Mercedes-Benz E 240 Avantgarde review
by Ross Finlay (23 June 2002)
There's no doubt that the 240 model in the new E-Class range goes very well for a car numbered as if it were equipped with a 2.4-litre engine. Of course, as mentioned in our launch report, it actually has a 2.6-litre V6 under the bonnet, and is the only one of the initially-available versions whose model number doesn't correspond with the engine capacity.
Until the 200 Kompressor arrives later this year, the 240 in Classic specification will be the entry car of the E-Class range. But there will be people who just don't want a supercharged four-cylinder engine, and will think of the 240 as the start model of the ones they fancy, despite the original cost saving to be had by going the Kompressor route.
Our test car was an Avantgarde, which explains why it had a five-speed automatic transmission instead of the six-speed manual box fitted as standard in the Classic. Other upgrades include five-spoke alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, metallic paint, blue-tinted glass, electrically-operated fold-in door mirrors (the driver's with automatic dimming), better interior equipment and trim, bird's-eye maple woodwork, and even a larger fuel tank.
As always with Mercedes, loading the car from the extra-cost options list can make the price skyrocket. Sports suspension costs an extra £310, an AMG body styling kit plus four AMG light alloy wheels add £4460, there's a panoramic glass sunroof at £1200, full leather upholstery at £950, ventilated front seatsat £800 - but you get the picture.
The latest E-Class is a much sleeker-looking car than its predecessor, as well as being more conveniently laid out and equipped inside. Mercedes likes to keep each generation of its individual models going for a long time, so as to squeeze out maximum sales benefit from the original investment, but towards the end of their production life there's an inevitable sense of here-we-go-again about the modest annual up-dates.
There's nothing like that about the all-new E-Class, though, especially in terms of how the cabin looks. Completely new instrumentation, and - for a change - very neat switchgear, heating controls and so on. The Avantgarde specification features much more attractive trim than was used in the previous range, as well as improved seating and more in the way of stowage spaces.
Having the five-speed automatic with "tip" function as standard is no handicap. It's one of the nicest automatics in production, needing only very slight sideways movements of the selector to make manual changes. It was a relief to get back to this Mercedes system after some of the "paddle" jobs I've disliked so much in recent months.
Even in Avantgarde specification, the 240 doesn't come with all that many of the electronic gizmos available higher up the range, or on the options list, although it does have ESP, cruise control and the excellent Sensotronic Brake Control with brake assist. But there's no Airmatic semi-active air suspension, no parameter power steering, and I can't say I really missed either of them.
Although some people will pooh-pooh this, the driver of a 240 Avantgarde may well feel more directly in control, and more in touch with the car's immediate behaviour on the road, than would be the case in a more expensive E-Class loaded with electronic defences.
Certainly, the test car was able to scamper along fast minor roads demonstrating precise handling and a supple enough ride quality, and there was no sense of the power output upsetting the dynamics.
Like all large-scale Mercedes saloons, the new E-Class is designed partly as an autobahn cruiser. But it's also a more responsive country-road car than its predecessor, is quieter-running and has improved safety features and a much more elegant cabin.
It also benefits from that remarkable mobilo-life package which includes a 30-year anti-corrosion warranty and breakdown assistance for the same period. No other manufacturer in the world is confident enough about its products to offer anything like that. But Mercedes, of course, isn't stupid. If you want to be able to sign up for that package, you have to buy your new car through an official retailer in the UK.
Second opinion: Other versions of the E-Class may be more expensive than this one, but I liked the more natural feel of a car with no-frills steering and suspension, especially when the job has been done as well as it has here. The E 240 is comfortable in cruise mode, and it also has that rare ability to feel smaller than it actually is on country roads, which is a sure sign of a well set-up chassis. Yet this is certainly a big car, which can carry four six-foot-plus adults with absolutely no trouble at all. All the basic benefits of a high-spec E-Class, no unnecessary frills, a reasonable price (well, relatively) - pound-for-pound this may be the best in the range. David Finlay.