E-Class 'blue-ming' impressive

Peter FranzenEven the instruction manual is a thing of beauty in the new E-Class - PETER FRANZEN needed it...If all else fails, read the instruction manual. Although I am slightly ashamed to admit it, this has always been my mantra; with the notable exception of flat-pack furniture where even when I follow the instructions I still find myself in a muddle.Peter Franzen

Even the instruction manual is a thing of beauty in the new E-Class - PETER FRANZEN needed it...

If all else fails, read the instruction manual. Although I am slightly ashamed to admit it, this has always been my mantra; with the notable exception of flat-pack furniture where even when I follow the instructions I still find myself in a muddle.

Over the many years I have tested cars, I have rarely needed to consult the oracle in the glove box and only then retrospectively to check some minor point or other.

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But I have to own up that my proud record of managing without the instruction book has fallen to Mercedes. And when it comes to manuals, theirs is the encyclopaedia of the car industry. Beautifully bound in a leather case, so fat is the tome, that it is a struggle to get anything else in the glove box.

Now I have driven Mercedes often enough to be confident of such idiosyncrasies as the foot-operated parking brake and the transmission tunnel COMAND system. But this new E-Class was something else. It came loaded with more than �14,000 of extras, a positive 'techno-fest' to challenge even the most experienced motoring journalist. But more of that later…

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The new E-Class went into UK showrooms this summer and has a hard act to follow. The old E-Class built a reputation for being almost indestructible. It is no accident that tens of thousands of them populate taxi ranks around the world. Big, comfortable, reliable and built like a Panzer tank they go on and on.

Perhaps if there was an Achilles heel, it was that compared to present-day advances the old E-Class range could have been more economical. So with the new E, Mercedes has a range of blueEFFICIENCY engines. While the rest of the world is going green, Mercedes is going blue to demonstrate its credentials. The steps it has taken include new tyres with less rolling resistance, energy-saving alternators, fuel pumps, air-conditioning system and other under-bonnet 'gubbins'. The bottom line is that fuel efficiency is improved and emissions are reduced to a more tax-friendly level.

A good range of both petrol and diesel engines is on offer with the E, and I had hoped to be testing the E220 CDI, a four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit that is likely to be the big seller alongside the more powerful E250 CDI built on the same engine block.

All was well until I received an e-mail from Mercedes explaining that the E220 had been damaged while on test to another motoring scribe and would I mind trying the E350 CDI instead.

Well of course I didn't mind, but I was planning to cover a decent distance in the car and thoughts turned to my wallet and the likely damage that the bigger, thirstier engine might inflict. Under the bonnet is a 2,987cc V6 turbo diesel, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission (the four-cylinder models are still mated to the ageing five-speed automatic).

My destination was Prestbury, just outside of Manchester, which incidentally is where I am told Manchester United soccer star Wayne Rooney has a home. Now those of you who have travelled from Norwich to Cheshire will know what a tortuous route it is across country using the A47, A17, traversing the Derbyshire peaks and on to Manchester via Chesterfield, Bakewell and Buxton.

Not ideal terrain for extracting maximum mpg from a big Merc. Having been disappointed by the fuel consumption of a blueEFFICIENCY petrol B-Class a couple of months ago, I did not have great hopes.

Well, was I wrong! I kid you not; arriving back in Norwich some 500 miles later the on-board computer showed average consumption for the journey of 40.1mpg. Overall consumption during the week-long loan of the car was slightly lower at 39.6mpg. Pretty 'blue-ming' good.

Maybe the smaller four-pot engine would have done even better, but it would not have been as silky smooth - for a diesel - as this six-cylinder car. Quiet, refined, and fast with bags of pulling power the E350 takes all the stress and strain out of driving. Mated to the automatic seven-speed electronic-transmission (with steering-mounted paddles for manual changes) the gearbox is imperceptible between shifts.

Considering its body mass, the E handled precisely. The optional air suspension on the test car kept it very level in hard cornering, but of course it is an extra so I can't really comment on standard suspension; but all reports suggest it has sharp handling too. The test car also had optional 18in wheels that generated more tyre noise than I would have liked and didn't seem to bring much to the party.

Mercedes' customers tend to be conservative, so there are no surprises with the new E-Class inside or out. The cabin is spacious and oozes class but continues to follow the ''corporate' styling found in all Stuttgart models these days. On this model subtle use of wood softens the Teutonic starkness found on rivals such as Audi.

Space in the rear is limo-like and will readily accommodate three adults for a long journey. Good boot too - deep enough to take a set of golf clubs north-south.

Styling-wise it looks like a big C-Class. But in keeping with the trend for models to get bigger with each incarnation, it is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor.

The 'double blister' headlamps of the old E are replaced with a wrap-around unit. The only break with convention is the hockey stick-shaped running lights that are positioned where you would expect to find fog lights. That said, it is a handsome car.

At a shade under �34,500 you would expect a lot of kit on this car and the standard fit list is pretty comprehensive. The car majors heavily on safety technology, but there are also desirable comfort and convenience aspects included in the package.

So why did I need the manual? Well, I wanted to know how to tune in the TV on the sat-nav screen, and to work the rear compartment entertainment package. Then there was Night Assist, a night vision camera that gives a 'thermal image' on the central screen of warm-blooded creatures just in case you don't pick them up with the headlights.

And talking of headlights, the Adaptive Highbeam Assist automatically adjusts the main beam throw to the presence of other vehicles, whether coming or going. Attention Assist measures more than 70 parameters - but largely steering input - to determine if a driver is becoming drowsy, then suggests a stop with a gong and a 'hot cuppa' symbol on the speedometer. Need I go on? How much assistance do I need?

I do not have space here to list all the options on the test car adding �14,000 to the price, but I did find the �1,150 Night Assist an asset.

The only worry I might have if I was a Mercedes marketing man is whether the new E-Class is so good it might hit S-Class sales.

Mercedes-Benz C350 CDI blueEFFICIENCY Avantgarde

PRICE: �34,430 (�48,166 as tested)

ENGINE: 2,987cc, 228bhp V6 turbo diesel

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 6.8 seconds, top speed 155mph (limited)

MPG: urban 31.4mpg, extra urban 50.4mpg, combined 40.9mpg

EMISSIONS: 181g/km



WARRANTY: Three years/unlimited mileage

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,868mm; width (door mirrors extended) 2,071mm; height 1,470mm

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