From £35,205
Mercedes-Benz's decision to extend the wheelbase of the E-Class for the Chinese market is an inspired one, judging by our brief test drive
Mark Tisshaw
24 November 2017

What is it?

Its great rival BMW might claim M is the most powerful letter in the world, but for Mercedes-Benz it’s L. That letter stands for long-wheelbase, and it is what’s new about the E-Class: it’s longer than the one sold elsewhere.

That's because Chinese customers like the extra space in rear as part of their desire for the car they buy to offer as much space and be as big as possible for the budget at their disposal.

And Mercedes is having some quite extraordinary success with long-wheelbase versions of other models in its range, chiefly the C-Class. Indeed, it’s the success of that model in China, in among Mercedes’ rapid response to global demand for SUVs, that has helped propel it to the number one luxury car maker in the world.

The E-Class is now built in China as part of a partnership with BAIC; it's sold in the home market only and is not for export. So, if anything, what are we missing?

What's it like?

If you know your E-Classes, there are things you'll spot about the Chinese model beyond the obvious 140mm stretch in wheelbase, with that length visually added to the rear doors, and in real terms it means an extra 134mm of leg room for rear passengers.


Find an Autocar review

Back to top

Inside, there are a few concessions to the fact that the car is built in China; some surfaces are of a slightly lower quality, such as around the window controls, and the general perceived quality feels around 5% lower than models sold in the UK. But that 5% reduction is still enough for a class-leading cabin, and you’d be unlikely to find complaints from anyone who bought one.

Our short test track and handling circuit told us little on the dynamic front other than the E-Class has lost no agility for its extra 140mm in its wheelbase and does a good job of disguising its heft, but no assessment of what’s happened to the ride quality could be made.

While the interior sports detail changes, there are no differences in on-paper performance between regular and long-wheelbase versions. In the case of our E320 test car (not a version that’s sold in the UK), power comes from a potent turbo 3.5-litre V6 that’s smooth and refined, with heady performance levels that you can exploit on a circuit, let alone on the open road.

Should I buy one?

There’s no debate to be had over whether the long-wheelbase E-Class should come the the UK, because it isn't going to happen. The appeal would be limited anyway.

Instead, this car serves as evidence of just why Mercedes is having such a good time of it in China: it’s giving the market the cars that it wants and executing them very well indeed. 

Mercedes-Benz E320 L 4Matic

Where Guangzhou, China On sale na Price 629,600 RMB (£72,000) Engine 3498cc, V6, turbo, petrol Power 268bhp at 5500rpm Torque 295lb ft at 1300-4500rpm Gearbox 9-spd automatic Kerb weight 1950kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 5.7sec Fuel economy 32.4mpg (combined) CO2, tax band na Rivals BMW 5 Series Li, Jaguar XF L

Join the debate


24 November 2017

Is there a reason why Chinese buyers don't go for a car in the next class up if they require more legroom? For example, if the E Class is a bit tight, then go for an S Class. I doubt the price between a LWB E Class and a standard S Class is that much difference. The only benefit I can see is that an S Class may be seen as too wide compared to the slimmer E Class.

25 November 2017

I remember first going to China about 10 years ago and seeing a LWB 5 series and then other random LWB cars. When I asked about it, I was told that Chinese like to ride in the back - but you must have a class of car appropriate to your rank. So a low level politician may well be able to afford an S-class but it would be unseemly for him to have one. Keep in mind China has a very intricate hierarchy based around the CCCP. 

12 January 2018

Well, most of the customers of these LWB sedans are company executives and they'd rather be chaffeured -- just like Japanese company executives in their Toyota Crowns. Government officials and politicians tend to choose Audi A6L -- and usually the 2.0 litre FWD Tiptronic base models -- as there's a campign to stop government officials from riding Mercedes since 1994 and at that time Audis aren't that famous -- plus the A6 is the earliest among this class to be produced locally. You won't see government officials in LWB E-Class sedans or 5-series sedans, but rather black, base model A6Ls -- because these cars are often purchased by the government as fleet service and these officials don't own them -- and they don't need to own a car personally. I personally drive a 2006 model BMW 5 Series (E60) and it was the last batch of standard 5 Series sedan produced in China -- as the initial run of LWB 5 Series production started in that year. Now you can get imported standard 5 Series, E-Class or A6 sedans but the LWB sedans are produced locally -- and of course, sold locally.

12 January 2018

Because of the price, my friend -- the S-Class is only available in China as LWB model sedans or Maybach limosines and comes with larger engines. That means an extra to the price -- you can get a E200L if you like but there's no underpowered inline-4 models available for the S-Class range. Usually the customers of these E-Class LWB models are company executives and these people are usually chaffeured. For personal users, we Chinese people tend to live with our extended families with parents instead of nuclear families. The extended leg room means a lot for us. I personally drive a 2006 model BMW 5 series (E60), a standard model instead of the LWB model (which means an extra to the price), and it could be far less comfortable when you have to stuck 3 people ar the rear seats.

Not only Mercedes, there are quite a few Chinese market exclusive LWB sedans in the market -- BMW 5 Series Li, Jaguar XFL and Infiniti Q70L, plus the Audi A6 is available as A6L only. The compact executive sedans also have LWB models -- 3 Series Li, C-Class LWB and Q50L, and also A4L without standard A4 models.

24 November 2017

But this L model is far more than just a stretched rear door. Like the transformation from the S-class to the Maybach, it changes from a 4-light to a 6-light design. I am surprised Mercedes made such structural changes for just one single market.

24 November 2017

Another China only model.  This must come as a shock to those who think Britain is currently the Germans most important market, but another 10 years or so the sales lost from Brexit won't even touch the side compared to what they will gain in China, India etc etc.

24 November 2017
oaffie wrote:

Another China only model.  This must come as a shock to those who think Britain is currently the Germans most important market, but another 10 years or so the sales lost from Brexit won't even touch the side compared to what they will gain in China, India etc etc.


ha ha. I take you are not a businessman! Any short term loss is huge worry. Regardless of what gamble the future may bring. 

28 November 2017

The E Class LWD was launched in India earlier this year and is a runaway success. Bit of a complex manufacture as the rear section and doors come in from China and remaining parts are sourced from Germany as well some sub-assemblies from within India. The engine is assembled in India. It is available in E350 (wicked) E220d (fine for chauffered duty) and E200 petrol (I would not bothe!).

Quality is top notch except for the fact that the rear doors need a hefty slam. Handling is no BMW but it is pretty good but only when throwing it into tight corners are you aware of the length.

The rear seat is heaven, I fell asleep even through the car was being driven hard. More here



Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review