What is it?
The easiest way to score a goal, if you think about it, is to shift the goalpost. And that's exactly what Mercedes has done with the all-new long-wheelbase E-class, a car that it has specially developed for Indian buyers. Adapted to right-hand drive from the China-only LWB E-class, the new V213 has been engineered with a sharp focus on rear seat comfort. Given the fact that there are a high percentage of chauffeur-driven E-class customers in India, Mercedes-Benz has given focus to the long-wheelbase E-class. What Mercedes also found was that, though most of them drive only on the weekend, they still want to enjoy the car from behind the wheel too. And that's where the big 258hp diesel V6 under the hood of this car comes in.
Elsewhere in the range there is a 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder petrol as well that makes 184hp, and there's a new-generation 2.0-litre diesel too that will also follow later this year. Known as the OM654, this 1,950cc engine is well below the 2,000cc mark and can thus help evade any potential sub-2.0-litre diesel restriction in India. But this will only come to our market later.
Walk around the car however and it's the extra length that gets you first. It looks regal, classy and sophisticated, all rolled into one. The design of the car follows current Merc trends to a ‘T’. Things like the overall balance, the skinning of the car and the detailing are clearly similar to both the S-class and the C-class. The all-LED headlights are a link to the previous-gen car and the sporty grille up front provides plenty of continuity too. The headlight pods however are recessed and placed below the hood line, and the sporty chin gives the E a youthful appeal.
Follow the lines of the car all the way to the rear and it looks handsome in a big-boned way. The bonnet is long, there is a distinct ridge that runs through the door handles all the way to the rear and what's clear is that the three-meter plus wheelbase and the new rear quarter glass make it look like a baby Maybach. Notice how the base of the 'C' pillar is finished in a band of thick and luscious chrome. Some brand loyalists however will miss the traditional Merc grille up front, especially with the long-wheelbase version looking so regal.
The long-wheelbase version of the E-class, known as the V213, has an incredible 3,079mm between the wheels, making for massive cabin space. And this top-of-the-line 350d gets air suspension all round, with the S-class matching three-chamber design for the struts (others will get steel springs). Ground clearance is 120mm in the lowest setting, but this can be raised by a further 15mm if you use the 'lift' feature. What's nice is that, unlike some of the competition, Merc hasn't gone for outsized wheels. The 17-inch 10-spoke alloys look alright but, importantly, have a healthy profile for our rutted roads.
What’s it like on the inside?
Big... And very spacious to begin with. You get acres of legroom in the back, more than you'll ever need, and, because the 'Exclusive' trim has white artico leather and white carpets, the rear feels extremely airy as well. Seating comfort is excellent with the rear seat back upping comfort levels massively. It's so well-designed that it seems to perfectly match the profile of your back. What’s more is that the backrests on the rear seats are electrically reclinable. Set fully back, they are at the perfect angle for a quick power nap, and what's nice is that Merc has given the new E the same soft pillow-like headrest as the S-class; they're so soft they feel like they are made of fluffy feathers. From the left rear seat you can also control the front passenger seat and move the base and backrest to make room for you.
A nice touch is that each door has controls for both rear windows and blinds. And the new E gets a large panoramic sunroof. The rear can seat three but as you have the massive central tunnel to contend with, and the narrow centre seat, it’s best to flip the armrest down and use the car like a four seater. Rear passengers also get illuminated vanity mirrors integrated into the roof and a three-zone climate control system with four vents at the rear and six on the dashboard. The interiors also have a 64-colour ambient lighting system with separate controls for the front and rear zones. There are, however, no cup holders at the rear (apart from the bottle holders in the door pads), there's no way to adjust the audio system from the rear seat and, unlike the S-class, you don't get the soft close function for the doors.
