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Mercedes-Benz E 200 review: A star of tomorrow
I DON'T know about you, but if I've just bought a new Mercedes I want people to know it. More so if it's an E-Class, because driving one means you never again have to say that you've made it. Your Benz will now say it for you.
Apart from being the automatic choice of those in Singapore who've played life's cards well, the E-Class seems to be the star at the centre of the Mercedes-Benz universe. If you include every ancestor all the way back to 1946, Mercedes has sold 14 million of them.
There's good news if you're thinking of making it 14 million and one. Mercedes launched a facelifted E-Class here on Dec 10, and it looks markedly different from before. In fact, it almost looks like a completely redesigned car, what with its slender new lamps and slimmer front grille.
At the back it looks even more removed from its predecessor, thanks to new horizontal tail-lights that replace triangular ones.
What's interesting is not that the E-Class has new looks, but a new look. Judging by the upcoming S-Class - the brand's new flagship - Mercedes design is entering an era in which ostentation is downplayed in favour of understatement. Accordingly, the E-Class has shed some of its more striking details and now looks crisply toned down.
How well that approach will work here is anyone's guess; to some buyers the whole point of driving a Mercedes-Benz is to revel in the opulence of the thing. Maybe it would make more sense to appreciate the Mercedes for what it is instead: a plush, soothing car to ride in, and one that feels high-tech and is enjoyable to drive.
Until next year, Singapore only gets the E 200 model, which tends to make up the bulk of E-Class sales anyway. No surprise about that, because it feels like all the Mercedes you need.
Its 2.0-litre turbo engine may have a gruff voice, but it serves up enough torque to give the Mercedes a pleasing turn of speed, helped along by the nine-speed transmission.
The Business Times drove the Exclusive version, one of three available here and the most traditional looking among them. The others, labelled Avantgarde and AMG Line, look more sporty and have different suspension with lower, stiffer springs for sharper handling.
Yet, the E 200 Exclusive takes bumps firmly enough as it is, so it's hard to imagine an even firmer setup doing the Mercedes any good.
Besides, even if the Exclusive variant is supposedly the least sporty of the lot, the E 200 generally has plenty of agility built in, certainly enough to make a road full of twists and turns something to be welcomed rather than avoided.
The interior is largely carried over from before, but there are three new steering wheels, all of which have touch-sensitive pads. That new bit of tech hints at the idea that Mercedes' software guys have been busier than its mechanical engineers.
Accordingly, the E-Class now has the "Hey, Mercedes" voice activated control system, which is part of the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment suite that has spread across the brand's product line-up.
Instead of jabbing at the touchscreen, you can apparently just ask your Mercedes to take you home or perk you up if you're tired, which would be a great feature if it worked well.
In truth, Mercedes seems a lap behind Audi and BMW in the voice control race (and both of them seem a lap behind Apple and Google), at least in terms of having an ear for the Singaporean accent. I could change radio stations by voice, but to most other things its response was "Pardon?" followed by "Sorry, I can't help you with that." At least it was apologetic.
Nevertheless, such voice control systems are the future, and will only get better with use.
In the meantime, there's the new Mercedes me connect app to impress your pals with. Recently launched here, it's similar to the companion apps that Audi and BMW have had on the market for a while, and basically makes use of a 4G line to make your phone an extension of your Mercedes. Or is it the other way round?
The app has a number of functions, such as remotely locking or unlocking your car, locating it in a carpark for you or, helpfully, alerting you to abuse by a parking valet. It can apparently pair with some Garmin fitness devices and let your Mercedes know what sort of state you're in (most likely, sleep-deprived, from the slog that being able to buy an E 200 here entails).
In turn, that can let the Mercedes respond by creating a suitable ambience in terms of cabin temperature and lighting.
That sort of stuff can seem arcane or even frivolous, but it's what a carmaker does when it's already mastered the more tangible aspects of luxury.
Perhaps you can't see yourself making use of these digital features, and want an E 200 solely to telegraph your success. Nothing wrong with that, but with part of the ownership experience migrating to your smartphone, you can at least hold some that success in the palm of your hand now.
Mercedes-Benz E 200 Exclusive
Engine 1,991cc, turbo in-line four
Power 197hp at 5,500 to 6,100rpm
Torque 320Nm at 1,650 to 4,000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h 7.5 seconds
Top Speed 240km/h
Fuel Efficiency 7.9L/100km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price S$285,888 with COE