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Tony O'Kane | Apr 9, 2010 | 5 Comments

WE WERE VERY IMPRESSED when we first sampled Mercedes-Benz’s W212 E-Class at its national launch in August 2009.

The improvement in prestige quality that it represented over the previous W211 model was a quantum leap forward for the E-Class.

TMR has since had the petrol-powered E350 sedan and the delightful E500 coupe on test; but now we've spent some time getting to know the base model diesel – and the cheapest E-Class of them all – the E220 CDI.

The E350 and E500 both had smooth, powerful drivetrains that complemented the new E-Class well, but how does the E220 CDI acquit itself? Notwithstanding its place in the line-up – it’s got a lot to live up to.

 

The Drive

As the price-leader of the range, the interior ambience of the E220 CDI is noticeably different to that of the higher-grade E350, E350 CDI, E500 and E63 AMG.

The centre console carries the most obvious difference, with the selector for the E220’s automatic gearbox sprouting from the top of the transmission tunnel. The E350, E350 CDI and E500 all have their gear selectors mounted on the column, freeing up storage space in the console.

The front seats feature manual adjustment for slide and lumbar, but have electric controls for backrest tilt and seat squab height. Unlike the V6 and V8 models, the E220 CDI doesn’t have pneumatic bolster adjustment.

The E220 CDI is the only model in the E-Class range to be offered in Elegance specification as standard, which, with its grey leather and softer ride, is targeted at more mature buyers.

Our tester, however, was kitted out in Avantgarde spec, which replaced the grey upholstery with black leather and black wood trim, added bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights and replaced the standard 16-inch alloys with 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.

It may be the cheapest E-Class around, but it doesn’t feel it. The interior ambience is one of refinement and quality, everything feels solid and it’s hard to find fault with the cabin fittings.
While any time you spend behind the 'three-pointed-star' carries a certain sense of exclusivity, the semi-electric pews will remind you that you’re not yet a high roller. That said, they’re comfortable, cosseting even, and with a wide range of adjustment.
The rear seats are also good. However, thanks to the large transmission tunnel, the centre seat is wanting for legroom (and cushioning is quite hard), but the outboard seats are very accommodating indeed.
The 60/40 split rear seatback also folds flat via a pair of release handles in the boot, opening up a very large load area.

It feels larger inside than its chief rival, the BMW 520d; it also carries the more premium air. The plastics are sturdier, the fit and finish is superb and even though the Avantgarde trim is incredibly dark, it’s not cold and unwelcoming by any means.

Outward visibility is good, and although the Blind Spot assist system is a cost option on the E220 CDI (it wasn’t present on our test car), the wing mirrors give a good view of what’s beside the car.

At 2.1 litres, the E220 CDI’s powertrain package is a small one considering the car’s 1735kg kerb weight. Coupled with a five-speed automatic – not the excellent seven-speeder fitted to V6 and V8 E-Classes – one expects the small turbodiesel to be a bit of a sloth, but in real-world driving conditions it’s got surprising punch.

A total of 125kW is generated between 3000 and 4000rpm, but the 400Nm that’s available between 1400-2800rpm is the more relevant number.

It’s a substantial amount of torque, and with all of it available at just 700rpm above idle, it gets the E220 CDI moving smartly. It’s no drag strip hero, but is more than capable of surging away from traffic lights and dispatching slower vehicles on the highway.

the gearbox mapping can be switched between two programs via a small button on the gearshift surround.

The default program is ‘Comfort’, which softens pedal response and favours higher gears to maximise fuel efficiency. Acceleration is consequently smooth and unhurried, and the gearbox quickly slurs through its ratios during urban driving.

‘Sport’ is available for when you want more power, such as when negotiating curvy roads or steep inclines, and holds gears for longer as well as sharpening up the throttle mapping.

However, even in Sport mode, there’s still a slight pause between the accelerator being floored and the gearbox selecting the lower gear, which can be a little frustrating when overtaking. (It's a Mercedes thing in the passenger range - none shuffle between the gears with the decisiveness we've come to expect with modern sporting auto transmissions.)

