In its current iteration, the locally assembled E 200 Avantgarde sounds like the perfect mid-size prestige saloon, managing to combine the luxury and provenance of Mercedes-Benz with localised CKD perks. However, is the sharper pricing shadowing enough omissions that it could turn buyers away?
Of course, its asking price of RM330k (RM330,224.80) isn’t loose change even for the deep-pocketed, but could definitely be enough to lure keen buyers that insist on D+ segment levels of space and presence into an upgrade.
The E 200 kicks off the range as a 2022 model year vehicle launched in latter 2021, surpassed by the more powerful and sportily styled E 300 AMG-Line that also received the local assembly treatment.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a has been around since 1993 making this heavy revised W213 the 5th-generation of the German saloon, preceded before that by the fabled W124 which itself traces its roots the W110 in the early 1960s. It does not, therefore, need an introduction or have to prove itself. Quality, pace, eminence, and high technology are all a given, right?
There’s certainly no question about how the car is perceived upon first impressions. People do respond well to its elegant shape and Selenite Grey finish but I personally would have loved to see a little bit more character and flair, lamenting that Mercedes-Benz’s designers are making their cars look more and more like featureless eggs. Almost every angle seems to have been pulverised into soft contours.
That’s especially true for the EQ line of electric vehicles and thankfully doesn’t quite apply the E-Class yet, which retains an unmistakeable 3 box shape. Still, there are so few hard lines or angularity to be found on this exterior that any sense of athleticism - and there is some here - is to be expressed in its sheer length and slender profile.
It’s the kind of car you imagine a person whose go-to outfit is exclusively plain coloured shirts and neatly pressed slacks with loafers would love - pretty much the antithesis of the path rivals BMW and Audi are on with the 5 Series and A6, respectively.
Still, there’s something classic about how this E-Class is styled. It’s pure and void of pretension, which some could definitely find boring. The wheels, too, measure 18-inches with a twin five-spoke design that’s as about plain as white rice - but I love white rice.
Perhaps its LED headlamps and distinctive daytime running light signature are the only things visibly flashy, by way of purpose.
Under its bonnet of considerable length is the rather carried over M264 under Mercedes-Benz’s newest line of turbocharged inline four-cylinder petrol engines. It powers both this E 200 and E 300 in different states of tune as it did prior to its 2021 facelift though the E 200 receives a respectable 197PS and 320Nm of torque.
Power reaches the rear wheels through the automaker’s staple 9-speed automatic transmission (9G-Tronic). This combo works well, the engine is smooth and with linear (for a turbo) power delivery complemented by the gearbox’s seamless cog-swaps.
In the kind of relaxed and unhurried driving the E 200 is clearly engineered to favour, it’s a winning powertrain pairing and that’s all I really have to say about it. However, if you’re willing to push its limits a little, this motor is eager to show off impressive pace.
Its claimed 0-100km/h dash in 7.4 seconds feels spot on and is honestly quite brisk for a saloon of this scale and heft considering this is just the base variant.
More than that, it can actually get a little frenzied at the higher end of the rev range, requiring you cycle up the 9 ratios in quicker succession than expected. It’s not ‘fast’ but you’re rarely wishing for more power either.
Yes, the E 300 feels gutsier thanks to the more aggressive tune but if you figure the E 200 is a pushover on the road, you could be made to look foolishly mistaken. Setting the Drive Select mode to Sport seems unnecessary as the most obvious change over Normal or Comfort is the more hot-tempered throttle map, robbing the driver of more gradual (and granular) inputs.
If there were a list of the most obvious luxury items an E-Class would need to be equipped with, the E 200 probably has them all ticked. However, it doesn’t go beyond these essential elements either.
There’s ambient lighting, supple Artico leather upholstery on the seats (which isn’t made of cow hide, by the way) that feels nice and plush even if I would have preferred the Nut Brown colour option instead of this Black, and the front thrones are electrically adjustable.
The dashboard and centre console, as per Mercedes-Benz’s current design language, is all about instilling a sense of expanse with its twin 10.25-inch MBUX screens working as infotainment display and digital instrument cluster. This is joined by aluminium and dark longitudinal grain wood inlays. Like the exterior, there’s hardly any harsh angles here.
Unsurprisingly, it all oozes class and even manages evokes the odd "wow" despite it being a tentpole attraction in every car they make for a couple of years already. Some adaptation is required to make sense of all the functions and customisation options, though, just like the placement of the gear selector on the indicator stalk.
In its place, the touchpad UI controller is still inferior to a tactile rotary knob but still much less disruptive to driving than poking at a touchscreen, which you can still do.
There are some noticeable omissions here, of course. As the entry variant to the E-Class range, there is no in-built navigation (just use maps on CarPlay or Android Auto, I guess) nor is there a fancy name-brand speakers to impress passengers.
Space in the back is decently ample as you might expect with its wheelbase, though it isn’t acres more than the C-Class either. The boot, which ‘automatically’ swings open like a spring loaded box, boasts 540-litres of cargo room. If you’re counting, that’s only slightly more commodious than the 5 Series or A6 (by 10 or so litres).
Honestly getting into a groove with the E 200 is easy if your groove is sensible driving to the tune of smooth jazz, unperturbed by the outside world.
It drives easily, smoothly and comfortably, which is table stakes for any E-Class. Steering is very light and though the throttle pedal can seem a little vague, the brakes are quite easy to interpret and modulate.
Should it encounter an imminent collision, the E 200 comes standard with Active Brake Assist (just call it AEB) which bring the car to a complete halt in a potentially life-changing split second quicker than a human can react. Also standard is Blind Spot Monitoring, which is always handy. It misses out on other toys such as adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree camera system.
The E 200 feels unexpectedly light but unspectacular in the corners, which it tackles just fine but doesn’t seem to ever feel comfortable with most abrupt inputs. It’s a competent handler, yes, but that seems to be down to its rigid structure and let down by suspension that feels distant.
Manhandling the car into a set of bends at decent pace can lead to an experience that approximates fun but only if you trust the chassis to sort itself out in correspondence to your intention as it will struggle to communicate much between turn-in and corner exit. In this regard, it’s a long way from, say, a BMW 520i.
Then again that’s not what E-Class buyers are looking for. Where the E-Class truly excels is receding into the background as it actively tries to make the experience of going from A to B as undramatic as possible. It want to sequester you to the destination, not bother you with details about the journey.
It’s big, it’s elegant, it’s comfortable, but also intentionally undramatic. As a Mercedes-Benz with all the brand baggage that entails, E 200 Avantgarde successfully ticks all the boxes as a luxury saloon but declines to divulge much beyond what it must.
It’s like expertly farmed, produced, and cooked white rice. There’s nothing wrong with it, and for a lot of people they’ll except no substitute. It forms the backbone of so many ancillary dishes, which can be likened to the many other variants that sit above the E 200, and I hear they’re pretty damn good.
Plainly, the E 200 is the most E-Class of the E-Class, which has never been about handling or looking sporty. Rather, it’s defined by luxury, comfort, prestige, and a certain Germanic straightforwardness. The good news is that it’s now a good deal more accessible thanks to local assembly.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.