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Last week I rented a car at Amsterdam Airport during a business trip. Through some luck I was upgraded to a brand new 2017 Mercedes E-class with quite a few bells and whistles. I drove the car for a week in Holland and on the German Autobahn, so I got quite familiar with it. Here is a summary how it compares.

It has a smoother suspension compared to the 2013 Volt that I drive at home. And the quality of materials is better than the Volt. With the options the Mercedes stickered at ~67K, so that would be expected for a car that costs nearly 2x. The interior looks great with flowing lines that illuminated by night. The electric chairs heat up in seconds which is great on cold mornings.

My rental had a 220D 2-Liter diesel engine (not available in the USA) which gives the large E about similar acceleration as the much smaller Volt: good torque at low speed, not that much at higher speeds. Going up a mountain the 4-cylinder diesel sounds quite 'agricultural', but in general driving it is good. In the 'comfort' mode the 9-speed transmission is smooth, but sometimes picks a too high gear which causes some vibrations. In the sport modes it does not do that.

According to the board computer I averaged 5.0l/100km overall with smooth driving but including a few stretches of 130MPH autobahn. That is 47MPG! Pretty darn good for a large car of that size. The official Mercedes number for the 220D is even higher at 60MPG. The latter is a lie as it was done using the usual cheating in Europe. The Gasoline E300 2-liter diesel in the USA is rated at 23MPG, so in practice it has 2x the CO2 emission per mile as the diesel. That makes the CO2 footprint similar to driving an EV like the Volt.

The instrument cluster of the new E-class is very impressive at first sight: two super wide 12" LCD screens span 3/4 of the dashboard. Plus there is a color head-up display. The displays can be customized and look super nice and crisp. The nav display in the middle is can show a spectacular perspective on the road ahead in exquisite detail. I love it.

Though it looks spectacular, controlling all this electronics is pretty hard. The main problem is that the user interface is too slow. That could be an underpowered embedded processor or bloated software. Every control imput takes a noticeable 1/4 of a second for a reaction. This makes all control feel very spongy and causes many entry mistakes while driving. The worst is zooming in or out on the map, which takes a full second. By that time you already overshot.

I figured out three ways to enter a navigation destination: all of them sucked. The voice command is slow to react after the button click. It just did not understand me well enough either in Dutch, English or German. On the middle console there is a fancy looking touch field where you can draw letters one by one. That is not easy to do because of the many misinterpretations: i or 1 ; d or 6 ; t or l were always messed up. Its even harder to do while driving (yes! it allows you to do that). And you can painfully dial through the alphabet to key in characters one-by-one, and then spongily scroll up to select the street. Bad, simply bad. On top of that the route guidance was sub-par with late notifications for exits and at one time a wrong direction indication at a highway intersection.

Why doesn't this new Mercedes have a touch screen with a qwerty keyboard just like the Volt or my ancient Toyotas? It seems like nobody at Mercedes owns a smartphone, or they would have noticed how easy it is to enter a destination in Google maps.

On the plus side, I loved the fancy cameras that scan the road for traffic and speed limit boards. The speed limit is shown in head-up display as well as in the odometer and the map.

The head-up display is nice and colorful, projecting speed, navigation arrows, speed limit and essential hazards. The brightness is automatically adapted. But there is a technical design problem: with (polarized) sunglasses the HUD image fades in-and-out depending on the angle of your head, which is rather irritating. In the USA the HUD is an option on the top-tier package.

The radio sounded tinny: definitely worse than the Bose in my Volt. Looks like Mercedes want people to upgrade to the expensive Burmeister radio. And it is hard to use. Even after a week I took me quite some effort to switch channels. Programming favorite stations requires a degree in engineering. Fortunately I have that, but it is seriously way too complicated and distractive.

I plugged in my iPhone7 and the Mercedes bravely wanted to start CarPlay. Some apple icons replaced the nav screen, but after that everything froze. Buggy software in this mercedes made this useless. Pairing via bluetooth worked, but the experience is no better than we already have in the Volt.

The Merc starts by pushing a button, but strangely the doors cannot be opened without pulling the key out of the pocket. That 'keyless-go' feature comes at extra cost. We are so spoiled in a Volt! The engine stops at traffic lights, giving a brief moment of serenity similar as in the volt.

Overall the new E-class is a mixed experience. I liked the ride, the quietness, the suspension, the LED head-and tail lights, the trunk and the looks. The infotainment interface simply sucks for a car this new and in this price range
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