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Such is the pace of movement these days that it has become inevitable for manufacturers to update models with new bits – or by removing kit – in between the set intervals of a mid-life refresh. The movement is occurring on a more frequent basis, with the running updates starting to lean out the already thinning constitution of a traditional facelift.
The W213 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a good example of this. Since its arrival here in mid-2016, the fifth-generation of its type has undergone a series of product updates, notably from last year on. The MY2018 set introduced minor changes to the interior trim and lighting elements, but also brought about some revisions to interior equipment, these being changes to upholstery and climate control specifications.
The E-Class was again updated for 2019 when the new E 350 AMG Line variant was introduced. The biggest change was the switch to a new powertrain on the car, the unit also making its way into the E 300 Exclusive (which replaced the E 250 Exclusive) and the E 200 Avantgarde Sportstyle, albeit without the 48V electrical and belt-driven starter-alternator system seen on the E 350.
It is with this new engine that we revisit the baseline E 200, which was last sampled in 2016 in its early CBU form. Does the new powertrain inject new life into what is by and large the same car as it was three years ago? We find out.
Save some minor aesthetic tinkering, it’s all familiar ground where the exterior is concerned – the shape and lines remain pleasant to the eye, and the addition of a Sportstyle exterior pack and new wheels attempts to freshen things up.
The former adds on styling enhancements to the Avantgarde spec’d car, but these are rather subtle, given that what you get are Sportstyle badges on the front fender, a chrome louvre on the front bumper and high-gloss black chrome trim on the rear bumper.
As before, the E 200 continues to ride on 18-inch five-spoke light-alloy wheels, but the new design features solid spokes instead of the double-spoke units seen previously. Call it a matter of preference, but the old unit looked better integrated visually with the car. Elsewhere, the E 200 still comes with LED High Performance headlamps (with Adaptive Highbeam Assist) and a reverse camera.
No alterations to the E 200’s interior beyond that seen last year, when an Artico leather-covered dashboard joined the Artico upholstery on the kit list, and the centre console trim was switched from piano black to open-pored black ash wood. The COMAND infotainment system on the variant was replaced by an Audio 20 system in the 2018 update, and the latter continues to feature here. Wireless charging wasn’t found on the original E 200, but is on here.
Aside from the last item above, the bits that were not there in 2016 still aren’t – to get a panoramic sunroof, powered boot, a 360-degree camera and Keyless-Go, you’ll have to opt for the E 300, which also gets a Lane Tracking Package, a COMAND Online system as well as a Burmester audio system.
Save for one item, the lack of kit doesn’t feel apparent, certainly not when you get inside the car. Baseline does nothing to diminish the cabin’s level of luxe, and the widescreen cockpit, with its twin 12.3-inch digital displays, remains the visual treat as it was when it first appeared. You won’t even miss the Burmester audio, which in my opinion is highly over-rated.
There’s an anomaly though, and it comes from the most unlikely avenue – the light carbon-grain aluminium trim, specifically the horizontal panel on the dashboard. If the piano black console panel on the old car was a fingerprint and smear magnet, it was at least off the line of general sight.
In the case of the aluminium panel, there’s no doubting that it looks good and helps to provide contrast and added dimensional scope to the cabin. Unfortunately, it also projects light that is cast on it pretty well. Under the mid-day sun, the convex shape of the trim unit turns the surface into a mirror.
Although there is some fringe pickup, there’s less impact on the driver, but the entire left side of the panel provides a consistently large surface for re-radiation that there’s simply no escape for the front passenger, with the projection hitting dead on at eye level.
Uncomfortable would be a polite way of describing the full effects of the glare. While there’s no doubt that the brand would like to leave you dazzled by the brilliance of the car, I don’t think this is what it had in mind. Tint is likely to neutralise some of the effects, or you could simply avoid sitting in the front passenger seat from say, 11 am to 1 pm, as silly as that sounds.
Another niggle concerns the lack of keyless entry, which is questionable on a car costing RM329,888. This aspect didn’t crop up in the 2016 review of the E 200, because that was an advance CBU unit equipped with Keyless-Go, and so Jonathan Lee didn’t have to contend with that.
Here, it became a frustrating exercise to have to unpocket the key, unlock the doors, then pocket the key again, and do the same once more to lock the doors upon exiting the car.
You can imagine the fun of doing this repeatedly. Even if all you do is drive to work and home, that’s still eight movements in and out of a pocket (or handbag, which will surely thrill the ladies) on a daily basis. Of course, the argument is that most E-Class units are likely to be chauffeured, but that doesn’t take away the fact that someone still has to carry out the action nearly 15,000 times over a five-year period, even if it’s not you.
Granted, one can place the key in a cup-holder or cubbyhole once inside the car to lessen the count, but that’s still one pocket too many (more than 7,000 times over the same period, if you’re still doing the sums). There’s nothing wrong with removing the fob from a pocket or a bag when the car has a keyed ignition, because the process is logical and stepped, but with a car that has keyless start it feels half-baked. More so when the car costs what it does.
Rant over, time to move on to the primary differentiator on the 2019 car, which is the automaker’s new M264 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. Like the M274 DE 20 it replaces, the twin-scroll unit offers different states of output tune, and on the E 200 this is 194 hp (or 197 PS) at 5,500 rpm and 320 Nm of torque from 1,650 to 4,000 rpm.
This is a marginal increase from the 181 hp (or 184 PS) and 300 Nm available from the M274. Paired with a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, the E 200 does the 0-100 km/h in 7.5 seconds, a fraction faster than the 7.7 seconds on the previous iteration. Top speed remains unchanged, at 240 km/h.
As the numbers suggest, there’s not a large difference in outright push, but the new mill has a much keener character, giving the sedan a livelier feel. That it feels sprightlier is aided by the increased tonality coming off the block, which provides the sensation of the car being faster than it actually is.
This is especially perceptible in the 80-120 km/h range under acceleration, where the car feels like its carrying about 20-30 km/h more than the actual speed. As it turns out, this impression isn’t just unique to the car. Gerard, who recently spent time with the facelifted C 300 AMG Line, says that the particular behaviour is also present in that C-Class variant, which features the same engine in its higher 254 hp state of tune.
Beyond the changes brought about by the engine switch, the E 200 continues to behave in the same predictable manner in other areas. Although devoid of any real feel, the steering is quick and places well, and the car is fairly agile – it’s no BMW 5 Series, but is dynamically adept enough that it will satisfy all expectations of it from the intended buying crowd.
Also unchanged is the level of ride comfort coming off the Agility Control suspension set-up (comfort suspension with selective damping and a 15 mm lowered ride height), which on the CKD version felt better resolved than the advance units shod with 19-inchers.
Primary characteristics are good once you get to higher cruising speeds, and the car feels very nicely sorted here, but the secondary throws up a mixed bag, continuing to feel underdamped when reacting to pronounced surface imperfections, especially large ruts. Otherwise, the resolution remains clean at up to intermediate speeds, with far less wallow than from Airmatic.
On the whole, no real surprises where the E 200 is concerned, save for the new engine, which is a noteworthy addition for the increased pep and refinement it brings to the car. The lack of keyless entry takes away some of the gloss, but it’s likely that most buyers won’t even take notice, because the only time they’ll be dipping into their pocket will be when the purchase is made.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much status quo – its core competencies remain undiluted, and that cosseting interior continues to mesmerise three years into the game. Throw in a new mill, and it’s good enough to power the E-Class on until the full refresh arrives.