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Stepping into the new Mercedes E300 or the recently released BMW 530i is a glimpse into the future of motoring.
At $107,900 for the E300 and $108,900 for the 530i (and that’s before adding options or on-road costs), they won’t be on everyone’s shopping list – but some of their advanced features could be before long. And sooner than you might think.
These large, luxury-focused, rear-wheel-drive sedans are their companies’ gateway for the introduction of cutting-edge technology into the mainstream market, particularly in the areas of semi-autonomous driving and connectivity.
Employing a multitude of sensors, cameras and radar to continuously monitor the surroundings, these advanced driving assistance systems can be used in a semi-autonomous mode. With suitable road markings and operating conditions both cars can keep lane position, steer around bends, maintain a safe distance from the car in front, come to a stop and go again. The Mercedes can even safely change lanes when the indicator is operated.
An extra layer of safety
While there is hype around the idea of an autonomous vehicle, the totally driverless car is still a few years away. What this current technology does provide is another layer of monitoring and safety in terms of crash mitigation and avoidance. It doesn’t, however, lessen the driver involvement or replace normal, good driving practices.
The excellent features in these cars will filter down into mainstream models across the market. Some of them are more advanced versions of technology that has already found its way into entry-level models – such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which is now available in a few models in the light car class – while adaptive cruise control is also starting to be offered by a variety of manufacturers.
Both of our test cars are new-generation models, slightly bigger than their predecessors and packed with the latest luxury features. Given the long history of competition between the two marques, it is not surprising that the E300 and 530i measure up closely in many respects.
Pick your style
Styling is always a matter of personal taste. The general consensus of the five RACV staff involved in this test was that the E530 body styling looks smarter, but they all preferred the 530i’s interior.
Mercedes has gone for an elegant, very contemporary cabin layout, dominated by a large, wide-screen dash. This is a high-resolution display with two screens. The effect is a wide-screen cockpit of virtual instrumentation set beneath a shared glass cover. As this entire dash is digital, drivers can choose their preferred look from three different styles. The vision and interaction are unexpected yet engaging. The seats appear to be relatively flat, but through Mercedes’ usual clinical efficiency they provide good comfort and support in all the right places and have a wide range of adjustments.
With the 530i, BMW has applied a modern, high-tech approach to its traditional cockpit-style presentation, and it feels a little more driver focused. Adding to the presentation at the wheel, our 530i also had BMW’s superb, optional comfort seats for the driver and front passenger. The conventionally styled dash layout has a high-quality appearance and we found the controls a little more intuitive to use than the E300 set-up. The 530i’s clear, informative head-up display is arguably the best we have seen.
Many features to master
In both cars, however, it will take time to master the vast number of features and functions on offer. Cabin space differs by only a few millimetres. Our tape measure showed the E300 cabin had a slight edge at most points but the 530i boot had more useable space with fewer intrusions.
Once again, on the road, it will all come down to personal preference. The performance and agility for cars of their size is impressive. Each has a range of selectable driving modes, with the performance, transmission, steering and suspension to be fine-tuned to suit individual needs. Generally speaking, the BMW is a touch sharper in handling, while the Mercedes with its air suspension has a slightly more compliant ride and the cabin tends to be a little quieter.
Under the bonnet, both have potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engines. The 530i engine produces 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque which it puts to the ground via an eight-speed automatic, while the E300 puts out 180kW and 370Nm and employs a nine-speed automatic.
Both manufacturers quote the same 0-100km/h acceleration time – a very healthy 6.2 seconds. With a fraction more torque and an extra gear, the E300 feels just a little stronger at times, but is significantly thirstier. ADR consumption for the 530i is a very impressive 5.8L/100km, while the E300 at 7.1L/100km is still good for a car of its size and performance potential. Real-world consumption will depend on the way the car is driven and the driving mode selected. Over a wide range of conditions, where all the different drive modes were tried at various times, our 530i averaged 7.8L/100km and the E300 used 9.2L/100km. Premium-grade, 95 RON petrol is recommended for both.
Although the BMW 530i has not been ANCAP rated yet, its sibling, the diesel variant 520d, has a 5-star ANCAP rating. Mercedes E-class has a 5-star rating across the range.
E300 and 530i are both technically sophisticated, dynamically superb large luxury sedans. Buying decisions will probably come down to personal preference and brand loyalty as a strong case could be argued for either car. In this comparison, the BMW 530i gets the nod by the narrowest margin, mainly because we found the cabin layout a touch more intuitive and it is a slightly more involving driver’s car.