Step inside the new E-class and the immediate impression is of understated quality. It has precise switchgear and lots of soft-touch plastics although some materials and textures like on the steering boss don’t feel very special. The beige interiors have a shade of brown which is not to our liking; we feel the E-class looks best and classiest with black interiors, which is also an option. The interior however comes into its own at night. The ‘waterfall’ lighting effect which splits the dashboard and the downlighting on the door switchgear looks simply fantastic.
The interior design mirrors the exterior theme. The dashboard is upright with angles and straight lines instead of the flowing shape of the previous E-class. Although there is nothing really exciting to draw your attention, all the major controls are well located and simple to use. Taking pride of place is the high-mounted screen housed in its own binnacle. A single knob lets you scroll through the on-screen menus to operate most functions. This arrangement, which Mercedes calls COMAND, dramatically reduces clutter. However, the stereo and climate control systems get conventional controls and the mass of tiny buttons that surround them can be quite confusing. Also, important functions like the Parktronic and trip computer have separate displays and are not integrated into the screen.
What is beyond reproach is the quality feel of the buttons and switches. Even the metal-finish air vents have a solidity that tells you it will last forever. The insides are more practical than before, thanks in part to the column-mounted gear shifter which frees up space in the centre console for large cupholders (which the previous E-class never had). There are three power sockets to charge all your gadgets and the door pockets are generous as ever.
The best news is that Mercedes has finally agreed to give the E-class fully-powered seats. Gone is the manual fore-aft adjuster and instead you get Merc’s traditional seat pictogram on the door which means you’re guaranteed to find a good driving position.
The seats themselves are fantastic, taking comfort to a new level thanks to a new combination of foam, a longer backrest and added length in the cushion. The rear seats too are even more comfortable, if that can be possible. Firstly, access to the rear has been improved by raising the roofline and providing a larger door aperture. The backrest angle at the rear is slightly more reclined which adds to comfort. However, the taller front seat and the higher window line (taller by 18mm) give rear occupants more of a cocooned feeling. It’s something you only notice when you jump from the old E-class into the new one.
Equipment levels are higher than before. The sound system is beefed up, parking sensors are standard and so are cornering lights. And, of course, safety too is enhanced with more airbags than before and a unique Attention Assist system which detects drowsiness and gives a warning!
Despite a few niggles in the Merc’s cabin, there is no doubt that it’s the most comfortable in its class and reeks of attention to detail that’s a step beyond. However, we still can’t understand why Mercedes persists with the old-fashioned mechanical footbrake. A Merc probably wouldn’t be a Merc without one!