There are a few disappointments up front too. The E-class in other markets, for example, comes with a fully-digital instrument panel as against the traditional twin dials on Indian cars. And while the COMAND system gets a huge 12.3-inch media display – and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – touchscreen functionality hasn't been built in here, so it's a bit pointless. The top of the jog dial, however, is sensitive to touch and Merc has even given the E two tiny touch pads mounted on the steering wheel. These are quite easy to use once you discover that the left unit controls the central screen while the one on the right is for the display between the dials. Other equipment includes a 13-speaker, 590W Burmester surround sound system and 360-degree camera, which, given the size of the car, we found really handy navigating the tight roads in Goa.
Equipment apart, the dipping and arching dash of the new E really does set the tone beautifully. The chromed-over vents look stunning, the leather-covered dash looks great, the clockwork-like dials have a nice 3D vibe going and the S-class like mood lighting really does give the cabin a lift. And then there are the big chairs up front that are very sporty and different from Mercs of the recent past. They are tall, the bolstering is very generous and the open-pore art leather is supple and extremely comfy seats.
What’s it like to drive?
It's a limo, so let’s begin with what it is like to ride in. In ‘Comfort’ mode, it really does ride like it's floating on air. The four pillars of air soak up everything the road throws at them very well and this feels nice. But in Comfort, as you go a bit faster, it also feels ‘floaty’ and boat-like at times, and that sometimes can make passengers feel queasy. Shifting to Sport or Sport+ helps sort this out and what’s great is that the ride does not get harsh either. In fact, so good is the ‘Sport’ mode that I found myself using it as the default mode. A benefit of having a full air suspension is the ability to lift the body and increase the ground clearance. Given the long wheelbase, this is a boon when it comes to our speed breakers. We managed to clear most speed breakers, but one or two big ones did scrape the bottom when we were four people in the car; the lift mechanism takes too long to lift up the car to be effectively used regularly on an obstacle like a speed breaker.
Also, hugely impressive is the V6 diesel engine – an absolute delight. To begin with, it's so silent you just can’t hear it when you sit in the rear – the refinement and insulation is just staggering. And that feeling is then reinforced when you get behind the wheel. What we really love is that it almost never feels strained, pulling smoothly and cleanly all the way past 4,500rpm. With the nine-speed transmission you can cruise at 100kph, with the engine ticking over at just 1,500rpm. And then, soon after unleashing such a savage burst of acceleration, you forget this is a limo. There's little doubt why Mercedes has chosen to carry this engine onto the new generation, it's brilliant. The engine makes a massive 620Nm of torque from just 1,600rpm, and by 3,400rpm the V6 is wringing out 258hp. Mercedes claims a 0–100kph time of 6.6sec, and that's no surprise because the car actually feels seriously quick.
The handling isn't great in ‘Comfort’. The car feels sloppy and rolls and pitches around every other corner, and the steering feels disconnected and devoid of feel; it's best not to drive in this mode. The default mode that you use should be ‘Sport’. It's not sharp and sporty per say, but drive in this mode and the new E delivers more directional stability and better body control, and this allows you to use the fabulous engine and nine-speed gearbox to better effect. The ‘Sport plus’ mode is nicer still, as the suspension tightens up the car even more.
Should I buy one?
If you’re usually chauffeured around, this is a car you should seriously consider. The rear seats of the E are simply outstanding. There's massive space, the backrest reclines to a very comfy angle, the seat base is supportive and quality levels are so good that you want to touch and feel everything. It even rides well and soaks up everything the road throws at it. The steering is light and fluid too. The E is a neat handler in the right mode and, every time you want to press on further, there's a huge amount of power available under your right foot from the lusty V6. It may not be as fun to drive as some of the competition and the lower-spec E 200, while competitively priced, misses out on equipment such as air suspension. The E 350d on the other hand is only available fully specced but still does miss out on some basics like a system remote for the rear, and at Rs 69.47 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), it isn't exactly cheap. Still, look at it as an E-class that delivers near-S-class-levels of luxury and comfort for just a little more and you'll understand why it could be the luxury bargain of the year. Merc's leap of faith just could be a leap in the right direction.
Take a closer look at the new E-class long-wheelbase in our image gallery.