The safe choice
Confession time. I actually owe my life to a Mercedes-Benz, or rather my parents’ choice in automobiles. I was about five years old when the drunk driver of a tanker truck picked a fight with our stationary lime-green 280S late on a Tuesday night.
The Merc came off a distant second best, its devastated hind quarters leaking fluids with the impenetrable safety cell having fended off further advances from the lorry’s steel bull bar.
This selfless act of protection springs to mind every time I glance down a shiny bonnet at the three-pointed crosshair, and reminds me of the fastidious heritage of safety it stands for.
The middle-of-the-road E-Class might be the favoured choice for German taxi drivers, but that only speaks for its ease of use, longevity and passenger comfort. Oh yes, and not forgetting safety.
Two generations ago, Mercedes gambled with a new 4-eyed shape which eventually paid off so well that its successor was styled with similar intent. The latest incarnation sees square lights with C-Classy corners painting a blunt but aggressive face.
The E’s profile would look dull if it weren’t for the power bulge rising from and beyond the rear wheel arch. It meets up with massive rear lights stretching far back, completing a mean-looking but uncomplicated rear look.
At first I wasn’t convinced, but a few lengthy stares at the new Benz confirmed that it cuts a conservative but imposing figure. Inside the newcomer it’s business as usual, and business folk would indeed feel right at home here.
Superb material and equipment are arranged in a logical and comfortable manner, with the only big surprises being a keyless start/stop system and steering column mounted gear selector. The stubby dashboard houses 5 beautiful instruments and the sizable infotainment display as found in contemporary C-Classes.
Controlled by the silver knob near your left hand, it helps you to choose (depending on the model in question) entertainment, navigation, phone and various vehicle options. Its operation proved intuitive and easy; the in-dash radio/CD system and satellite buttons on the steering wheel aid your tasks as well.
Most information is also duplicated in the speedometer’s digital display insert, which will also alert you to unwanted lane changes, objects in your blind spot, or suggested coffee breaks. After a few days I had discovered countless airbags, subtle lighting, seat heaters, astonishing rear legroom, automatic seatbelt adjusters, two 12V outlets, a bottle holder, but no coffee machine.
Never mind; the easy climate controls are located far down in the dashboard whose silver accents meet with a vast centre tunnel offering plenty of oddment and cup holding space, due to the absence of the gear lever. Electric window and mirror switches are housed in the driver’s door, as well as a boot release button.
Seating is provided by supportive and reasonably hard-sprung items, adjustable in all popular directions. The steering wheel also moves to your heart’s content, and offers two gear shift paddles for sportier drivers.
These liven up the otherwise lazy but smooth 7-speed automatic gearbox to a point, but (much like the fanatical traction and stability control) will not tolerate shenanigans or rough handling. This is a Merc after all; if you want smoking tires and rev limiters, order an AMG.
The surefooted and commendable behaviour is evident in the rest of an E300, too. Its suspension is another pleasant improvement over older models, focussing on utter passenger comfort but managing the odd twisting road with surprising aplomb.
Uneven roads and bumpy surfaces eventually made me chuckle, because the new E-Class ironed them into levels of oblivion that other vehicles are yet to achieve. The next time I step outside Frankfurt airport, I’m making a bee-line for the first yellow new E-Class.
Performance follows similar trends that stay within agreeable terms but are a constant reinforcement of the E-Class composure. With 7 gears to play with, the 170kW 3-litre V6 always finds the appropriate one to overtake with a husky V6 undertone or cruise at super-low (and frugal) revs.
The E300 is not a sports sedan as much as a sublimely composed executive sedan. Especially long distances showcase these attributes perfectly, and paid homage to its predecessor (and my review of it) when I actually got upset that my journey had ended. Given the opportunity, I would gladly drive an E300 to Windhoek and back.
But I digress; the new E-Class has further surprises in store for you, also in daily commutes around the Helderberg. Its steering is markedly more precise and the wooden Merc brakes have been ditched for infinitely more controllable equipment.
I apologise for not listing all of the car’s standard safety features, but word count restrictions won’t allow for it! And as I mentioned in the first paragraph, if it wasn’t for Mercedes-Benz safety standards you wouldn’t be reading this today.