PRETORIA, Gauteng – Mercedes-Benz has done such a convincing job with the latest E-Class (first introduced in 2016) that you might be fooled into believing this is an all-new range of vehicles. However, what the firm has actually done to make sure the ever-green E-Class is back on everyone’s automotive wish list (although it should never have fallen off it, in our opinion) is give it a subtly refreshed nose, two-part LED taillamps, new alloy wheel designs, a new-generation steering wheel and a few bits of new tech inside the cabin – like the firm’s MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) widescreen infotainment system with Energising Comfort features. Voila!
Speaking at the South African launch hosted at the AMG Driving Academy at Zwartkops Raceway outside Pretoria, Johannes Fritz, Co-CEO of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, said the company was launching the facelifted range at a difficult time, in a market experiencing sales levels not seen since 1993 … saying COVID-19 had effectively set the new-car market back 27 years. However, in spite of this, he reiterated the E-Class was the most advanced yet and a stronger luxury offering than ever before.
Although the range has been trimmed from 16 models down to nine, the locally available E family is comprised of turbopetrol engines in two states of tune – wearing the 200 and 300 monikers – as well as the 220d turbodiesel. There are sedan, coupé and cabriolet body styles and three AMG models, the six-cylinder E53 Coupé and Cabriolet and the fan-favourite V8 found in the E63 S Sedan.
The subtly updated front end comes in all manner of styles depending on body shape and trim package – whether it be the star and single louvre, the double split louvre or the vertical lines of the AMG model, it has an elegance that builds upon its predecessor and is undeniably attractive.
Starting with the turbopetrol engines, the range features the E200 with 145 kW/320 N.m, good for 0-100 km/h in a claimed 7,5 seconds, although we did not sample this drivetrain on the launch. Next is the uprated E300 which is good for 190 kW/370 N.m, shortening the 0-100 km/h sprint to 6,4 seconds. We were able to sample the E300 Coupé on the day and it felt agile and sufficiently powerful for a car of this size and stature.
Moving onto the E220d Sedan – don’t be fooled by the naming convention, its 2,0-litre turbodiesel is the same as before with 143 kW and 400 Nm, which accelerates to 100 km/h in 7,4 seconds, consumes a claimed 4,80 L/100 km and emits 137 g/km of CO2. We made sure to sample it on the day and found its frugality impressive: 5,50 L/100 km on a mixed-cycle route. We know diesel is no longer de rigueur but we still believe it to be the “all-things-considered” pick of the range.
With the road element out of the way, it was time to turn our attention to the AMG models at Zwartkops Raceway. As you might expect, Mercedes-AMG took advantage of the updated model to serve up an even more sophisticated version of the E63 S 4Matic+. It’s all about headlining numbers with this top-of-the-line weapon: 450 kW/850 N.m, 0-100 km/h in a claimed 3,4 seconds and a top speed limited to 300 km/h, harnessed by all-wheel drive with fully variable torque distribution.
AMG listens to its customers and heeded the call for adaptive dampers to aid comfort on long-distance journeys. Except our drive in the V8 leviathan was nowhere near an actual road – with two laps of the Big Z and half a dozen runs around a wet skidpan our lot. This super-saloon couldn’t impress more if it jumped out of a cake wearing full race overalls. The grip astounds and the power and torque thrills rather than frightens. A supple ride soaks up fast, bumpy corners with aplomb and balanced steering keeps everything poised at all times. Arm all the driver aids in the correct sequence and you’ll engage the vehicle’s party piece, rear-wheel-drive only “Drift Mode”.
We were lucky enough to test this feature quite extensively on the wet skidpan and it did not disappoint. It was a journey of discovery, finding that confidence to squeeze the throttle and knowing when the rear end was going to break away and then managing the situation with controlled steering and throttle inputs to maintain the slide. The abundance of torque on the slippery surface meant a less-is-more approach worked a treat. Once in the groove, it was a pleasurable, almost comfortable experience. Best of all, after taking a repeated hammering, the AMG felt like it had hardly broken a sweat.
Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss…
Author: Ray Leathern
Model: Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ 9G-tronic
Price: R2 423 000
Engine: 4,0-litre, V8 twin-turbopetrol
Power: 450 kW @ 5750 r/min
Torque: 850 N.m @ 2 500-4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 3,4 seconds
Top Speed: 300 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 11,6 L/100 km
CO2: 267 g/km
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km