Driven - Mar 2021

In A Class of Its Own – The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz recently hosted us at their AMG Driving Academy headquarters at Zwartkops Raceway for the launch of their updated 5th-generation E-Class lineup. Alex Shahini spent the day driving the full range.

Few other brands have as much of a romantic relationship with the people of Mzansi than Mercedes-Benz. However their local history is ingrained in our fabric with models such as the iconic red W-126 500SE which was heartwarmingly gifted to Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison in early 1990. Despite the recent shift towards SUVs and hatchbacks, the distinguished variant remains the brands best selling model in their series lineup since the launch of its post-war predecessors in the late 1940’s. But is the E-Class in a class of its own?

The super-sedan segment remains hotly contested with the premium German brands constantly vying for the most market share and appealing to as broad of an audience as possible. This appeal to an inclusive sample group requires a range of vehicles that can satisfy every consumer’s needs which is why the E-Class lineup includes 6 models with 9 derivatives including a 4 door sedan, 4 door wagon (not applicable to our market), 2 door coupe and the 2 door cabrio. Within each derivative exists differing engine and drivetrain configurations which can be specified according to your preference. 

Despite the fierce rivalry with their German compatriots, Mercedes-Benz have remained the #1 premium brand after delivering 2.1 million units in 2020 with a relative market share of 37%, more than both local compatriots BMW (34%) and Audi (29%). The E-Class may continue to be the resolute reason for this continual success. It is proudly displayed as the brand’s best seller and with the 5th generation W213 as a basis, its 5 year refreshed facelift reinvigorated an already solid platform. 

With the AMG Driving Academy being situated in the opportune location of Zwartkops Raceway, the potent high performance E53 and E63 variants were put through their paces around the circuit and skid pan. While the impressive new 3-litre 6 cylinder turbocharged E53 has a power output of 320kW and makes use of mild hybrid technology, the earth-shaking but thirsty twin turbocharged 450kW V8 found in the E63S will remain the showstopper.

While all top tier AMG models retain the responsive steering and predictable body roll from the firmer suspension in Sport and Race mode, the more comfort orientated variants of the E200, E220d and E300 made trundling the highveld country roads a breeze. The overall dynamics between the chassis of the sedans and the coupes provided vastly differing experiences as a result of continual feedback from customers needs, with Mercedes-Benz adapting the suspension and chassis stiffness accordingly.

While the silhouette remains unchanged, the sheet metal panels and bodywork have been altered. The front end has swapped the upwards facing grille with a single horizontal feature for a downward facing grille with multiple vertical slats running across it – inspired by the AMG GT. The vehicles in the range including the AMG nameplate include more chrome features and a larger more imposing grille with aggressive front and rear bumpers. The now standard LED headlights have been refined to form a more cohesive front end with the updated grille while two-part LED tail lights run across the rear ¾ panel and boot lid. 

The interior layout remains mostly the same from its predecessor, with the most noticeable change being the aesthetically improved twin spoke steering wheel. The buttons have been replaced with touch-capacitive functionality which directly communicates with the new version of the MBUX system accessed via two 10.5” standard touch screens. While you can option a 12.3” screen for an additional price.

The overall tactile quality of the interior is high, with the selection of pleasant touch points found on the predecessor brought forward. The steering wheel feels slightly thick to grip around the thumb points while the touch-sensitive pads can often be overly sensitive to your touch. Spaciousness is however guaranteed for driver and passenger on saloon versions, with sufficient head, arm and legroom in all seats – even for taller passengers. The saloon retains all of the interior room while still being capable of 540l of cargo space too, trumping all of its competitors. 

Regardless which derivative, every E-Class has yet retained the premium interior texture and tailor made driving experience synonymous with the brand. It is easy to see why this range still falls at the heart of Mercedes-Benz sales as a benchmark of luxury and epitome of comfort. While it is often impossible to appeal to every consumer, the E-Class range certainly comes close to pleasing all of its buyers. 

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