Mercedes-Benz’s mid-range E-Class sedan is loaded with enough gadgets, it can almost drive itself.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
THE NUMBERS ENGINE: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo POWER: 184bhp at 5,500rpm TORQUE: 300Nm from 1,200 to 4,000 rpm 0-100 KMH: 7.7 seconds TOP SPEED: 240 kmh.
THE NUMBERS ENGINE: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo POWER: 184bhp at 5,500rpm TORQUE: 300Nm from 1,200 to 4,000 rpm 0-100 KMH: 7.7 seconds TOP SPEED: 240 kmh.

Mercedes-Benz’s mid-range E-Class sedan is loaded with enough gadgets, it can almost drive itself.

Depending on how much you enjoy driving, it seems that with every car launch, the Jetson-esque future of vehicles whizzing along autonomously – for better or worse – is drawing closer to reality. You need only to take a gander at the latest W213 E-Class for an illustration of this brave new world.

It deploys radars to track the car in front, not only applying the brakes and the accelerator to keep up, but also gently nudging the wheel to keep you on the straight and narrow. Put on the indicator and it will even change lanes. Stalking has never been more effortless.

If it senses that you are swerving around a wayward pedestrian, like an invisible hand it will add its own input to help you better steer around the obstacle and to straighten up the car after the dust has settled.

But, should this automotive Jeeves believe that everything is going pear-shaped, it will nonchalantly expand the air bolster in the seat to push you safely away from the door while emitting a special sound pulse through the speakers to prep your eardrums for impact.

My Reading Room

The E-Class is an amazingly thoughtful – and thinking – car, so it is with regret that I am unable to test these features, as they are not fitted in the E200 Exclusive model I borrowed. It is, however, stuffed to the gills with comfort-related goodies, which hints at the German carmaker’s focus on the chauffeur-driven type here.

Like the optional Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension, which Mercedes- Benz says is the first time an offering in this segment is equipped with such a feature. Think of it as the baby version of the sublime Magic Body Control found on the flagship S-Class.

Most owners of the E-Class, I suspect, will click the switch into comfort mode to enjoy a soft suspension that does a spot-on job soaking up all the bumps, including those carpark speed humps that judder, no matter how glacially you crawl over them. But when you take over on your driver’s day off , there is the Sport mode for a stiffer, more performance-oriented ride.

Every part of the interior has been upgraded. The attractive new cabin features noticeably less plastic, and, where the material is deployed, it is used in places away from line of sight, such as the bottom half of the doors.

The dashboard is covered in leather, although I did not particularly take to the pianofinish veneer, which attracts dust, fingerprints and microscratches. The open-pore wood is a much better choice if you are after a contemporary look.

Up front, the biggest change is the optional pair of 12.3-inch LCDs that make up the digital dashboard. These take over the task of displaying information that used to be done by gauges, and you can control all the functions in a myriad of ways, including voice, rotary knob, handwriting and – new to the E-Class – two touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel.

Apart from slightly sluggish software and despite the overly fussy number of input methods, the system works quite well. The engine, a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for 184bhp and a century sprint of 7.7 seconds, is carried over from the old model. While smooth, it does not feel particularly fast or eager; the capable chassis simply begs for another 30 horses to do it justice.

Aesthetics-wise, it is a handsome car with powerful lines that looks altogether more cohesive than the outgoing model. That said, Mercedes- Benz seems to have settled on a safe formula, because if you had not already noticed from photos, the E-Class looks like a shrunken-down S-Class and, consequently, a larger version of the C-Class.

It might as well rename the trio S, M and L. But here’s the thing. In many ways, the E-Class is the quintessential Mercedes-Benz, a versatile workhorse equally at ease when pressed into service as a presidential limousine, an executive saloon, or all the way down to a common taxi.

Its universal appeal depends on its consistency; its potential customers do not like surprises. After all, Mercedes-Benz sold 10 million of them since 1993, the year it started designating its mid-sized sedan as the E-Class.

So, petrolheads probably will not be swayed to part with keys to their BMW 5-series, but if your preferred seat is at the back – and being at the wheel only if you have to – the comfort and semi-autonomous features of the E-Class deposits it firmly as the king of the hill. In other words, if you like the previous E-Class, you will love this one. Cycle & Carriage Industries. Mercedes-Benz Center, 301 Alexandra Road. Tel: 6298-1818.

My Reading Room

Using highresolution LED modules, the lamps distribute light precisely to avoid blinding other road users, while providing the driver a clear path ahead.

My Reading Room

This top-ofthe- range option treats passengers to concert hall-like 3-D surround sound, thanks to its 23 speakers, including two in the roof.

My Reading Room

Set the mood by picking the colour of your interior lighting from a palette of 64 hues. The energy-saving LEDs add highlights to areas like the door pockets and foot wells.

THE NUMBERS ENGINE: 3-litre, 6-cylinder turbo POWER: 370bhp at 6,500rpm TORQUE: 465 Nm from 1,400 to 5,560rpm 0-100KMH: 4.3 sec TOP SPEED: 250 kmh (governed)
THE NUMBERS ENGINE: 3-litre, 6-cylinder turbo POWER: 370bhp at 6,500rpm TORQUE: 465 Nm from 1,400 to 5,560rpm 0-100KMH: 4.3 sec TOP SPEED: 250 kmh (governed)

Meet the new BMW M2. The car that the M3 should have been.

Okay, that is perhaps a tad harsh. The M3 (and the related two-door M4) still reigns as BMW’s quintessential hot rod, but it was born in a different era. Over its 30-odd-year lifespan, while it has grown indisputably more capable, it has also become bigger, more complex and very, very pricey in the process. Usher in the M2, the spiritual successor to the original E30-series M3.

It deploys a decidedly less sophisticated suspension, steering and engine than those of its contemporary bigger brother, but within these constraints, one gets the solid impression that the engineers have wrung every last drop of performance out of them. This, oddly, makes for a purer and arguably better car. And it shows over and over again, during the two days I spend with the M2.

The weather has been miserable and the roads congested with right-lanecamping nancies, but, in comfort mode, the car gamely glides along. Sure, the suspension (not adjustable) is hard, but on the smooth roads here, it is not something that overly jars. But, when the small hours frees up empty pockets of road heaven, the M2 unleashes its mettle.

Steering is wonderfully communicative and reassuringly precise, and works in tandem with the stiff springs for pin-sharp cornering. Even bumps or potholes encountered mid-turn do not faze this composure. The shorter wheelbase and lighter mass both help, but whatever it is, I run out of courage before the car ran out of grip.

Couple this with the cracker of a motor, a sixcylinder unit shared with the M235i, with additional uprated bits borrowed from the M3 parts bin. Paired with a seven-speed M DCT – essentially a proper manual shifter without the third pedal – the powertrain delivers effortless, and sometimesbrutal torque, especially in sport and sport plus mode, where the transmission does away with the civility of smooth gear changes, in exchange for unbridled power.

The surprise is that a performance car so raw as this also functions reasonably well as a daily driver, with ample space for passengers and luggage, although, for readers of this magazine, I suspect this would be a second or third vehicle. Nonetheless, at $282,800, this is a bargain. Munich Automobiles. 30 Teban Gardens Crescent.