TO say that the new Mercedes E-Class is an important car for the German manufacturer is like saying that Guinness is critical to St James’s Gate, writes Declan Colley

In both instances, the examples are central to their raison d’être.

With 13m models sold since the name officially came into being, in 1993, the E-Class has the broadest remit of any Mercedes and the widest appeal. Any new version has big shoes to fill.

The latest version, which has just gone on sale here in Ireland, is expected to expand Mercedes’ reach in the executive segment and deliver substantial increases in sales, not only in traditional markets in Europe and North America, but also in growing ones, in places like China.

Part of the appeal of the E-Class is not only that it comes in four variants — saloon, estate, coupe, and convertible — but that it has an across-the-board draw for a variety of customers, from the chief executives of this world and their boardroom minions to a huge number of all the taxis plying their trade on mainland Europe.

The E-Class is, therefore, as important to those who like their cars to have a presence in the golf-club car park as it is to people for whom it is merely a means of earning a living.

But the ‘everyman’ nature of the E-Class is more common in other countries. In Ireland, the executive tag is far more important than the car’s utilitarian uses — and similarly so in the US, where the company’s marketing people can get their teeth into the brand’s perceived exclusivity.

Having put the new car — tested in AMG Line guise, which is not necessarily the one I would choose and which is unlikely to be the big seller in the line-up — through its paces recently, I can report that not only is the new E-Class a very eagerly awaited machine amongst Mercedes cognoscenti, but that it also drew crowds of non-Mercedes buyers, anxious to see what they might be missing out on.

Mercedes has upped the ante, by comparison with many rivals, in terms of technology and engineering-and-design sophistication. The lines of the new car — while echoing those both of the larger S-Class and the smaller C-Class — are more-rounded, fluid, and attractive than the old car’s, and the dimensions are bigger.

At the heart of engineering innovations is a new, all-alloy, two-litre turbodiesel engine. It replaces the old, 2.1-litre unit, which has done such sterling service for Mercedes for so long. The new unit was promised to be — and is, I can confirm — more powerful, more economic, and hugely more refined than before. It also emits only 112 g/km of CO2, for an annual tax bill of €200.

It now pumps out some 194bhp, covers the 0-100 kph dash in 7.3 seconds, has a top speed of 240 kph, and returns between 4.3 and 3.9 l/100 km in fuel consumption (65 - 71 mpg).

The naked figures are impressive, but it is only once you’re at the helm that you truly appreciate the leap forward. Not alone does the E-Class have depths that will be appreciated by people for whom driving is still important, but it goes about its business in a quiet, unfussed manner, in tandem with 9G-Tronic, automatic, nine-speed gearbox. This car is rewarding to drive and pretty cheap to run.

Sitting between the ‘S’ and ‘C’ Class machines, the new E-Class combines the luxury of the former and the nimbleness of the latter. This car is markedly quieter than before; the engine only gets shouty when you really ask it questions, and external intrusions, from wind noise and tyre roar, are largely absent.

The drive is smooth and compliant, although it does get a touch stiff in either Sport or Sport+ modes, which can be chosen from the Dynamic Select facility. Other than that, though, it rides like the limo it aspires to be, and has handling and grip levels that will appease a broad range of drivers.

New Mercedes E-Class is pure class

I was not certain that the 20” wheels, and their tyres, as fitted to the tester, were the best option for the most pleasing ride quality, but it was hard to quibble with the standard kit, which includes the ambient interior lighting (you’ve a choice of 64 different colours to match your mood), a ‘parking pilot’ facility, which will park the car without any exterior input, and a gamut of connectivity systems.

All the tecchie stuff aside, the interior of the E-Class is impressive and the décor is designed to have a big visual and tactile impact on driver and passengers alike, and it does.

Mercedes have raised the stakes in some considerable style and have gotten a jump on rivals, such as the BMW 5-Series and the Audi A6, both of which will not be replaced for another year, or more. The new Jaguar XF will give the E-Class a run, but the Lexus GS may be hamstrung by not having a diesel option.

The three-pointed star has an opportunity to make sales hay in the sunshine of a rapidly rising market, while others remain in the shade. But this car is so good that even if the others were bang up-to-date, it would compete anyway, because it has raised the bar in a striking and exciting manner.

There will be other engine variants — a 150bhp version of this same unit is promised, amongst others — and these will allow Mercedes to further exploit the sales potential of this exceptional car.

COLLEY'S VERDICT

The Cost: from €52,580 - €61,745 as tested.

The Engine: a very impressive new all-alloy turbodiesel which is faster, cleaner and more economical than before.

The Specification: three trim levels available, but more kit now as standard.

The Overall Verdict: a big leap forward in a vital segment for Mercedes.


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