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Slipping smoothly into the future; New Mercedes E-Class is silky to drive and offers a host of gadgets.

Byline: On the road LATEST MOTORING NEWS WITH COLUMNIST COLIN GOODWIN

THE E-Class is the most important car Mercedes-Benz have ever built.

It's responsible for giving the company their platinum worldwide reputation and has provided a trusted workhorse for tens of thousands of German taxi drivers for decades.

And not just German taxis - because if you need transport home from my local pub and call up the nearest cab company, there's a good chance that you'll be collected in a shiny new E-Class. And a very nice method of getting home it is, too.

So a new generation of E-Class is a big deal for Mercedes. So important, in fact, that they wheeled out the finest moustache in the car industry - the epic soup-strainer that lives on the top lip of company chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche (pictured above right) - at the car's recent launch in Portugal.

So let's get straight on with a twirl of the E220d, which is the entry-level model and the first to arrive in UK dealerships before the E350d appears later in the year.

There's lots new about this car. Firstly, the body shell is all new and incorporates a mixture of high-strength steels and aluminium castings to reduce weight by up to 100kg over the previous model.

You can see the styling for yourself but what you can't see is a coefficient of drag of 0.23 that makes the new E-Class one of the slipperiest saloons in the world.

You'll notice it on motorways with a remarkable lack of wind noise. The 191bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is also completely new and has a novel feature or two.

It has an alumnium block (the old 2.1-litre diesel engine had a cast-iron one) and, uniquely, uses steel pistons.

The Merc engineers say these pistons have 50 per cent less friction as they slide up and down the bores compared to conventional aluminium.

The engine is quieter than the old motor and extremely efficient.

Ignoring the fairytale combined figure of 72.4mpg, you can expect to see consumption in the real world easily in the mid to high 50s. The headline number that will appeal to business users is 102g/km of CO2, which means hybrid-rivalling benefitin-kind taxes.

The new E-Class is 43mm longer than the current car, with an extra 65mm in the wheelbase, which means improved legroom front and back.

As you'd expect, the interior is top-notch. There's a wide choice of trims, not all of which are tasteful. I'd recommend a look at the open-grain wood combined with tan leather.

You can also choose from a vast number of ambient lighting colours, from lap-dancing club to simple white light.

Our PS35,935 (without options) car was fitted with the PS2000 twin 12.3in screens. The graphics are excellent and you control the infotainment system via a control wheel, touchpad or pads on the steering wheel.

Another PS525 gets you a head-up display. As usual, you can really send this Merc's price up into orbit by ticking the option list. The star optional feature is Drive Pilot, an autonomous system that includes radar-controlled cruise control and a lane-keeping system that also overtakes automatically.

You indicate left, for example, and, if the lane is clear, the car will move into it after three clicks of the indicator.

This car does nothing to dispel my doubts over autonomous driving.

The system won't work if it hasn't detected your hands on the steering wheel or making an input.

So you can never relax, always waiting for the car to make a mistake. Which it did many times on our drive.

I'd give the system a miss at least until it has had more development.

Instead, enjoy driving a car that is beautifully built, quiet, comfortable (especially with our test car's optional air suspension) and has an atmosphere of luxury that motors costing half as much again won't beat.

If you like gadgets, you'll have real fun with the new Mercedes E-Class. You can even get it to park itself into a space or your garage through a smartphone app.

Mercedes-Benz invented the car - they're now busy inventing the future.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 25, 2016
Words:693
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