How Mercedes ruined the E-class

Ok, time for some serious Mercedes-bashing. Long-time readers of this blog know that I’m a Mercedes driver for family purposes since many years, currently so in the form of a 2013 E 63 AMG Estate, so as a loyal customer I feel I’m entitled to some bashing, especially after some quite serious disappointments on various drives with the new E-class (well, it’s been around since 2017, but that’s still new in my book). The conclusion is quite simply that in a few crucial aspects, Mercedes have built a worse car than its predecessor. Here’s my take on why:

Looks: I guess this one’s debatable but I still haven’t found anyone who finds the new E-class particularly beautiful. The design is kind of uninspired, lacking distinctive features, angles and curves. Now you may claim it’s not the only one (A6 anybody?), but that doesn’t make it any better. The higher in the model range you go, the more obvious it becomes. The new E 63 quite simply doesn’t look the part.

Thankfully there are still four pipes, because otherwise it would be really hard telling the difference to an E220….

Interior quality: the new dashboard has a nice, floating look, with much more choice of materials and looks than the old one (not to mention the dozens of available interior light colours…). The problem is that most of these materials look kind of – cheap. The first person to say so in this family was actually not me but my 19-year old daughter. The quality-feel is also so-so, and not on par with the very solid interior in my 2013 car. Finally some plastic parts that I guess Mercedes doesn’t think you’ll pay attention to, for example the lower parts of the doors and the rear part of the centre armrest, are more reminiscent of the plastic in an old Hyundai than a Merc.

Luggage space: if like us you have two children and a dog cage, there’s basically no other estate that does the trick – the sloping roof line of an A6 or a 5-series make it hopeless to load bulky items like a cage, and still have enough luggage space. Now that the E-class also has a sloping roof line, the cage still fits, but you lose some space vs the old model. It’s still bigger than a 5-series, but in absolute terms it’s a step backwards. And let’s be honest: for many of us, luggage space was a critical factor in opting for an E-class rather than a 5-series.

Back seat: incredible but yes, in the car we’ve all ridden as a taxi, they’ve actually managed to mess up the back seat. It took me three dealers to get confirmation of something that was very obvious as soon as you sat down, but the new E-class has a shorter rear seat bank, meaning you sit with your legs in a steeper angle and lack thigh support. On an 8-hour vacation drive through Europe, that will make quite a difference.

Infotainment: saving the best for last, it’s no secret that for some reason I fail to understand, Mercedes until recently have been far behind competitors in infotainment solutions. Earlier this year the supposedly market-leading MBUX system was launched and is now featured in various models from the A-class to the new GLE and GLS. The problem is, with the E-class having been launched in 2017, you still have the older system (as you do, by the way, if you spend EUR 200.000 on the new G63 which only preceded MBUX by a few months), and will do so until the first face lift sometime next year. This means the screens lack touch functionality. Instead, Mercedes offers you the option to operate them in three ways: over small pads on the steering wheel, on a pad on the centre console, or on a small wheel below that same pad. Having driven a couple of cars a few hours each, I can only say that this remains quite confusing and very counter-intuitive. I felt myself constantly reaching for the screen, then remembering, then going to the control on the steering wheel, then not finding the right menu, then going back to the centre console etc. I guess you figure it out with time, but it’s simply not good. On a brand level, it’s also quite incomprehensible that you get the latest system in an entry A-class but not in top of the line cars until three years later!

U can’t touch this

The E-class is still a great car – but it’s not as great a car as it used to be. Most people probably won’t care and just order a new one when the lease runs out, but given you’re nerdy enough to read this blog, chances are that like me, you do care. You don’t need to agree with me though, and if you don’t, feel free to say so!

A year with the E63 AMG

It was in late November -16 that I picked up my then 18-month old E63 AMG Station Wagon (leading to some early impressions that if you missed them, you can read here), so it’s been a bit more than a year and roughly 20.000 kms between then and now – and what a pleasure it has been! Looking back at my past car buying history, they tend to come and go at quite regular (and short!) intervals, but at least for now I haven’t a single time entertained the thought of switching – it’s just too good.

mb-e63
…where it all started…

Starting at the heart of the matter, the engine is quite simply superb. Power is just everywhere, delivery is instantaneous and never-ending, and the sound still gives me goose bumps every time. It’s been rumored that most of these engines deliver more than the 558 hp on paper. I have no clue whether that is true but if someone told me there was another 100 hp under the bonnet I would believe them straight away. I’m actually thinking of getting it measured at some point.

