REVIEW DATE: 23 Jun 2006
Want All That's Best About Modern Mercedes Encapsulated Into One Vehicle? Andy Enright Reckons You'll Need An E280CDI
Forget about the SL, ignore the all-conquering S-Class - if you want to distil the essence of Mercedes-Benz design and engineering excellence into an easily digestible aperitif, the Mercedes E280CDi is the tipple of choice. It surfs the zeitgeist, offering quality and economy. It's modern, it's understated and above all it's got true Mercedes DNA running right through it.
There was a time, let's pinpoint it as mid-1998, when Mercedes seemed to be losing its way a little. Customers complained of inconsistent build quality, the A-Class had its teething problems and the S-Class was starting to look a little old. The traditionally crystal clear brand values dulled. If this represented a latter-day nadir for the Stuttgart company, the turnaround has been swift. 2000's C-Class Range was well received, quality problems evaporated as manufacturing issues were ironed out. More recently, the SLK then the CSL were introduced to rave reviews and the E-Class now generates routinely BMW-bashing headlines.
Although it's possible to push the design envelope with those low volume image building models at the fringes of your model Range, when it comes to the core models - C, E and S class, Mercedes have got it taped and the opposition licked. The E-Class still represents the star around which the entire Mercedes-Benz firmament revolves, the model Range which has shifted nearly a quarter of a million units worldwide. The pick of the Range is the E280CDI, a model that is as close to functional perfection as Mercedes have ever managed.
"The pick of the Range is the E280CDI, a model that is as close to functional perfection as Mercedes have ever managed"
The 190bhp engine is much more than a development of the old five cylinder 177bhp unit used in the E270 CDI model this variant replaced and has more in the locker than its 170bhp E220 CDI stablemate. That's necessary of course to justify a price premium of nearly £4,000, meaning that the starting figure for this variant is £32,650. Like its BMW and Audi rivals, this unit now has six cylinders - and it effectively matches them for both refinement and power. If 190bhp isn't enough, the obvious answer is to trade up to the monster 224bhp E320 CDI, but the price differential of around £4,000 ensures that the smart money tends to go on the E280 CDI. Though it still lags slightly behind BMW's punchy 530d in most of the important performance increments, it's good enough to out-pace the 180bhp Audi A6 2.7 TDI, whose horsepower disadvantage is compounded by the need to cart around its Quattro four wheel drive system.
Rest to sixty occupies 7.6 seconds on the way to 148mph. More impressive than these largely irrelevant figures is this car's real world performance through the gears and the Mercedes doesn't disappoint, being equivalent to a petrol E350 in terms of sheer pull. Fuel consumption of course, that is in a different league. Whereas the E350 driver will eke an average of 29.1 miles from every gallon of unleaded the E280CDI turns in an average of 39.2mpg, making those occasional foot to the floor overtaking moves far less wince worthy.
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.
Should you wish to collect your E280CDI from the factory at Sindelfingen, Mercedes will waive the UK delivery charge. One word of warning. Don't try to shake the assembly staff by the hand. Even a German can grow fatigued of congratulation.
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