Jude P. Morte / Ramon Sy, Jude P. Morte | September 18, 2006 00:00
Befitting for the blue collar bigshotThe Mercedes Benz E-Class connotes images of a classy and powerful Teutonic four door saloon, coming hand in hand with choice comforts for the controlling conglomerate chief, albeit in manageable dimensions for local roads (read: a smaller alternative for the S-Class). Whether it can impress buyers looking past what the Audi A6, Volvo S60 and BMW 5-Series offer is the reason for this test drive.
Elitist execution excellence
The E-Class provided to this writer (an E 280 Elegance) shows onlookers that its occupants (or owners) are of the landed gentry, due to the pearl luster obsidian black paint, large dimensions, silver star hood ornament, four-eye headlamps and distinctly Mercedes Benz grille. Inside, the E 280's tan interior is a welcome contrast to the unit's exterior, with a love-it-or-hate-it wood trim beltline. For the driver, a big menu screen in the gauge cluster's middle helps monitor engine and outside inputs, helped largely by steering wheel-mounted controls for the said menu screen and the best auto audio system (including a hidden motor-driven panel for the CD changer) this writer has heard to date. For the shotgun (front) occupant, the system and climate controls and hidden dual cupholders (in front of the center console) are easy to reach. And for rear riders, there's a hidden rear armrest within the seat backrest (with two cupholders), aircon vents and a 12-volt outlet (behind the center console). After all, typical E-Class owners prefer to be driven while riding shotgun or on the rear seats.
The creature comforts of the E280 are generally great for the mid-management bigshot, but there are quirks. The easy-to-reach power assisted front seat adjustment has no lumbar support, the horn takes effort to punch, the hazard and lock/unlock buttons are hard to find and the sunroof is rather small. The aforementioned hidden front dual cupholders only handle small plastic bottles, deterring the driver who frequents for lunch the McDonalds or Jollibee drive-thru areas while waiting for his masters. And the rear door armrests and door storage areas are awkwardly placed; reaching for small items in the said areas can be frustrating.
Fair enough performance
Despite the seven-speed automatic transmission (a/t) and great power stats, the power curve is steep and the gearing feels tall. As a result the 3.0L DOHC V6 lumbers through the tachometer's bottom end, but the car is mighty fast when the powerband (2500-plus rpm) is reached. Warning for speed nuts: there's a delay in shifting when using the said a/t's manual mode. Upshifting tends to make the rev counter spend lots of time at the powerband's low rpm fringes, while going down a gear tends to occur at inopportune times (such as on the apex of crests).
The P 4.88 million E280 Elegance is composed even as midtarmac alterations try to knock it off line. You can hurl the car at 120-125kph on turns with the traction control off (thanks to the surprisingly strong grip from the test unit's Dunlop SP Sport 9000 225/65 R16s), with tire squeal at 130-139 kph and understeer occurring at 140-plus kph. The steering gets heavier as speed increases and turn-in is sharp, but overall it tends to be slightly vague. And for a car with a considerably small wheel (the E280 Elegance totes 16-inch light alloy wheels) and tire combination, the ride tends to be floaty.
One thing that stands out for the E-Class is its safety systems. A bevy of secondary safety systems - including brake assist, crash-sensitive central locking, seatbelt-force limiters, head/neck restraints and the various Safe systems - fully secure occupants in case an accident occurs, but equally up to the task are its primary safety systems. The brakes grab hard without wheel lockup or waking up the anti-lock system (even at three-fourths brake pedal effort) and the lighting from the headlamps and foglamps are bright enough that there's no need for the "bright" setting. Also, the standard light dimming system for the rear view and left side view mirror significantly reduces glare coming from vehicles behind the saloon. One problem: using the windshield wiper stalk can be a bit confusing, and may require a trip or three to the owner's manual.
The Mercedes Benz E-Class is still capable of attracting customers from the local landed gentry. A bevy of safety systems and creature comforts, decent acceleration and handling make it an option to consider for the corporate middle or top management blue collar. It may have some serious power and ride deficiencies, but the E-Class is still fit for the executive elite.