A larger, more spacious, more refined and more efficient generation of Mercedes’ ever-present executive segment offering, the current W212 generation E-Class is arguably the best yet and is a considerable improvement on its predecessor. Style with sharp lines and angles that replace the previous generation’s ovals and rounded edges, the new car also makes dynamic improvements in terms of ride comfort, stability and handling. Offered in various guises, the E200 Elegance offers mid-level kit, a more efficiency-oriented version of Mercedes’ 1.8-litre turbo engine and a more comfortably set-up suspension and tire combo than Sport and AMG package versions.
Seemingly designed with an eye for more aggressive sports package body trim and larger alloy wheels and fatter tires, the Elegance version of the current Mercedes E-Class may lack some of the more dramatic presence of the Sports and AMG optional package versions, but is nonetheless an elegant car with plenty of road presence. Noticeably wide and with sharp defining character lines, creases and bulges, the W212 E200 Elegance has a more complex design than its predecessor, and stands out in particular for its subtly blistered rear haunches and sharp twin-pod diamond headlight arrangement, which not just differs from the model it replaces, but also from other current Mercedes cars.
Lacking the sport versions wider wheels that so perfectly fill out its wheel arches, the Elegance version’s 225/55R16 footwear however don’t look lacking in size, particularly with the sophisticated and rich brown hue with faint hints of burgundy, as tested. Softer and less aggressively detailed than the sport packages, the Elegance version also features twin chrome-rimmed circular fog- and running lights in the bumper rather than sport versions more rakish LED strips. Conservative, dignified and sumptuously sized, but with an edgy quality to its lines and surfaces, the W212 has a greater sense of grandeur than its predecessor, particularly with the rear window blinds drawn up.
With two mid-size four-door models on offer by Mercedes, the E-Class bucks the trend initially created by the CLS-Class for lower roofs and reduced headspace, which for a few other manufacturers means a compromised single model. More spacious than its predecessor as well the current E-Class benefits from a wide body and generous interior spacing that comfortably accommodates three adults in the back over longer journeys in terms of head, leg and shoulder space. Front space is also spacious as expected, while a centre storage box is deep and large. Front accommodation also features a highly adjustable driver’s seat and rake and reach adjustable steering wheel to suit larger drivers.
More elegantly designed inside than before, the current E-Class Elegance features high quality fit and finish, with soft textured plastics, leathers and elegantly lacquered woods aplenty, while a four spoke steering wheel comes with multi-function buttons. A class ambiance with clear instrumentation and easy to use menus instrument panel and infotainment menus, the E-Class interior layout is logical, while the infotainment screen cowl extends to the side of the instrument cowl to shield it from reflections and is set at an appropriate height and angle. A steering column gear lever is logically to free up centre console space, while the two-tone interior’s dark brown-purple hued dashboard and steering wheel was interesting, but black has more gravitas.
Though tuned to a similar maximum output as its supercharged Kompressor predecessor engine, the E200 CGI’s 1.8-litre turbocharged direct injection engine is in fact a noticeably more flexible and potent engine, with an earlier and greater 200lb/ft maximum torque over a broad 1800-4600rpm range compared to 184lb/ft at 2800-5000rpm. Power output is tuned for the same 184PS but arrives 250rpm earlier at 5250rpm. In terms of performance, the E200 CGI feels more gushing and muscular in its crucial mid-range, which is particularly good for overtaking. In the 5-speed automatic version tested the E200 CGI returns 7.5-litre per 100km fuel economy and 177g/km CO2 emissions on the combined cycle compared to prior E200 K’s 8.5l/100km rating.
With its turbo spooling up swiftly, the E200 CGI suffers little lag, but is even more responsive in sport mode when the gearbox more responsively downshifts and holds gears longer. Impressively responsive and muscular for a 1.8-litre entry-level engine, the E200 CGI feels swift, particularly at medium loads and at medium inclines, but pushed hard at high altitude and steep inclines, the more aggressively tuned E250 CGI feels more potent. Smooth shifting and timely, the tested 2011 E200 CGI’s 5-speed gearbox however lacks a dedicated manual sequential function, and so when using the steering-mounted buttons to down shift before a fast approaching corner, it skips down to the lowest possible gear rather than the next lowest gear.
