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!

Update on the infotainment confusion

You may have read my post early February on a certain confusion in the roll-out of new infotainment systems in Ingolstadt (Audi) and Stuttgart (MB) that you can otherwise find here.

Having recently spoken to Mercedes, they were able to shed at least a bit of light as to the roll-out of the Mercedes’ MBUX system;

  • The new A- and B-class, as well as the updated GLC and as previously mentioned the new GLE all have the new MBUX, enabling voice- and touch-control.
  • Neither the C- and E-class, nor the brand new G-class have it at this point (although the screens look the same).
  • For the E-class, the official timeline is that it will not get it until the spring of 2020 in connection with a first facelift.

Infotainment confusion

There was a time when an infotainment system was something you ticked in the options list when ordering your car without thinking much about it. Whether it was called iDrive (BMW), Comand (MB) or something else, systems were rather similar – and rather limited in their capabilities.

This all changed with Tesla’s giant screen and new standard for in-car entertainment, and it has kept (and will keep) changing ever since. At the same time, manufacturers’ understandable wish to bring the latest to market has also created different standards between brands, but actually also between similar models of the same manufacturer, that you’d better be aware of;

  • Buy a new Audi Q8 (left) and you’ll get two very fancy touch screens on the center console, handling almost all in-car functions at the price of a lot of fatty fingerprints. Buy a new Q7 (right) and you will still get the old-looking navigation screen on the dashboard, and traditional controls for seat heating and ventilation. It’s not a wild guess that the A7 will get the dual screens in the next facelift, but it’s not yet the case.

  • In Stuttgart it’s even more confusing: buy the brand new Mercedes GLE (left) and you will get the new, double 12-inch screens with touchscreen functionality through the MBUX software. Buy the new E-class (right) and the screens will look exactly the same but will not yet have MBUX and thus no touch functionality.

Speaking of MBUX (and the latest BMW iDrive), this latest update also gives you the option to talk to your car, starting with the catchy phrase “Hey Mercedes/BMW”. I’ll let you judge for yourself if that’s a drawback or not…

So in other words, if you’re in the market for a new or recent pre-owned car, this has implications. As a seller in 3-4 years of your 2018 Q7, you’ll most probably be punished financially for having a car with that old-looking, single screen. But as a buyer, you will have a great negotiating position already today if you prefer physical, non-fatty buttons that you can locate with your fingers without looking away from the road, and you buy a car for driving rather than talking to it.