- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 12 July 2012 05:03, Updated 09 August 2012 04:15
The Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI has its gear shift on the steering column.
Those Germanic funsters in the Mercedes design squad are having a laugh, right?
I mean, those things disappeared with the dinosaurs.
But before you start conjuring up images of your father wrestling with the gear shift on the old Holden and slipping across the bench seats on a sweaty summer trip to the beach, the burghers have actually installed “shift-by-wire” electronic controls.
That’s the gear shift
This means the gear shift is the size of an indicator stalk and works the same way. Push the stalk up for reverse, down for drive and push a button on the end for park. Easy, except if you’re used to having an indicator stalk on the right side you’ll hit neutral a few times on left-hand turns.
Once you’re rolling you can take control of the seven-speed automatic through paddles on the steering wheel, especially if you find some interesting bends and want to go manual.
The bit of the centre console that would have held the gear shift is now taken up with a larger armrest, double cup holder and a compartment covered by a spring loaded sliding lid.
I think there may be better uses for the space. How about a mini fridge, a cigar humidor or a pie warmer? That would broaden the market.
The rest of the interior is as elegant and comfortable as you would expect from the three-pointed star. It’s very hard to dislike the interior of a Merc.
The leather seats are comfortable and supportive but are let down by the fact that the fore and aft movement of the front chairs is done by lifting a lever under the seat, not electrically. Normally that would be done to save weight, but in an E class? The lack of a touch screen is another oversight in an otherwise luxurious, though very conservative and almost dated, interior.
The E250 is an easy car to drive, with the seven-speed gearbox giving it a versatility that allows it to get going even at low revs.
The smaller intervals from gear to gear across the rev range help keep the engine smooth and unlaboured, cuts fuel consumption and allows for virtually imperceptible gearshifts. For faster mid-range sprints it can skip several gears through a multiple downshift function, but its computer prevents downshifts that would cause the engine to over-rev.
The other innovation in this car is the diesel engine, which has been made lighter by cutting the mass of the crankshaft and more efficient by improving the oil pressure regulation and the turbocharger. That means it costs less to run and emits less nasty stuff.
It has an inline 2.1 litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that produces 150kW (204hp) at 4200rpm, with a top speed that’s electronically limited to 210km/h.
The torque is impressive at 500Nm, as is the fuel economy, which comes in at a category-leading 5.1litres/100km (combined). It puffs out just 135g/km of CO2.
The fact that diesels are now being taken seriously in passenger cars shows how far the technology has come.
To help with fuel consumption, the E250 has a stop-start system, which turns the engine off when the car comes to a stop and starts it again when you take your foot off the brake.
The start-up is not as smooth as in other makes, giving the car a little shudder each time it fires up again, which is much the same as my reaction when I look at my bank statement.
This one came with the “vision package”, which includes the excellent Harman/Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system, glass electric sun roof with tilt-slide function and proximity key, which allows you to unlock and lock the car with a touch of the finger.
It also offers a boot lid that closes at the touch of a button. By the way, the boot is big enough for a small mariachi band (if you like live music).
Active head restraints that move forward and up in the event of a crash to reduce the effects of whiplash are part of the standard equipment, as is hill start assist.
It also has monitors that detect if the driver is drowsy and nags you to take a break and the voice activation system is the easiest to use of the major marques.
The foot-activated park brake is annoyingly low-tech and in other model ranges has been replaced with an electronic version.