Because purchase and running costs are important to the majority of new car buyers, my first drive of the new E-Class Saloon was in the least costly model, the £27,570 E200 BlueEFFICIENCY CDI Saloon SE.
Even in this premium large saloon sector and price and CO2 based Benefit-in-Kind tax is just as important for company car and business user-chooser customers
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The E200 BlueEFFICIENCY CDI Saloon SE uses one of the three new four cylinder turbodiesel engines in the new range. For a car of this status, size, quality and refinement the price is ultra competitive.
Standard SE specification includes 16-inch light-alloy wheels in a five-spoke design, aluminium trim, Artico artificial leather upholstery, heated front seats and a four-spoke multifunction steering wheel lined in with nappa leather with chrome inserts.
Also included in the standard equipment is the stereo radio system with a twin receiver, CD-player, eight speakers and a Bluetooth interface for a mobile phone. The clearly laid-out 5.8-inch information screen in the centre of the dashboard can be operated by the driver or front passenger, using the controller on the centre console.
Advanced Parking Guidance is also standard as are a host of other technologies. These include adaptive suspension which constantly changes the damper settings depending on driving conditions to a host of safety measures such as driver drowsiness detection, pre-safe accident protection, nine airbags and an active bonnet system where springs raise the bonnet from the rear in a front end impact helping to soften the blow.
The only issue during my week long test was the 'take-a-break' warning diagram was permanently displayed even on start-up from cold so I know it wasn't me and there appeared no way to reset it after consulting the comprehensive handbook.
The new E-Class interior is classy yet remains classic Mercedes-Benz and just because it is the base SE level of equipment it offers most things that most people will want. The seating is supportive and relatively firm but comfortable. The head and legroom is impressive front and rear and there is a large easy to load 540-litre luggage boot.
As for exterior styling: conservative but with the famous three-pointed star mounted on the bonnet means it can only be a Mercedes. The side sculptured styling lines accentuate the car's length with deeply sculptured panels and wide rear wheel arches.
At the front the classic Mercedes face with swept back grille and twin headlights have gone and now we have an upright grille flanked by twin rectangular lights.
I prefer the previous style which looked classier and elegant. But we are told that upright grilles are safer for pedestrians who will not be scooped up onto the bonnet!
BlueEFFICIENCY - engines and performance
But the most relevant improvements in this CO2 obsessed motoring world are the lower running costs with improved fuel economy and lower emissions which minimise road tax and company car tax. BlueEFFICIENCY versions, whether petrol or diesel, make up most of the new E-Class line-up.
This system is similar to EfficientDynamics from BMW and uses new engine and transmission designs and technologies, Stop/Start functions, energy capture during braking, lightweight construction, detailed aerodynamic changes to 'flow' the air around and under the car and low rolling resistance tyres.
These result in massive improvements in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The 2.1-litre, four cylinder CDI 136bhp might not look anything special on paper and the 'runt' of the Mercedes powerhouse family. But this new high pressure turbocharged diesel unit is so responsive thanks to its 360Nm of torque from just 1,600rpm and its quiet and refined as well.
Around town, in stop and start traffic or on the open road it is all the engine most E-Class private and company cars drivers need if they are wanting to reduce their tax bills and with the new 'first year' higher road tax charges for the higher CO2 emitting cars becoming law in April.
My test car returned 52.2mpg on average, remarkable for a luxury saloon of this size. The official combined cycle figure is 54.3mpg so fact and fiction are very close. What is more with CO2 emissions of 137g/km, with the six-speed manual gearbox, the new first year road tax bill will be only £110 and it stays at that figure for subsequent years as well.
If this E-Class is for company use then the Benefit-in-Kind tax is a low 18%. There are no downsides in performance terms. Top speed is 130mph and 0-62mph takes 9.7 seconds.
In short this new E-Class Saloon is fuel and tax efficient, it looks good, performs well, is a relaxed cruiser, it offers a comfortable and compliant ride, the SE specification is comprehensive so there is really nothing much not to like about the car.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class MILESTONES
Mercedes-Benz E-Class E200 BlueEFFICIENCY CDI Saloon SE
Price with options (telephone pre-wiring kit, sat-nav, metallic paint, auto dimming mirror and folding door mirrors): £30,145
Engine/transmission: 2.1-litre, 4-cylinder, high pressure, direct injection, common-rail turbodiesel, 136bhp, 360Nm (266lb ft) of torque from 1,600rpm, 6-speed manual
Performance: 130mph, 0-62mph 9.7 seconds, 54.3mpg (52.2mpg actual), CO2 137g/km, VED now £120 (£110 from April), BIK tax 18%
Insurance group: 29E
Retained value over 3-years: 47%
For: Comfort, refinement, safety, massive improvements in fuel economy, low CO2 emissions means low running costs and low tax bills, high residual value, Mercedes-Benz executive car status
Against: Conservative looks, personally I'm not keen on the upright grille design, faulty 'take-a-break' warning indicator