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February 15, 2010

Review: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E 300

It’s not everyday you get to drive a legend; let alone twice.  Even before setting foot inside the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, you know you’re about to taste a piece of history, a history that starts way back in 1953.  At the time, there was no Beatles, the American Civil Rights Movement was still in its infancy, and a bottle of Coca-Cola cost just 4 cents.  And yet, Mercedes-Benz was already creating waves with its W120 sedan, now lovingly referred to as the “Ponton”.

The Ponton was quite significant for Mercedes-Benz, primarily because it was their first small sedan.  Highly regarded for its sturdy build quality, high levels of craftsmanship and robust engineering, the Ponton was an astounding success, moving more than 52,000 units in the first 4 years.  When Mercedes-Benz simplified its model naming scheme in the 1990’s, the E-Class was born.  And despite the name change, the E-Class stuck true to its origin, and the 2010 model is no different.

Even at a glance, the 2010 E-Class is unmistakably Mercedes-Benz.  Its shape is highly geometric, reflecting the current trends seen in high fashion and design.  Even the radiator grille was given the dynamic treatment thanks to its arrow shape and the more upright chrome slats found inside.  And the radiator’s large size gives a commanding presence.  In 1995, the E-Class was given its definitive trademark: the twin-headlamp front end. For 2010 though, it was tastefully reinterpreted into a rectangular shape, flowing smoothly with the rest of the body.  The E-Class also plays around with contrasting concave and convex surfaces structured with hard creases and clearly defined lines.  These all culminate in a graceful line that follows the rear wheel arches—the Ponton line—a hat tip to the Mercedes-Benz sedan that started it all.  And in the Avantgarde trim that we tested, the wheel arches are filled with 17-inch split five-spoke alloys.

Inside, the geometric design of the E-Class spreads itself nicely with the squared-off cabin motif.  Sitting, let alone seeing the E-Class interior is a nice break from all the generic curvy dashes of late.  Once you settle in the driver’s seat, the first thing you’ll marvel is how roomy it is.  Unlike its competitors, there are no banging knees or scraped elbows.  It’s as comfortable as a lounge chair plus every movement’s electronically adjustable.  And like other Mercedes-Benzes, it’s adjusted via a simple pictogram on the door panel.  This is quite good for two reasons: one, it allows for a more generous seat width and second, there’s no chance for you to knick your Rolex trying to look for the height adjuster.  The same goes for the occupants at the back, where the seats are equally supportive and comfortable to those at the front.  Of course, if you’re wishing for electric adjustments, sorry, that’s reserved only for the S-Class.

The biggest criticism leveled at Mercedes-Benz of late is the company’s overemphasis on technology, to the point that it actually distracts from the driving experience rather than enhance it.  Thankfully, Mercedes-Benz has learned from its mistakes and toned down the electronic doodads on this E-Class.  But that’s not to say that this car isn’t brimming with technology; most of them were just centered to keep the driver safe and comfortable, while leaving you alone most of the time.

The multitude of buttons on the center console, steering wheel and everywhere else in the cabin may seem overwhelming at first, but they’re easy to get used to.  And unlike its rivals, where a centralized knob causes you to scurry through a mountain of menus, the solution brought forth by Mercedes-Benz in the E-Class is definitely elegant.  For example, controls like audio, hands-free phone and climate control are all accessible through typical commands; and these are located within easy reach of the driver.  Meanwhile, things like Bass and Treble control, Bluetooth pairing options and other specialized set-up items are tucked in the COMAND APS.

On the driving aspect, the Avantgarde package rewards you with some of Mercedes-Benz’s key technologies.  Upfront, the large radiator grille feature active shutters which close at higher speeds, reducing unwanted wind noise and drag (the E-Class has one of the best co-efficient of drag in a passenger car: 0.25—rivaling the Toyota Prius).  And then, the headlights automatically turn on at night, and they swivel with the movements of the steering wheel, giving excellent nighttime illumination.  This model also features Mercedes-Benz’s first foray into the use of LED lights for the frontend. Aside from LED for park lights, the E-Class two sets of frowning LED clusters that replace the standard front fog lamps.  At the side, the side view mirrors dim automatically reducing glare and fold electronically when parked.  Over at the back, the E-Class features a full LED clusters for its tail lamps and rear-facing camera for maneuvering in tight spaces.

The E-Class was never on the cutting edge of sportiness, and the 2010 model is no different.  Although there’s no argument that it’s the sharpest knife to ever come out of the Mercedes-Benz cupboard, it still lacks the downright fun factor shown by some of its rivals.  It’s not an involving drive: the steering is quick-witted but numb and the chassis are agile, but uncommunicative.  Less involving to drive it maybe, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good.  Show the E-Class a corner or a twisty bend, and it will allow itself to be thrown at it with absolute gusto.  And it’s completely predictable in the process: it will go wherever you want it to go.

The lack of sportiness in the E-Class is made up by its stupendous levels of on-road driving comfort.  The E-Class is decisively tuned towards comfort rather than sportiness and as such absorbs all sorts of road imperfections you can think of from broken asphalt to potholes.  The suspension feels poised and never misses a beat, unwilling to transfer any shock to the occupants.  And the E-Class does this while maintaining whisper quiet! There’s a surprising lack of obtrusive cabin noise even as the speedometer goes up, a testament to the car’s excellent sound absorption placement as well as its aerodynamic shape.

Under the long hood of the E-Class sits just one engine choice.  Unlike before, where the E-Class was available with a multitude of engines, the local line-up now only has a gasoline-powered 3.0-liter DOHC V6.  This engine christens this particular E-Class as the E 300.  With 231 horsepower and 300 Nm of torque available, the E 300 should be fast enough by anyone’s book; and it is, but you need to push the engine and transmission to work hard first.

If the suspension set-up was any indication, the E 300 doesn’t like to work itself hard.  Slamming on the throttle will result in pretty decent acceleration, with quoted 0-100 k/h figures of just 6.8 seconds.  But the delivery itself is peaky with a sort of hesitation from the transmission.  The better strategy is to let the engine and transmission lovingly whisper to each other as opposed to having them do a shouting match.  Done right, the E 300 is more than enough car you’ll ever need.  The gear spacing on the 7-speed automatic enables the E 300 to keep the revs down and the fuel economy up.  Stuck in Metro Manila traffic, the E 300 managed 7.09 km/L—a remarkable enough figure considering the other cars tested before: a smaller engined BMW 523i did 6.8 km/L, while the older W211 E 280 eked out 6.6 km/L.

Only time will tell whether or not the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class would be regarded as a classic, but it certainly has made the right start by going back to the fundamental values of the brand.  It may have been voted as the world’s most beautiful car, but beyond the wrapping is a Mercedes-Benz in every sense of the word.  It combines impeccable build quality with excellent engineering in a highly comfortable cabin.

Though it’s not the fastest or sportiest sports sedan out there, driving the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E 300 Avantgarde is still truly a complete sensory experience.  It makes you feel special the moment you slide yourself into the driver’s seat, close the heavy doors and whiff the high-quality Nappa leather.  It’s the sort of car that you don’t mind driving for miles and miles at the time, not feeling an ounce of tiredness.  It’s the type of car that if you can’t own one, you find yourself borrowing it again and again.

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