It goes back to the 1950s, when Mercedes-Benz introduced fuel injection in their cars, starting with the hallowed 300 SL gull-wing followed by the stately 300 S series of cars.
When fuel injection got into proper mass production, Mercedes-Benz suffixed an E next to the engine nomenclature, indicating that it featured "Einspritzung" - you got it, one of those complicated unpronounceable German words for something as simple as fuel injection.
Anyway, the E badge stuck around to define a new means of fuel feed till 1984 when the invincible W124 was launched. And this time round, the E was fitted as a prefix, which signified that it was a new segment of Mercs.
The true E-Class was born. The W124 was a trailblazer. It looked as if it was hewn from a huge chunk of steel, boasted build quality to last a nuclear winter and came with a bunch of perky engine options. In fact, the W124 E-Class was the first Mercedes passenger car to be assembled and sold in India. But despite its reputation, the W124 had a short-lived run in the country.
That's because its replacement, the W220 "twin-eyes", was in the wings and prospective buyers of the W124 in India already knew it. Still, people were aware of the value of the W124 and it commanded a premium in the used car market till recently.
The W220 further cemented the reputation of the E as the saloon of choice for the well-heeled, followed by the W221 "ovoid-eyes" which was launched in India in late 2002. Since the launch of the W124 in India, Mercedes-Benz has sold more than 10,000 units of the E-Class, and as a dealer in Mumbai for the marque told me, "They're flying out of the windows."
Recently, Mercedes added two more variants to their existing lineup of the E-Class in the country, comprising the E 280 and the E 280 CDI, in the process deleting the E 200 K. Clever move, as the E has become that much more "affordable".
They have borrowed the diesel engine/gearbox that does duty in the smaller C-Class and introduced the E 220 CDI, and have also launched an entry-level V6 petrol in the E 230. Now this motor will in turn power the C, which will be sold in the more aggressive Avant Garde trim soon. So how affordable are these two variants? The E 230 retails in Mumbai for Rs 41.44 lakh (as compared to Rs 44.94 lakh for the E 280), while the E 220 CDI is yours for Rs 38.99 lakh (Rs 43.64 lakh for the E 280 CDI).
Besides this, Mercedes-Benz has made bi-xenon headlamps with cleaning equipment, electrically adjustable steering wheel and a three-way memory package for the seating as standard in the E-Class range (so now you can have seat memory settings for yourself, the missus and the hired help!).
Ah, the marvels of competition! Getting behind the wheel of the E 230 is a refined experience for the senses. The seats, the dash layout, the steering wheel and all their associated materials give you a fine sense of well-being. And that's further matched when you turn the key (what, no start button yet?).
The 2497cc V6 wakes up with a hush and doesn't exhibit any urgency to get anywhere. Though the engine develops a sufficient 201 bhp at 6100 revs and 24.8 kgm at 5500 revs, in this application the motor seems to be like one of those spiritual beings, at peace with the world. Power is transferred to the rear wheels via the famous 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic.
The E 230 glides across the roads with a serenity that makes even the usually manic me take a chill pill. The E 230 has this unhurried feeling about it so that you begin to enjoy the softer, feel-good elements in the car rather than pay attention to acceleration and cornering.
Like how effortlessly the steering translates your inputs and shifts that 1,680-kilo bulk of the car at low speeds. Like how it glides over our roads. Like how elegantly it brakes to a halt. Like how it calmly cruises at 120 kph.
Well, when it develops all that power so late in the rev range, what do you expect? Besides this, the gearbox is also slightly lethargic in this application and pretty much puts you at ease. The numbers prove how relaxed this car is. The E 230 achieved 60 kph in 5.41 seconds and 100 kph in 10.46 seconds, while we managed a top speed of 202.7 kph.
The figures are way lower compared to its bigger sibling, the E 280, which with a 228 bhp/29 kgm 3.0-litre V6 and the same transmission is substantially quicker and faster.
The E 220 CDI, on the other hand, is a different animal, despite a four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic instead of the 7G-Tronic. The 2148cc turbodiesel develops 168 bhp at 3700 rpm and a brilliant 41.3 kgm of turning force at just 2000 revs.
The engine has been thoroughly worked on in Germany - on the turbocharger and the common-rail system, for instance - and it shows in the output figures. The E 220 CDI is more fun for the enthusiast compared to the petrol. It is noticeably aggressive, right from the word go. And it is quicker on the draw, and power is always available for you at the press of the pedal.
The engine's awesome torque makes it easier to recover when speeds drop and it is much more driveable across the board, be it in slow traffic or on the highways. When put to the test, the E 220 CDI delivered 60 kph in 4.06 seconds, 100 kph in 10.37 seconds and a top speed of 208.2 kph. Not bad for a four-pot motor, right?
Despite the different nature of both the powertrains, some aspects of the E are unchanged. It is a massive barge that barely manages to hide its bulk while cornering, compared to its arch-rival, the BMW 5 Series, that simply shrinks when pushed.
Though the steering perceptibly tightens at higher speeds, allowing you more feedback, it is more of a safety feature than to telegraph what the front wheels are going through. The brakes are simply amazing and stop the car with such confidence that you can get addicted to it! Then, of course, there is the fabulous ride quality that both BMW and Audi are trying hard to attain.
The E's nature is genteel, more upscale and assured. And that's what most people who gravitate towards the three-pointed star want. It's just that attaining that experience has become that much more accessible with these two new variants.