AN executive saloon with the fuel economy of a supermini has been created by Mercedes-Benz as the new E-Class stakes a claim as one of the most advanced cars on the road.
With an array of technology ranging from Internet connectivity on the move to the ability to drive itself under certain conditions the new E-Class is breaking into fresh territory.
Even the instrument panel is out of the norm resembling a wide-screen high definition TV divided into two zones - one for the gauges and the other for the onboard systems.
The new E-Class dares to be different and pushes Mercedes' reputation for avant-garde to a new level.
After all, the E-Class is THE car that defines Mercedes and over the years it has been the standard bearer for the marque.
It has to be big, sporty, refined and styled to impress - and the new model carries that off with aplomb.
Priced from £35,935 the new E-Class is right on the money compared to the likes of the Jaguar XF and BMW 5 Series and the entry level car features an all-new 2.0-litre diesel engine that is the best Mercedes has produced in years.
Mated to a nine speed automatic gearbox it is smooth and slick yet has plenty of punch when required with paddle shift changes and a variety of drive modes available on demand.
The new diesel develops 194bhp with mid-range pull arriving from 1,600 revs resulting in a 0 to 60 acceleration of 7.3 seconds and a maximum of 149mph.
But it is how frugal it operates which sets it apart. Mercedes claims an official fuel return of 72.4mpg with emissions of 102g/km and in general use 55 to the gallon is easily achievable.
Those emissions also make it class leading and that's all important in the business car market where low tax charges are imperative.
Such economy from a big exec would have been unimaginable only a few years ago and this is in a car which is almost two inches longer than its predecessor.
The wheelbase has also been increased by some 2.5-inches and the new model rides and handles much more dynamically than before sitting on lowered suspension which is standard on all UK models.
Comfort levels are high and there's slightly more rear leg room while the boot at 540 litres is splendidly capacious.
However, it is the high tech dashboard which sets the new E-Class apart. The screens can be configured to suit and at the moment it is a display unlike that in any other car.
The flat screen stretches two feet across the facia and its menus can be swiped through in tablet-style fashion.
Swipe control is also available from a thumb pad on the steering wheel and from the larger control hub in the centre console - and work effectively once you get used to the sensitivity which was very light to the touch.
High tech it maybe but Mercedes has added a touch of the conventional with the inclusion of an analogue clock in the centre panel below a bank of four air vents in the middle of the facia.
The E220 d we tried in base SE specification featured £10,000 worth of extras including an advanced sat nav system hooked up to a range of online services that can even show the price of fuel at nearby filling stations and the Mercedes Drive Pilot system which endows the E-Class with semi-autonomous, hands free driving features.
It builds on the technology used for automatic cruise control and enables the car to follow vehicles in front at a steady distance at motorway speeds (Mercedes says it actually works at speeds of up to 130mph).
While the concept of letting the car steer itself is unnerving at first, the system works effectively and handled several miles without alarm.
It will also keep the car within the speed limit and is smart enough to overtake automatically using a combination of cameras and radars to change lanes safely.
While it is all very advanced and the first step towards fully autonomous motoring the system still requires the driver to touch the steering wheel every couple of minutes to demonstrate the car is still under human control.
Nevertheless, such features are designed to make cars safer and the new E-Class is crammed with systems to avoid accidents including a device which can detect crossing traffic at junctions and stop the car automatically if necessary and another which can help the driver perform evasive manoeuvres in dangerous situations by steering away from the hazard.
That equipment is part of what Mercedes calls its Driving Assistance Plus Package which costs an extra £1,695. Other extras included a Burmester 590 watt surround sound system, full LED headlamps which adapt to traffic conditions and keyless entry which incorporates a power operated boot.
As such the new E-Class really makes a mark as a car of the future which with striking looks and very affordable running costs cannot fail to impress.