The ride is soft, but never floaty. It’s a ride that matches the relaxed demeanor of the car, and while the damping leans more towards luxury than corner-carving performance, the E220 handles its bulk well.

It does thump a bit over potholes and lumpy roads, but on regular urban roads it rides smoothly. On our highway driving, we found it incredibly comfortable and quiet. It really is quite exclusive motoring.

Steering is nice and light, with a variable-ratio rack reducing the amount of turns from lock to lock. The 11.25m turning circle is good for a car of this size, and the E220 is quite manoeuvrable.

Fuel economy is perhaps the E220 CDI’s biggest trump card; Mercedes claims it can achieve 5.9 l/100km on the combined cycle. However, our testing returned a figure of 8.9 l/100km over a fairly even mix of urban and highway driving.

To be fair though, most of the urban trips took place in heavy traffic, where stop-start driving kills fuel efficiency, leaving the small turbodiesel to repeatedly accelerate the E220’s substantial frame.

 

The Verdict

It might be the cheapest E-Class but the E220 CDI kicks off the range at $80,900, meaning “cheap” is a relative term here.

The E220 CDI may lack some of the bells and whistles fitted to its higher-grade stablemates, but you still get a lot of car for your money. Even so, with most of those gadgets available as options, the E220 can still be built to a very high spec.

The level of quality and refinement that’s evident in everything from the drivetrain to the doorhandles makes the sticker price easier to justify. In fact, just sitting in the driver’s seat and seeing that three pointed star rising above the bonnet is a strangely satisfying and rewarding feeling.

It’s also a winner compared to its prime rival, the BMW 520d. Although the BMW retails for around $4500 less than the Benz, the E220 CDI boasts a fresher design, more torque, a nicer interior and better refinement.

The BMW can manage better real-world fuel economy however, with our recent test of the 2010 520d returning an average figure of 6.4 l/100km.

The new W212 E-Class is, in our opinion, the best Mercedes-Benz on sale at the moment.
The 'cheapest' E-CLass, the E220 CDI, is a solid proposition for those who want the refinement and quality of the badge, but have no need for the extra power or additional luxuries of the higher-grade models.

The Drive

As the price-leader of the range, the interior ambience of the E220 CDI is noticeably different to that of the higher-grade E350, E350 CDI, E500 and E63 AMG.

The centre console carries the most obvious difference, with the selector for the E220’s automatic gearbox sprouting from the top of the transmission tunnel. The E350, E350 CDI and E500 all have their gear selectors mounted on the column, freeing up storage space in the console.

The front seats feature manual adjustment for slide and lumbar, but have electric controls for backrest tilt and seat squab height. Unlike the V6 and V8 models, the E220 CDI doesn’t have pneumatic bolster adjustment.

The E220 CDI is the only model in the E-Class range to be offered in Elegance specification as standard, which, with its grey leather and softer ride, is targeted at more mature buyers.

Our tester, however, was kitted out in Avantgarde spec, which replaced the grey upholstery with black leather and black wood trim, added bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights and replaced the standard 16-inch alloys with 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.

It may be the cheapest E-Class around, but it doesn’t feel it. The interior ambience is one of refinement and quality, everything feels solid and it’s hard to find fault with the cabin fittings.
While any time you spend behind the 'three-pointed-star' carries a certain sense of exclusivity, the semi-electric pews will remind you that you’re not yet a high roller. That said, they’re comfortable, cosseting even, and with a wide range of adjustment.
The rear seats are also good. However, thanks to the large transmission tunnel, the centre seat is wanting for legroom (and cushioning is quite hard), but the outboard seats are very accommodating indeed.
The 60/40 split rear seatback also folds flat via a pair of release handles in the boot, opening up a very large load area.

It feels larger inside than its chief rival, the BMW 520d; it also carries the more premium air. The plastics are sturdier, the fit and finish is superb and even though the Avantgarde trim is incredibly dark, it’s not cold and unwelcoming by any means.

