New Mercedes E-Class

These are the latest spy photographs of Mercedes-Benz's all-new E-class, undergoing durability testing at the Nurburgring with only minimal disguise prior to its debut at the 2009 Geneva motor show. ( Autocar )

Set for UK sale around this time next year, Stuttgart's new upmarket saloon, known to Mercedes insiders by its W212 development code, has been thoroughly redesigned as part of the CORE program instigated by Mercedes-Benz chairman, Dieter Zetsche, that aims to see future models focus on the German car maker's strengths of technology, safety and quality.

Clearly apparent on this prototype is the E-class's distinctive new styling treatment. Like the new C-class it looks far more athletic than the model it replaces, adopting taut body surfacing and a distinctive new headlamp treatment. These ditch the rounded theme used on the previous two generations for a more modern, integrated look - albeit sticking with Merc's trademark four elements.

Unlike the C-class, which is offered in two guises with differing grille treatments depending on the trim level, all E-class models will retain the same common front-end appearance. The saloon seen here will be followed around six months later by an estate (development code S212), which will be in UK showrooms in the last quarter of 2009.

The new car has grown; it's now 70mm longer at 4950mm, according to a Mercedes insider. The increased dimensions are intended to improve both occupant safety, with bigger crumple zones, and also to boost space for rear-seat occupants. Boot capacity has gone up slightly as well, to 550 litres in the saloon and 710 litres in the estate.

On the engine front the new E-class is set to benefit from several new and revised powerplants. The base petrol motor will continue to be the 163bhp, 1.8-litre, four-pot motor from the current car, badged as '200 Kompressor', but this engine will be replaced in 2010 by an all-new unit that uses sequential turbocharging and direct injection in place of a supercharger.

Three four-cylinder diesel motors will be available, all sharing an identical 2.1-litre capacity and coming in 134bhp, 168bhp and 204bhp guises, badged as E200 CDI, E220 CDI and E250 CDI respectively. Further up the line-up will be three petrol V6 motors, the E230 ( 2.5 litres, 204bhp), E280 ( 3.0 litres, 231bhp) and E350 CGI ( 3.5 litres, 292bhp). A 3.0-litre, V6 CDI diesel will be offered in two states of tune: E300 CDI (190-bhp) and E320 CDI (224bhp).

A more powerful, twin-turbocharged version of the V6 diesel will follow later, replacing the heavy, expensive 4.0-litre, V8 CDI of the current model, which has never been available in the UK. This will have around 270bhp and will give Mercedes a direct rival to the BMW 535d.

At the top of the 'standard' line-up are two V8 engines, likely to be of peripheral interest in the UK, with the E450 ( 4.6 litres, 340bhp) and E500 ( 5.5 litres, 388bhp). They are seen as a stop-gap measure until the arrival of new, cleaner versions that will feature turbocharging and direct injection, and which are scheduled to arrive in 2011. The range-topping E63 AMG is set to make its debut at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, with 525bhp on tap from a slightly tuned version of the current car's 6.2-litre V8.

Also planned, though not likely to go on sale in the UK until late 2010, is a new E300 hybrid model. Previewed at last year's Frankfurt motor show, it mates Mercedes-Benz's new 2.1-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine to an electric motor to provide a combined 224bhp and 413lb ft of torque, along with combined fuel economy of 55.4mpg and a CO2 rating that insiders put at just 135g/km.

The E-class sits on an entirely new platform, with lower-end models getting steel springs and top-spec versions having air suspension similar in principle to that on the current S-class. Early plans to equip the E-class with the S-class's 'ABC' active suspension system have been abandoned, however, due to the cost and complexity of upgrading the new car's electronics to deal with it. Insiders say that the new E's electronic architecture is largely shared with the smaller C-class. As with the current generation, '4Matic' four-wheel-drive versions will be offered in Europe and America, but probably not in the UK.

In a bid to re-establish itself as a leader in technology in its class, Mercedes-Benz is also planning to provide next year's E-class with all of the high-end features available on the larger S-class as well as some all new ones, many of which will count towards making it one of the safest cars in the world.

Included among an extensive list of options will be a second-generation version of the German car maker's night-vision system, together with a new fatigue-detecting device called Attention Assist, lane departure warning and the latest hard disc-based NTG4 navigation system and an all-new entertainment system from long-time partner Harman/Becker.

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