyers. 

Speaking of kit the UK won’t be getting just yet, we might be waiting a while for Mercedes’ impressive level-four driver assistance tech to become legal. If the radar cruise control senses a slower car in front, it will activate the indicator, change lanes, perform the overtake and then slot you neatly back into the correct lane once the manoeuvre is complete. At first it feels wholly unnatural, but such is the smoothness of the system that you soon learn to trust it.

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Few cars deliver the breadth of ability of the new E-Class – a car created as much for taxi fleets as individual high-end luxury motoring. The E220d represents the more conservative end of the range. But what it lacks in excitement it more than makes up for in overall ability, comfort, practicality and economy.

If you’re in the market for a luxurious executive saloon but aren’t quite ready to commit to a fully electric car, then the E300e is a compelling choice. Not only is it relaxing to drive, plenty quick enough and packed with tech but, because it has a class-leading pure-electric range, it’s also extremely frugal. On our spirited test drive, it returned a respectable 101mpg. Factor in a claimed 18g/km of CO2 and it should also make for a relatively cheap company car.

Mercedes has yet to announce pricing for the estate, but the saloon to start from around £55,000 for an E200 or E220d, rising to £69,520 for an E300e plug-in hybrid. Serious money, but then the equally new BMW 5 Series is in line for a price hike as well.

Additional reporting by Neil Winn