What is it?
Yes, the new, long-wheelbase ‘V213’ E-class has been a huge success and impressed us a great deal when we reviewed it in E 350d guise, but really, this is the one we’ve been waiting for – the E 220d. Why? For one, at Rs 57.14 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune), it’s a whole lot more affordable than the E 350d, and two, because it debuts Mercedes’ new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine in India. This motor will slowly replace the 2.1-litre, four-cylinder diesel motor that is used by most Merc models – anything with a 200d, 220d or 250d baodge (every sedan and SUV other than the GLS and S-class) – in India, and so it will account for the majority of sales. Hence, there is a lot riding on it.
Buyers will be happy to know that not much has changed on the outside, save for the new badge and a set of smart, five-spoke alloy wheels (a different design but the same 17-inch size as the E 350d). Otherwise, it has the same, regal, stretched sedan look with the signature ‘dual slash’ LED accents in the headlamps, the big, three-pointed star grille and the elegant teardrop-like tail-lamps. On the inside too, it’s almost exactly the same. There’s a lighter shade of wood grain on the dash and the Artico faux-leather upholstery has a different design, but that’s it. Sure, you miss a few bits of equipment – like the adjustable dampers with a ‘lift’ function, the Burmester hi-fi system, memory settings for the front seats and 360-degree parking cameras – but you’ll agree that these aren’t essential items.
You still get loads of other equipment like automatic, adaptive LED headlamps, push-button start, five driving modes, three-zone auto climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the huge panoramic sunroof and electric sun blinds. And of course, this car’s selling point – the stretched rear cabin with the reclining seats – remains unchanged. Really, buyers won’t feel short-changed by this lesser variant. In fact, it almost makes you question why the E 350d is so much more expensive!
What’s it like to drive?
The heart of the matter is clearly the engine. It’s a new modular unit (codename: OM654) with a displacement of 1,950cc across four cylinders, and an all-aluminium construction. That means it weighs just 168kg, a full 31kg lighter than the outgoing 2.1-litre motor, which in turn should contribute toward better fuel efficiency. It’s paired to the venerable 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox, which has proved to transform the way other new Mercs drive. The engine’s power output is 194hp, which is a fair bit more than the previous 220d’s 170hp; although the torque, at 400Nm, is exactly the same. It’s also worth noting that the outgoing E-class only came with the ‘250d’ engine, whose outputs of 204hp and 500Nm were higher.
What’s really impressive is how refined this motor is. The old 2.1-litre engine was notorious for its clattery noise at both idle and higher revs, whereas here there’s very little noise at low revs. When it does get audible at around 2,500rpm, it’s nowhere near as rough sounding as before, and, in fact, is almost sporty in the way it rumbles. The gearbox is, as ever, superb, using all of its nine ratios to great effect, so that you’re always in the power band. Turbo lag feels all but non-existent, and there’s even very little of that gearbox lag you might feel on kickdown in other cars, as the 9G-Tronic will always have the right gear ready for you. It also does this smoothly and silently, with only a slight ‘kick’ felt, understandably, in Sport+ mode.
Enthusiasts might miss that strong hit of power that you got with the old car, as this one – helped by the gearbox no doubt – feels a lot smoother and more linear across its rev band. Still, given the outputs and the size of this car, its 0-100kph time of 8.81sec is not too shabby. That makes this E 220d about 1.8sec slower than the 350d and about 0.5sec slower than the old E 250d. However, it does compare far more favourably in kickdown acceleration, taking 4.98sec and 6.52sec, respectively, from 20-80kph and 40-100kph. Of course, drive modes make a difference, and as with most luxury cars, we’d leave the Eco mode only for your chauffeur. Comfort is good for the city but can still feel a bit sluggish, so Sport might suit some drivers better. Sport+ is only for enthusiastic driving, more so because it keeps the engine on the boil at around 2,000rpm, which feels a bit too high-strung for everyday use.
The other mechanical change is to the suspension. While the E 350d has air suspension all round, this one uses conventional steel springs, so you lose out on adjustable damping and the lift function that raises the car for big bumps. The good news is that Mercedes has got the setup just right this time around. It’s nowhere near as stiff-kneed as the C-class and yet manages to maintain good body control over a rough patch of road. On the flipside, yes, you do lose out on that ultra-soft plushness of the air suspension from the E 350d, but then, you get almost none of that floatiness you get over bumps and at high speed as you do in the V6 car. That said, the rear has been set up softer than the front, so you will feel a bit more bounce if you’re sat in the back. Overall, it’s a great compromise between stability and comfort.
The new suspension has also shown its effect in the handling department. There’s quite a bit less roll than in the air-suspension-equipped car, although it hasn’t been eliminated entirely. The steering is very light at low speeds, as it should be, and if you want more heft out of it, simply dial the car up into Sport or Sport+, where it weighs up very well. It’s very quick and accurate too, helping you place the E-class quite easily, but really what stops this from being a fun car to drive is just the sheer size of it, which is constantly apparent.
Should I buy one?
The E 220d doesn’t just fill the vast gap between the E 200 and the E 350d. It’s priced so well, it really makes you question whether you need to stump up the Rs 12 lakh extra for the V6-powered diesel car. You lose some equipment, but it retains so much that you don’t feel like you’ve lost out at all, even with the loss of the air suspension; yes, that ultimate Maharaja-worthy low-speed ride is gone, but the steel-sprung setup is rather impressive as well. And finally, the new engine. It’s far more refined than the one it replaces and, crucially, performance doesn’t feel inadequate for the stretched out sedan, something that initially concerned us when we found out the badge would say ‘220d’ and not ‘250d’. The package doesn’t seem to have suffered at all for being the ‘lesser’ variant, and if you’ve never tried the E 350d, you’ll find it quite good indeed. Though there has been a shift toward petrol lately, diesel is still the more popular choice in this sort of car, and we have no doubt that the E 220d is on its way to becoming the mainstay of the E-class range.