The Tatler Test Drive: the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Branding itself as a masterpiece of intelligence and living up to it, the newly launched E-Class is a semi-autonomous thing of beauty that sets a new bar for safety.
Due to a series of fortunate events – namely our car writer being away, and everyone else being office bound – I was subbed in to do a review that put me on a plane to Portugal to test drive a German car.
Arriving in Lisbon, I first set eyes on the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class while attending a briefing where I was given some information on the model. Then I was handed the keys to a left-hand drive E 250d and told to follow the in-built GPS to the Estoril race track which used to host the Portuguese Grand Prix, known to locals as the Autódromo do Estoril.
E-novation at its Best
At Estoril, the first thing that catches my eye is a cool, white E-Class, with lines painted on the ground denoting the distance covered by the car’s 80-metre radar; one of the many novelties packed into the car; the first of which I was introduced to via a model chair.
Taking a seat thinking it was an exercise in ergonomics, I was shocked when it jolted me to the right. Christoph von Hugo, an expert in the active safety and assistance systems explained to my bemused self that if the radar on the side detects an imminent crash, the Pre-Safe Impulse Side kicks in to get the front passenger or driver as far away from the impact as possible. Pre-Safe Sound on the other hand, sends a short interference signal through the car’s sound system immediately before collision, to lessen the auditory shock.
Next, I tried out the simulator and discovered the Drive Pilot which encompasses a host of features. The Distance Pilot Distronic for example, keeps track of vehicles in front, maintains a safe distance, and is able to follow cars ahead at speeds of up to 210km/h.
I also tested the Active Brake Assist which allows the car to apply the brakes autonomously if it detects hazardous situations. Complemented with the Evasive Steering Assist, the E-Class is able to stop and navigate away from collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.
The intelligent features not only help with the driving, but parking as well. The Parking Pilot scans for available parking spots, and lets users (not drivers—because with this function, you no longer need to drive) choose between reverse, front or parallel parking options, and steers or brakes if an obstacle is detected. Furthermore, the Remote Parking Pilot enabled via a smartphone app allows you to stand outside and watch your vehicle manoeuvre itself out of tight spots, from at least three metres away.
Right on Track
Then, I hit the highway in an E 300. I turned on the Drive Pilot and cruised at a speed of 60km/h, until a car ahead slowed down; I was neither accelerating nor breaking, but the car knew what to do—slowing down when necessary and picking up to the set speed when able.
Then I decided to overtake the driver ahead, putting to test the Active Lane Change Assistant. I signalled left and let go of the steering, but the car continued straight. I realised the Active Blind Spot Assist was displaying a light on the side view mirror, indicating a car on my left that I hadn’t noticed. Later, I tried it again—just a flick of my indicator, and the car steered itself onto the next lane.
Noticing the start of the 120km/h zone, I activated the Speed Limit Pilot. The in-built camera detected the speed limit signage, and in no time the car was revving itself up to 120km/h.
I did all of this with my hands off the wheel and my feet off the pedals, so that’s when the Active Emergency Stop Assist function began to take effect. The car gave me an auditory warning, but I did nothing, wanting to test the system. Eventually, the car began to slow down till it came to a complete standstill and the hazard lights turned on—a safety feature in case of an unresponsive driver due to a medical emergency.
The next morning at Estoril, other car journalists and I were assigned to groups and introduced to an instructor, who spoke to us over an intercom system. We got in our E 400 4matic, lined them up and began our warm-up lap. The lap was thrilling in itself but around the second lap, I fell behind.
Needing to catch up, I put the pedal to the metal and reached 110km/h but was still very much in control as I managed a tight turn easily. The speed intoxicated me, so I floored it further and before I knew it, the other cars were in sight. As I drew closer, I looked down at the speedometer, to see I had hit 200km/h. But as I looked back up, I was way too close to the driver in front of me with a corner just ahead. The car’s safety systems began audibly warning me of an imminent crash.
My heart was about to jump out as the car’s inflatable seat belt pulled me back, and I stepped on the brakes, hoping the Active Brake Assist would avoid what seemed inevitable.
Just then, our instructor offered us a timely tip over the Burmester speakers: “remember, it’s not about how fast you come into a corner, but how fast you leave it.” My foot firmly planted on the brakes, the car ahead accelerated out of the corner, and my heart lifted, while the belt eased itself.
It’s clear that Mercedes-Benz has developed a whole new level of technology in creating this autonomous car, which aims to aid the driver, while still putting the control and power in his or her hands. Christoph put it perfectly, in his own words, “The new E-Class represents the most intelligent fusion of emotion and driving pleasure with safety and comfort. I don’t think there is currently any other car that has quite such varied talents.” I definitely concur.
The E-Class arrives in Malaysia in four variants with the E 200 Avantgarde already available on-the-road at RM395,888. The E 250 Avantgarde, E 250 Exclusive and the E 300 AMG will be available later this year.
For more information, visit Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s official website.
Scroll through the gallery of interior pictures below:
The E-Class follows fresh on the heels ofthe grand launch of the new C-Class that featured David Coulthard.