The E-Class sedan will soon have a more affordable four-cylinder entry-level model.
Faced with slumping sales of its traditionally popular large car, one major car maker has added a turbo-petrol four-cylinder model in an attempt to bolster buyer interest.
No, we’re not talking about Ford’s impending launch of the Ecoboost Falcon.
It’s Mercedes-Benz which is going downmarket, introducing an E200 Elegance that lowers entry to the E-Class range by nearly $5000 to $79,900. That’s in response to a 37.7 per cent sales plunge in 2011, followed by another fall of 33.7 per cent in the first three months of 2012.
The E200 Elegance is not the first E-Class to be powered by Benz’s new generation 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder, as there is already an E250. But that car is $12,600 more expensive and offers only a 15kW power bump over the 135kW E200.
The E200 also thrusts Mercedes-Benz right into the heart of the sales action in the large luxury segment against BMW, Audi and Lexus.
All three have entry-level petrol models priced at $77,900. The 2.5-litre V6 Lexus GS250 is the most recent arrival, while BMW’s 520i and the Audi A6 2.0 TFSI are both 2.0-litre turbo-petrols.
The BMW is the Benz’s most obvious mechanical –as a well as traditional - rival as both are longitudinal rear-wheel drives, have identical power and torque outputs of 135kW and 270Nm from their direct injection engines, almost identical fuel consumption (6.4L/100km BMW v 6.6L/100km Benz) and lineball 0-100km/h acceleration (7.9 seconds for the Mercedes-Benz versus 8.0 seconds for the BMW).
Mercedes-Benz estimates around 80 per cent of all E-Class sales are now accounted for by four-cylinder petrol and diesel models, with V6 and especially V8 sales shrinking.
Intriguingly, it’s only months since the company was stoutly insisting sales of its upper-end E-Class models were holding up.
Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Car Group managing director Horst van Sanden told Drive exclusively the E-Class was under increasing internal pressure from smaller luxury models such as the popular C-Class and new second generation B-Class, as well as similarly-sized niche models like the E-Class-based CLS four-door coupe.
“I think we need to certainly accept that substitution, but it's still a beautiful car and we will have to come up with some solutions and some measures to keep that segment attractive,” he said.
The 200 badge returns to the E-Class lineup for the first time since the arrival of the latest W212 generation in October 2009. A supercharged Mercedes-Benz E200K was part of both the W210 and W211 lineups intermittently between 2000 and 2009.
Compared to the final E200K specification, the new E200 Elegance adds both power and torque and cuts fuel consumption - aided by the swap from a five to seven-speed auto and Eco stop/start - rolls on 17- rather than 16-inch alloys and has 11 airbags rather than eight.
Specified identically to the entry-level E220 CDI turbo-diesel, E200 standard features include the Comand controller, fatigue-detecting Attention Assist, a media interface, parking sensors with guidance and folding rear seats.