As 2017 closed with a slap and a shudder, Germany’s cars were consolidating their grip on the Brexiting UK. Its big three premium brands accounted for some 30 per cent of the new cars sold – and that’s without all the Fords and Vauxhalls which many Brits still wrongly assume are made in England. Ford – nil; Vauxhall, just Astras from Cheshire.
Germany’s Volkswagen is second-ranked in UK sales, between Ford and Vauxhall. Its Golf was the December bestseller and No 2 for the year behind Ford’s cheaper Fiesta. Add in the VW-owned Skoda, Seat and Audi and the Volkswagen Group is easily No 1. It also owns pukka Bentley, with BMW running Rolls-Royce.
Mercedes-Benz ended the year as the biggest selling prestige brand in Britain, on almost 190,000 registrations, to take 6.56 per cent of the market, around 6,000 ahead of Audi and BMW. Between them these three famous companies sold more than 530,000 cars here – a 19.6pc share of the UK cake.
It’s not a surprise. Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover doesn’t produce enough vehicles to compete in the sector – nudging 4.24 per cent together. Ditto, Chinese-owned Volvo, the only other contender, with 1.73 per cent of our market.
From this prestige sector, only Mercedes-Benz finished the year with two cars in the UK Top Ten, the A-Class and the C-Class. BMW’s 3-series made the December top ten. There’s a reason. They cost more to buy than a Ford in a cash sale but that’s not how most of us buy cars. Various instalment plans spread the pain over three years. The residual value of a Mercedes is stronger than a Ford and the payment plans acknowledge this second-hand price.
The Mercedes E-Class Coupé tested here costs £40,780 but you can have one for a downpayment of £7,166 and 36 monthly payments of £499.
You’ll find it all explained in your dealership or you can see it at mercedes-benz.co.uk where you’ll be able to search for used coupés (510 on my search) with full data, emissions and location. These days you may be looking for petrol models in order to side-step punishing diesel taxation. Mercedes is one of several companies offering extra incentives when you trade in your “dirtier” car.
The coupé is a fine thing. Like most BMWs and all Jaguars it has rear-wheel drive. Like all coupés it flatters with style over function. Yes, it will seat four adults but occupants relegated to the rear pair of seats must edge between the car body frame and the front seat to plop, thankfully, into their chair. You can pay less money and get more convenience with the saloon body, but you have decided on the sleek flair of the coupé.
The powered front seats run forward without needing muscle to help rear seat entry and exit. There’s space between the two seats, with a drop-down arm rest and, buried in the bulkhead, a flap into the boot in case you need to carry skis or fishing rods. These back seats fold flat to extend the length of the shallow boot.
Up front, the seatbelts are presented robotically, obviating a torso-crunching twist to find them. If you forget, there is a replay button.
The controls glisten with silvery metal, or metallic finishes. The round analogue 40mm clock would look just as lovely on your wrist. A large information screen is managed using a command pad – on which you can also write your instructions. Unfortunately the navigation instructions were sometimes late or even absent altogether on one multi-choice junction.
The test model was the E220d AMG Line. This translates to the 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel producing 191bhp and 295lb ft of torque with a nine-speed automatic gearbox. The performance figures are 150mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, and catalogue quotes of 61.4mpg and 119g CO2.
It proved to have good economy. Over 640 miles it recorded 50mpg, with a typical commuter trip averaging 58mpg – remarkably near to its “official” rating.
There are more powerful petrol engines but I can’t see the need. The small and economical 1,950cc diesel gives adequate oomph for overtaking and runs smoothly and cleanly.
The car was far off being standard. Extras included an extra-wide 12.3-inch display (£495). The 20-inch AMG gloss black wheels with 245/35 front tyres and 275/30 rear tyres were a £595 premium on the stock 19s. The Goodyear Eagle tyres have a rim protection rib but what seemed to be a casual parking nudge with a low kerb tore a chunk out.
Another £3,895 went on the “premium plus” pack which includes a panoramic glass roof, Burmester audio and multi-beam “intelligent” headlights which have an anti-dazzle full beam setting. Air suspension added £1,495. A welcome cold-weather pack brings front and rear heated seats, heating for the centre console lids and front door armrests. Very cosy, only £795.
Verdict: Smart looks, a great sporting drive. Refined, too.