New Mercedes exec works well on UK roads

What is it?

This is the Mercedes E220 CDI Sport, and it’s the first time we’ve got our hands on the new E-class in right-hand-drive form.

The E220 CDI Sport is the top-spec trim level of the E-class’s entry-level engine, so you get variable-ratio steering and an AMG bodykit over the mid-spec avantgarde trim.

As for the engine itself, it’s the same 2.1-litre twin-turbo diesel unit you’ll find in the E250 CDI but detuned to 168bhp from 201bhp. Torque is reduced from 369lb ft to 295lb ft.

What’s it like?

The conversion to right-hand drive has been the downfall of many a German executive saloon, and the old E-class was no exception; the pedals on UK cars were distinctly offset, leaving UK drivers with an awkward, twisted driving position.

Thankfully, the new E-class consigns such awkwardness to history. The basic relationship between pedals, seat and steering wheel is spot on, and the vast range of adjustment (especially on the electrically adjustable steering column) means that drivers of most shapes and sizes should find it easy to get comfortable.

The solidity of the E-class’s construction also banishes another bugbear of the old E-class. Unlike the old car, the new E-class has managed to bring back some of that hewn-from-granite feel that characterised Mercedes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Over typically twisty, scarred UK Tarmac, the Mercedes E220 CDI feels composed, polished and agile, if not overtly sporty. The ride is quiet and always controlled, though it lacks the authoritative waftiness of a Jaguar XF. The E220 CDI is a more serene companion than a BMW 5-series, though, even if it doesn’t feel quite as eager to tackle a twisty road.

At low speeds, the variable-ratio steering feels a bit light and overly artificial, although it weights up nicely as the speeds and loads on the steering rise.

Despite being downtuned, the engine rarely feels underpowered, and the entirely adequate 0-62mph time of 8.3sec reflects this. Thank the relatively slight 1735kg claimed kerb weight for that.

The gearbox is a bit of a let-down, however. A new seven-speed gearbox will be available from September, but for now customers will have to make do with the old five-speed unit. It’s a smooth enough device, but changes, particularly kickdown, can take a while to come, especially in Comfort mode.

Should I buy one?

If you can’t stretch to the more powerful E250 CDI, then the E220 CDI is a fine choice. But regardless of which model you choose, we can heartily recommend the new E-class.

Provided you can cope with the awkwardly proportioned looks, the new E-class blends the sense of solidity from Mercs of old with the involving dynamics that, with cars like the new C-class, we’ve come to expect from Mercedes.

Matt Rigby

Join the debate

Add a comment…
jdevlin 1 June 2009

Re: Mercedes E220 CDI Sport

I agree with the comments above in that the photos don't come close to doing this car justice; it looks very good in the flesh, both inside and out, to my eyes it builds substantially on the successful design cues of the C and as I said in another thread, this is the first MB that could really tempt me away from BMW.

I had a brief spin in a 250cdi Avantgarde and was very impressed though I agree that it did seem to fall just short of the ride and refinement of the XF, and though maybe the 350cdi would be a fairer comparison, or the CLS. That said the E class, like the E60 and A6 is a slightly different animal and a more practical car than the XF for hauling stuff and people about.

The odd thing is that when I spoke to the chaps at Brooklands thay said that the E220cdi wouldn't be available with the Sport or Avantgarde packs until September 09 at the earliest and then with the 5speed auto and probably the manual. Looking just now at the new UK E- class site, this does indeed seem to be the case, with the E220cd only being available in SE spec. Can the test author shine any light on this?

sorrel 1 June 2009

Re: Mercedes E220 CDI Sport

Orangewheels wrote:
Its not the best looking, and like all Mercs very much on the conservative side in every aspect

In real life it looks a LOT better! I saw one this weekend at Brooklands (along with the new coupe) and they are stunning, especially so with the coupe. The new E Class will be a success for certain! Congrats to MB for producing such a good car!

jelly7961 1 June 2009

Re: Mercedes E220 CDI Sport

"The gearbox is a bit of a let-down, however. A new seven-speed gearbox will be available from September, but for now customers will have to make do with the old five-speed unit"

You would have to ask what the May to August 5-speeders are going to be worth in September...