What this means is that one sometimes has to corner at a higher engine speed than desired when driving spiritedly, with more power dialed in and too close to the rev limiter. The system can be tricked by swiftly shifting down and then up for the desired gear, but this isn’t really recommended, while driving in the less responsive economy mode but using the manual shift buttons seemed to give more control over choosing the right gear. However, the good news is that 2012 models will receive Mercedes’ 7-speed gearbox, which offers full and quick sequential manual shifts for better control, as well as closer rand more ratios for improved performance and economy reducing acceleration time to 7.9-seconds 0-100km/h, fuel consumption down to 6.9l/100km and emissions to 160g/km combined.
At over 4.8-meters the Mercedes E-Class is a large car but with its good visibility and very tight turning steering, is surprisingly maneuverable in confined town conditions, and is able to perform single-point u-turns better than many smaller cars. With its long wheelbase and wide track, the E200 has a big footprint and is in its element on the highway where it rides with the assured directional stability and firm yet pliant and planted nature of a true Autobahn-cruncher. A smooth riding executive motor, the E200 Elegance enjoys more pliant suspension and tires than its sport package derivatives, and is so supple and forgiving over road imperfections and bumps, while interior noise, vibration and harshness suppression is excellent.
Given that the E200 CGI Elegance is the more comfort oriented version and that the sport versions are already supple, the tested version was quite adept at tacking tight winding country lanes, with its steering accurate and with a good level of feedback for sharp turn-ins. Displaying good front grip, the E200 turns in sharply and precisely, while its rear end has a high grip threshold when loaded with lateral acceleration. Though its softer springing means the Elegance can lean in more than the Sport package version and thus theoretically less susceptible to over-steer, one found that its thinner 225/55R16 tires compensated with a lower – but still confidently high – grip level.
For such a large, wide and not insubstantially heavy 1615kg executive car designed to comfort and pamper, the E200 CGI Elegance also proved to be adept at being hustled through sharp snaking roads at a swift pace, with its steering, grip and balanced chassis gelling together for confident and reassuringly poised experience, despite more body lean than sportier versions. At its best through fast sweeping corners, the E200 Elegance was remarkably grippy and stable, while at low speed, while the trick to mastering the E200 through fast sharp corners is to brake and shift down before a corner, and only re-apply power smoothly by the apex, so as to not un-stick its rear wheels and set-off its zealous electronic stability controls.
- Engine: 1.8-litre, turbocharged in-line 4-cylinders
- Bore x stroke: 82 x 85mm
- Compression ratio: 9.3:1
- Valve-train: 16-valve, DOHC, variable valve timing, direct injection
- Gearbox: 5-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
- Top gear / final drive ratios: 0.83:1 / 3.07:1
- 0-100 km/h: 8.2-seconds
- Maximum speed: 230km/h
- Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 181 (184)  @5250rpm
- Specific power: 102.5PS/litre
- Power-to-weight: 114PS/tonne
- Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 200 (270) @1800-4600rpm
- Specific torque: 150Nm/litre
- Torque-to-weight: 167Nm/tonne
- Urban fuel consumption, urban: 10.2-10.5 l/100km
- Extra-urban fuel consumption: 6.0-6.3 l/100km
- Combined fuel consumption: 7.5-7.9 l/100km
- CO2 emissions, combined: 177-184g/km
- Fuel tank capacity: 59- + 8-litres
- Length: 4868mm
- Width, with / without mirrors: 2071/1854mm
- Height: 1470mm
- Wheelbase: 2874mm
- Tread width, F/R: 1600/1619mm
- Overhang, F/R: 841/1153mm
- Headroom, F/R: 1048/972mm
- Boot capacity: 540-litres
- Kerb weight: 1615kg
- Aerodynamic drag co-efficient: 0.26
- Steering: Power assisted, rack and pinion
- Turning circle: 11.25 meters
- Suspension F/R: Multi-link, coil springs, twin-tube / single-tube gas-charged dampers
- Brakes, F/R: Ventilated & drilled discs / discs
- Tires: 225/55R16
- Price, on-the-road: JD58,000