I’ve been lucky enough to experience both first-hand and the difference between cattle class and business class is as vast as the distance between South Africa and Australia.
I tell you this, simply because it’s the easiest way to accurately describe the difference between Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level C-Class sedan and the recently revamped E-Class. The C-Class is relatively spacious, luxurious and it gets you where you want to go, but the E-Class takes it a step further. The C-Class exists to ferry the masses, while the E-Class exists to pamper those lucky few who can afford it.
I liked the previous version very much, because it perfectly captured the essence of Mercedes-Benz. It was a luxury barge for gentlemen with good taste. The only downside was the styling, which was too sedate for my liking.
With this facelift, Mercedes took care of that problem. In the right colour and specification and with the right set of alloys, it is incredibly good-looking. It’s like Jason Statham with four wheels - brutal and muscular, but a gentleman at heart.
The good news is that you can have this beautiful body in three very different flavours - cabriolet, coupé and sedan.
In sedan and estate guises, the E-Class is as luxurious and comfortable as the models that preceded it. The interior looks the same as before and you get a decent amount of kit as standard, especially on the safety front.
Most of the upgrades are to be found underneath the sculpted bonnet. The sublime seven-speed automatic remains, but the engines have either been replaced or modified to provide more power while being kinder to the environment.
The petrol range kicks off with the E200 (135kW/300Nm) and E250 (155kW/350Nm). Further up are the new E400 (245kW/480Nm) and E500 (300kW/600Nm).
The E-Class sedan is available in diesel format as well. At the bottom end we find the E250 CDI with 150kW and 500Nm of torque, followed by its bigger brother, the E350 BlueTEC with 185kW and a whopping 620Nm of torque.
In my humble opinion, it’s best to stick to the bottom end of the range. The 250, in either petrol or diesel flavour, is all the E-Class you could possibly ever need, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t have a reason to exist. The more powerful models serve those who wish to be a bit more - shall we say - flamboyant. And no model is more flamboyant than the E63 AMG.
Its bi-turbo V8 petrol delivers a massive 410kW and 700Nm of torque. This enables it to accelerate to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed (with the limiter removed) of 300km/h.
Strangely, the E63 AMG’s time as the range topper will be rather short-lived. An E63 AMG S will be arriving in a few months and its bi-turbo V8 is said to develop 430kW and 800Nm of torque.
The coupé loses two doors, but gains a whole lot of style. From the side it looks a lot like Merc’s current CL-Class, which is by no means a bad thing. It’s available with three petrol engines from the sedan range: E250, E400 and E500.
There are currently no plans to introduce an AMG version of the coupé, which made me miserable at first, as it would look sensational with a sporty body kit. It took a drag race between the AMG and the E500 coupé to convince me that a go-faster coupé model really isn’t necessary at all. Yes, the AMG won the race, but the gap between them wasn’t nearly as big I was expected it to be. The E500, in whatever body style you choose, is deceptively fast.
It’s the same deal with the cabriolet. With the roof in place, the car is almost as quiet and refined as its hard-top sibling. With the roof down it looks, if anything, even more gorgeous. It doesn’t suffer from that big-bum syndrome that haunts so many other ragtops. The al-fresco E-Class is available in E250, E400 and E500 guises.
Overall, the new E-Class is a striking car with a sumptuous interior, powered by an impressive range of petrol and diesel powertrains. The competition is certainly stiff, especially considering the fact that a facelifted BMW 5 Series is also on its way to sunny South Africa.
Luckily the upgrades have elevated the E-Class to a level where it can be considered a viable contender for class leadership. We’ll have to wait a few months for the Beemer to see how this battle pans out. Stay tuned, because it’s going to be a good one.
The new E-Class will retail from R541 000 for the E200 up to R1 275 604 for the E63 AMG.