Finally In Tune With The Times: Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueEfficiency
By James Wong
My old man used to own a few Benzes. There is this Asian philosophy of “bigger is always better,” so like most businessmen, he got himself an S-Class. He started off with the W126, a humongous car for the day and age, but I remembered little of it as I was just a young lad who preferred my dad get a Peugeot instead. He had to sell off his W126 because of some overheating issues but he liked it so much, he replaced it with another W126.
Following that, he got a W140, an S320 long-wheelbase model that I am most fond of. It had that stately feel in white, which also extended to the interior’s solid build. In fact, it was my favourite S-Class to date because the W220 was such a giant leap backwards for the brand that me and my dad staved off Mercedes for almost a decade. Every Mercedes after that we tried was a disappointment, so even the rather decent W221 did not manage to change our hearts.
Rekindling that kind of expired love for Mercedes is not that easy. But with the E250, Mercedes might just have something going for it.
Codenamed the W212, the new E-Class has had a heavy burden to bear after the success of the ubiquitous W211. Mercedes, like many manufacturers to date, has resorted to more efficient forced-induction methods to extract power from a smaller engine. Whilst the previous E240 was a naturally-aspirated V6, the E250 replaces that model with a 1.8 turbocharged engine featuring direct injection. This engine puts out an impressive 204bhp and a very impressive 310Nm of torque. What this means is that the E250 has more torque than even the E300. Now is that progress or what?
When you first see the new E-Class, you might be underwhelmed. You probably might not take to the car’s front LED daytime running lights, a must-have now for every new car on the market. The angular, boxy styling harks back to the old days when Mercedes still had some form of a design language. But its homage is not so successful here, making the car look plain awkward from some angles. Nonetheless, its a fresh take for Mercedes, and it does look modern. Kit it with the AMG Package and the car actually looks aggressive yet elegant.
Mercedes has taken the nod of approval of the new C-Class’s interior seriously, and has worked the same formula with the W212. Functional and aesthetically-pleasing, you can finally proudly say that you are in a Mercedes. The warm glow of the orange-tinged lighting, beautiful white gauges and a well-laid out centre console all contribute to the agreeable standards that Mercedes has set for the car. Perhaps the one thing that bugs me is that the interior door chrome handles look a bit too oversized. Note also that for the cars fitted with the 5-speed automatic (as is with the case here), the gear shift lever is on the centre console and not on the steering rack like the 7G-Tronic gearbox.
What impressed most was the drive. Nevermind that Mercedes hasn’t fitted the E250 with its latest 7G-Tronic gearbox, because the engine more than makes up for it. The shove it provides is refreshing, something that you wouldn’t normally expect from a car bearing the three-pointed star. Yet the power is so accessible that you never really work the engine hard until you could hear its gruffness. The gearbox is a slow-shifting piece of engineering, but it responds swiftly enough to throttle inputs, downshifting when required and spooling up the turbo to throw the monumental torque to the rear wheels. And despite missing two gears, it still cruises at a serene pace that betrays none of its rather old heritage. What’s more is that the chassis feels so stiff that it reacts very keenly to the driver’s inputs. No more a Mercedes that is pillowy and sluggish, this E250 engages the driver in a whole new level that you never thought possible. This car is actually fun to drive.
Visibility for the E250 is also excellent because of the huge rear-view mirrors that offer a much better view than before. The car feels airy and very easy to place on the road; its size is not intimidating and perfect for tooling around the city. Its steering, however, is a tad too servo-ed – I don’t like that the ratio changes dramatically with speed which can make it quite unpredictable. Perhaps owning the car long-term might solve that issue.
Nonetheless, you can see I’m rather impressed with the car. But there are some things to ponder about. For instance, Mercedes’s 5-speed gearbox is worryingly behind the competition, namely its German brothers Audi and BMW. BMW has a brilliant 6-speed automatic while Audi is undoubtedly introducing dual-clutch technology very soon to the A6. Mercedes’ gearbox feels aged and doesn’t shift as smoothly as one might imagine; one could feel the jerks that come with every higher gear. Another thing is that Mercedes has very basic options that come with the smaller-engined models. The E250, for example, does not even feature GPS navigation nor an iPod connection. The competing 520i, on the other hand, has a built-in navigation system and a high-resolution iDrive screen fitted as standard to the car. Options on the Benz are frustratingly expensive but thankfully, you do not need most of them. At SGD$197,000 (about USD$142,000) it’s also significantly more expensive than either the A6 2.0T or 520i. You could however go for the E200 for SGD$10,000 (USD$7200) less with a detuned but similar engine.
But that’s about all of the bad things I can say about the E250, as I am happy to report. The car is a bag full of surprises that appeals to me very much because it shows that Mercedes has went back to its core values and strengthened them. The E250 is easy to drive, making it a perfect daily driver. It is also a car that you can realistically see more than a million miles in, as Mercedes has done nothing radical to this car that either time or effort cannot fix. It feels basic and yet, some things are best sampled simpler. Especially in times like these when cars are getting more and more complicated.
So is Mercedes back in the game in the hotly-contested mid-sized sedan market? You bet. It has finally shed its tarnished image and is winning back many of the customers who have drifted elsewhere. Including my old man and me.
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