The Mercedes-Benz E-Class was the first proper luxury car I ever drove, and that was almost 25 years ago. It was a mid-1990s E220, assembled in India at the Telco facility near Pune. Priced at around Rs 22 lakh and powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder 148bhp petrol engine, that E220 was pretty much the Millennium Falcon while the other cars available in India at that time were mere Cessna 172s by comparison. We had an early-1970s Fiat 1100 in the family at that time, so you can well imagine my excitement when I got a chance to drive an E220, which belonged to a friend’s father. For that one day, in my mind’s eye at least, I was Han Solo himself.
The Star Wars fantasies diminished somewhat in later years, though I probably enjoyed driving other people’s expensive cars so much that I went to work for a series of car magazines. And that inevitably meant that I’ve had a chance to drive each generation of E-Class that’s been launched in India over the last two decades. That first W124-spec E220 still remains unmatched in the rose-tinted memories of my callow youth, but the fact is that newer E-Class cars are, of course, far more accomplished in terms of technology, performance and the sheer luxury quotient.
For motive power, the new E200 gets a 2.0-litre inline-four that produces 197bhp and 320Nm of torque, with all the power going to the rear wheels via a 9-speed automatic transmission. The long-wheelbase E200 is a big car that’s a bit more than five metres long and weighs around 1,700 kilos. But that four-cylinder engine is more than a match for the car’s heft; a hardworking unit that sings its heart out when pushed, the engine delivers the goods in a workmanlike fashion. Floor the throttle and the car goes from zero to 100kph in 7.6 seconds, which is not bad at all for a large luxury sedan.
If you can find an empty enough expressway that’s sufficiently free of traffic, the E200 can hit a top speed of 240kph. In the real world, the E200 feels nice and relaxed and, of course, extremely comfortable. The vibe is very chilled out. ‘Relax, we’ll get there. What’s the rush?’ Indeed, the E200 is no boy racer; it’s car that’s meant to be savoured, enjoyed at a leisurely pace. The E200 is happy to be hustled along at triple-digit speeds all day long if that’s what you want. But it does want to remind you, gently, that it’s a family sedan first and foremost, a luxury car for grown-ups.
The new E-Class cabin is all about sumptuous, opulent luxury. Creamy-white leather upholstery on the seats, black ‘Artico’ leather and open-pore wood trim on the dashboard, knurled metal control switches and high-grade plastics – everything feels solid and substantial, stuff that’s built to last for ages. (The mid-1990s W124, the car I love so much, would feel quite spartan, merely utilitarian, in comparison to the modern E200. In 25 years, the E-Class has moved to a whole new plane of luxury.) The cabin is built for long-distance comfort, with amply proportioned, fully power-adjustable seats at the front, and even the rear seats can be reclined back, allowing occupants to stretch out and snooze. It’s all quite decadent in there, really. For the more tech-inclined, the new E200 has a removable touchpad at the back (integrated into the centre armrest) and an impressive set of dual screens up front.
The fully digital instrument panel and infotainment screen is one long stretch of glass that comprises two 12.3-inch full-colour displays, which are customisable and easy to use. There’s AI-powered voice assistance (just say ‘Hey Mercedes’ and the car will respond, allowing you to use voice commands for some features), while the Mercedes me connect app provides full smartphone integration and a range of services including breakdown assistance, maintenance management, an emergency call system, OTA software updates, tele-diagnostics and more. For audiophiles, there’s a 590W Burmester surround-sound system that sounds good, and the removable touchpad at the back lets you control a range of functions from the back seat itself. That’s something I’m sure a lot of chauffeur-driven E-Class owners will find very useful.
The E200’s suspension, which comprises a four-link setup at the front and independent five-link setup at the back, with stabiliser bars at both ends, strikes a very good balance between ride comfort and handling prowess. The suspension is soft enough to keep the car’s occupants isolated from the effects of bad roads (with enough ground clearance to ensure that the bottom end doesn’t scrape while going over stupidly tall speed-breakers), but the car also stays admirably stable and sure-footed at high speeds.
The E200 isn’t really built for high-speed cornering antics and is happiest on straight, fast expressways. But for what it’s worth, the steering is surprisingly communicative, and if you insist on sudden lane change manoeuvres and/or hard cornering, the car remains mostly unfazed, with barely any roll or wallow. It’s tight and well-controlled and pretty much unflappable as long as you drive with some degree of restraint. With ABS, brake assist and electronic stability control, hard braking doesn’t produce any unwanted histrionics and the E shrugs off such behaviour with barely a shrug. With seven airbags, a host of driver-assistance electronics and solid build quality, the E-Class must certainly be one of the safest cars in its segment.
The E200 comes with an ex-showroom price-tag of Rs 63.60 lakh, which is a fair bit of boodle, though you do get a lot of car for your money. It’s a beautifully designed car that’s luxurious, very well-equipped, fast and safe. It has the heritage, it has the right badge, and it makes you want to go for long drives just for the heck of it. Even Han Solo would approve, I’m sure.