REVIEW DATE: 23 Jun 2006
Although It Represents The Opening Rung On The E Class Ladder, The E200K IS Still A Class Act. Andy Enright Reports
Think for a moment what the Mercedes-Benz brand stands for. If you come up with solidity, depth of engineering, technical excellence and a sophisticated European image, you're also describing the E Class Range, a true exemplar of all that's best about the three-pointed star. Few, however, will equate this image with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine. The entry level E200K model may change the details but the underlying values remain. This is an engine shot right through with the aforementioned technical excellence.
The E Class proposition was once straightforward. Petrol engined versions had either six or eight cylinder powerplants. Then the E200K shook things up a bit. In common with the 3.0-litre E280, its moniker is misleading, but where the larger-engined car understates its case, the E200K is powered not by a two-litre lump but by a 1.8-litre four. Isn't this a little like strapping a two-stroke outboard to the back of a luxury yacht? Think about how the E-Class' main rival, the BMW 5 Series, was once hobbled by the puny engine of the 518i. The portents aren't good.
Whereas the BMW had to make do with 113bhp, thanks to a series of revisions that came with the latest facelift the Mercedes E200K now boasts a healthy 184bhp. The Kompressor supercharger fitted to the Twinpulse engine makes up for a good percentage of that advantage but there's more to it than that. Whereas in 1995, the 518i returned an average of 32.2mpg, the E200K can nowadays turn in an average of 34.4mpg, a almost identical figure for a car that's over half as powerful again. Let's call that progress.
"The E200K is distinctly affordable For A Mercedes."
So what is Twinpulse? It's a big bundle of technology really, resulting in the twin benefits of higher performance and lower fuel consumption. The smaller engines offer lower friction losses and better thermodynamic efficiency, whilst the Kompressor Eaton-style supercharger has been redesigned with better engineering tolerances and advanced rotor coatings. Crankshaft driven, this supercharger allows the engine to run with wider throttle openings, again improving efficiency. A cylinder head with variable valve timing and double adjustable overhead camshafts are also refinements ushered in with the Twinpulse engine. Smoothness is a given due to two contra-rotating Lanchester balancer shafts, and engine weight has been decreased by 10% through the use of aluminium on items like the crankcase.
So how does it feel on the road? It depends on how you drive. Changes to the engine management software mean that this car attempts to learn your driving style. Punch the accelerator hard and the response is instant and spiky. Unlike turbocharged cars there's no annoying lag as you wait for the blower to spool up, the E200K offers drive on demand. If you're smoother with the throttle the software takes the edge off the rate the throttle valves are opened, making the car seem creamy smooth. It's an impressive showing.
The E200K opens at £27,520 in Classic trim with Elegance, Avantgarde and Sport variants adding another £2,100, £2,600 and over £3,570 respectively. If you need more space, an Estate version is also available. The E200K turns in a sprint to 60mph of 9.1 seconds, can reach a 147mph top speed and emits 195g/km of CO2. It's pretty good all-round really. These prices may be OTR (on the road) but they are also FAM, in that the E200K is affordable For A Mercedes. There are also the traditional rock-solid residual values to help sway your buying decision in the E-Class's direction.
Mercedes took extensive measures to improve the quality of this E-Class, introducing more advanced technology across a number of its systems but it's not immediately apparent that the current model is such a heavily revised vehicle. True Merc anoraks may spot the front bumper, v-shaped grille and revised headlights but that's about it externally. Inside, it's more of the same with a revised steering wheel and climate control panel being about the size of it.
Under the skin, it's a different story. Handling and steering have been improved and the adaptive braking system has been borrowed from the S-Class. This hydraulic dual-circuit braking set-up provides better safety and comfort features. Safety is a standout E-Class feature and the latest models feature the PRE-SAFE system which primes the seatbelt and airbag if it thinks the car is about to be involved in a collision. The NECK-PRO head restraints move forward within milliseconds of a rear shunt, protecting the driver and front passenger from whiplash injuries. Flashing brake lights are also featured, illuminating during particularly heavy braking.
The interior styling is redolent of the previous generation S-Class. The fascia bulges outwards as if pumped to 100psi, the our test car featuring over 70 assorted knobs, buttons, switches and dials. Open the glove box to access the instruction manual if you want to know what does what or alternatively, use it to defend your vehicle against would-be carjackers. It's a weighty tome. It's also indicative of the thorough approach Mercedes have taken. Consider the suspension. Buyers who choose the Classic and Elegance trim levels get a soft riding setup whilst those that fork out for Avantgarde get 15mm closer to terra firma and a stiffer ride. Go for the optional Sport pack and it gets yet more rigid whilst Airmatic suspension is an option on all models bar the E500 and offers a similar pneumatic system to the S-Class.
The E200K might sound a stRange proposition in being an executive class car with a small capacity engine. It is, however, a car that works superbly in these times of emissions based taxation. It's clean, quick, beautifully built and will hold onto its value tenaciously. If you're looking for the most sensible petrol powered Mercedes around, this could well be it.
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