At the same time it’s as smooth and practical as any Merc for the local shopping round, or transporting empty boxes from my wife’s shop to the recycling station. Consumption is highly reasonable; sure, it’s no Prius, but we did 1000 kms through Germany last summer at speeds that would make you lose your permit in every other part of the world, and came down with 14 litres / 100 kms. In normal driving it’ll come down to 10-11 litres which really isn’t much to complain about.

In the first post I mentioned the Speedshift gearbox as a positive surprise, and it still is. It’s so much better than MB’s regular box, up-shifting instantaneously with a thumping sound in Sport and Sport+ Mode, whilst also downshifting highly effectively and always timely. Well done AMG! The same goes for the light-footedness chassis and the perfectly weighted steering.

So what’s on the downside? Well, actually nothing at all (this is the point where I’m actively forgetting a decent amount of speeding tickets through the year…). There is also this saying that a model is never as good as just before it ceases to be produced, and I tend to believe that. Sure, the new model is out (with the same V8 Biturbo engine, and not a V6 as I had claimed, based on false rumors), and it delivers a bit more than 600 hp, but the design still needs to grow on me – and prices on the next-to-new market need to come down, so for now I see little need to change. In fact I find myself surfing around various tuning sites in my spare time, something I haven’t done in many years. A power upgrade doesn’t really feel necessary, but the suspension could be lowered a bit… And maybe that dash-controlled exhaust would be cool… and…. So as you can see, the mid-life crisis is all over, but boy is it fun!

w213 e63
The new model is nice, but perhaps a little too discreet?

Less luggage space and double the hp – the perfect family car!

Our family car, the MB GL 350 also known under the nickname Helmut for a certain visual resemblance to a former German chancellor, has left our garage. He will be missed in some regards, most notably for his endless luggage space and  superb long-distance comfort, but less so in others, particularly a number of larger and smaller problems of the electrical kind (the things that tend to make you nervous as the guarantee nears the end) and a turbo lag which sometimes felt as long as the Gotthard tunnel. And no, he was not really much of a thrill to drive either. I therefore took the decision a while back to cut the losses, and after the missus to my great surprise declared complete disinterest in what the replacement car would be (except for the small caveat that it should have a star on the bonnet and a decent luggage space in the back), the road ahead was all of a sudden clear as a star-lit night in the Alps.

2014_Mercedes-Benz_GL550_1073633
Auf wiedersehen Helmut!

Some of you may remembered my post from a wonderful morning in AMG-heaven a while ago, that can otherwise be found here. I never really got over the eye-opening experience from back then when I experienced the huge difference between a regular W212 E-class and the E63 AMG, not only in power but in the whole driving experience. So when the occasion presented itself to trade in Helmut against a one-year old, 4-wheel drive E63 AMG T in what can actually be described as a fairly good deal, it felt like a no-brainer. It’s been four weeks now, and having walked around with a stupid smile on my face every since, I figured it was time to convey some initial impressions.

Obviously, these need to start with the engine. Sweet Lord what an engine… A 5.5 litre V8 with twin turbos, it develops 558 hp and a torque of 800 Nm and can only be described as taking your breadth away – every time you floor the pedal. But even if it nails you to your chair, the delivery is smooth and above all tireless, with no turbo lag and the second turbo kicking in barely noticeably at… highly illegal speeds. Man am I happy to be burning petrol again!

E 63 AMG (W212)) 2011
…where great things happen….

They guys in Affalterbach aren’t much for acoustic discretion either, and the sound that accompanies this rapid automotive progression is as fantastic (and loud!) as a V8 can be. Driving with the windows open and the radio turned off in the middle of December all of a sudden feels fully natural. I also like tunnels a lot these days.

Next to the engine, the whole car has made enormous progress under AMG’s treatment. The chassis is responsive, the steering is precisely as heavy as it should be without the front heaviness of the regular car. The four-wheel drive setting sending 70% to the back wheels convey a lightness to the whole experience that is fare more reminiscent of a 911 than of a taxi Merc. Finally the heavily modified 7-speed gearbox going under the name Speedshift, although not quite as quick as a double-clutch, is still miles ahead of the regular box. And all this in a packaging that offers ample room for five and the largest cargo space on the market. If this is not the perfect family car, then I don’t know what is. As for the Thrill of Owning, let’s just note that the new E63 that will come to the market during next year will no longer have a V8 up front but rather a V6

mb-e63

Obviously the journey is only beginning and I will provide updates as I get to know the car better. Living in Switzerland where speed cameras are as frequent as holes in an Emmentaler cheese, it feels like a trip to the Autobahn will be necessary as soon as temperatures get slightly warmer (and preferably at night time…). Until then I must however find a suitable name for my new friend, but I can’t really think of a quick, agile German with an opera voice, so any suggestions are welcome!