Outward visibility is good, and although the Blind Spot assist system is a cost option on the E220 CDI (it wasn’t present on our test car), the wing mirrors give a good view of what’s beside the car.

At 2.1 litres, the E220 CDI’s powertrain package is a small one considering the car’s 1735kg kerb weight. Coupled with a five-speed automatic – not the excellent seven-speeder fitted to V6 and V8 E-Classes – one expects the small turbodiesel to be a bit of a sloth, but in real-world driving conditions it’s got surprising punch.

A total of 125kW is generated between 3000 and 4000rpm, but the 400Nm that’s available between 1400-2800rpm is the more relevant number.

It’s a substantial amount of torque, and with all of it available at just 700rpm above idle, it gets the E220 CDI moving smartly. It’s no drag strip hero, but is more than capable of surging away from traffic lights and dispatching slower vehicles on the highway.

the gearbox mapping can be switched between two programs via a small button on the gearshift surround.

The default program is ‘Comfort’, which softens pedal response and favours higher gears to maximise fuel efficiency. Acceleration is consequently smooth and unhurried, and the gearbox quickly slurs through its ratios during urban driving.

‘Sport’ is available for when you want more power, such as when negotiating curvy roads or steep inclines, and holds gears for longer as well as sharpening up the throttle mapping.

However, even in Sport mode, there’s still a slight pause between the accelerator being floored and the gearbox selecting the lower gear, which can be a little frustrating when overtaking. (It's a Mercedes thing in the passenger range - none shuffle between the gears with the decisiveness we've come to expect with modern sporting auto transmissions.)

The ride is soft, but never floaty. It’s a ride that matches the relaxed demeanor of the car, and while the damping leans more towards luxury than corner-carving performance, the E220 handles its bulk well.

It does thump a bit over potholes and lumpy roads, but on regular urban roads it rides smoothly. On our highway driving, we found it incredibly comfortable and quiet. It really is quite exclusive motoring.

Steering is nice and light, with a variable-ratio rack reducing the amount of turns from lock to lock. The 11.25m turning circle is good for a car of this size, and the E220 is quite manoeuvrable.

Fuel economy is perhaps the E220 CDI’s biggest trump card; Mercedes claims it can achieve 5.9 l/100km on the combined cycle. However, our testing returned a figure of 8.9 l/100km over a fairly even mix of urban and highway driving.

To be fair though, most of the urban trips took place in heavy traffic, where stop-start driving kills fuel efficiency, leaving the small turbodiesel to repeatedly accelerate the E220’s substantial frame.

Verdict

It might be the cheapest E-Class but the E220 CDI kicks off the range at $80,900, meaning “cheap” is a relative term here.

The E220 CDI may lack some of the bells and whistles fitted to its higher-grade stablemates, but you still get a lot of car for your money. Even so, with most of those gadgets available as options, the E220 can still be built to a very high spec.

The level of quality and refinement that’s evident in everything from the drivetrain to the doorhandles makes the sticker price easier to justify. In fact, just sitting in the driver’s seat and seeing that three pointed star rising above the bonnet is a strangely satisfying and rewarding feeling.

It’s also a winner compared to its prime rival, the BMW 520d. Although the BMW retails for around $4500 less than the Benz, the E220 CDI boasts a fresher design, more torque, a nicer interior and better refinement.

The BMW can manage better real-world fuel economy however, with our recent test of the 2010 520d returning an average figure of 6.4 l/100km.

The new W212 E-Class is, in our opinion, the best Mercedes-Benz on sale at the moment.
The 'cheapest' E-CLass, the E220 CDI, is a solid proposition for those who want the refinement and quality of the badge, but have no need for the extra power or additional luxuries of the higher-grade models.
Get the best deal on this car!
Get a great deal from our national accredited supply network. Fill in the form or call 1300 438 639
 
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Last Name should be a hidden field. Please delete if you are a real person.
Valid Phone required
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Thank you for your enquiry.
One of our accredited supply network will be in touch in the next 24 hours.
 
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