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Despite the “230″ badge being one of Mercedes-Benz’s best brands, it’s taken up to nearly the end of the W211′s lifecycle for Malaysia to welcome the W211 E230 onto her roads. With reports of a new generation E-Class set to debut at the end of the year, this comes late in time, but is still very much a noteworthy addition to Mercedes’ best-selling line.

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The E-Class is easily Merc’s best-selling model with the W211 making up some 48% of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s total sales. So the question might be, is it really necessary to expand the model lineup? How many more E-Classes can you sell?

Well, apparently, there’s a little segment that’s been unfulfilled by the choice of an E200K and an E280. The E280 obviously provides a more luxurious and powerful option to the E200K. It means you can have the best of both world’s of “status symbols”. You have the de facto big boss car, the E-Class but also a bit extra to place yourself above the run-of-the-mill big bosses.

But you’d have needed RM70,000 or 20% over the E200K’s retail price for that privilege. Given that the E200K’s supercharged engine provides enough pull for everyday use, not many were willing to shell out just to be a bit special.

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The E230 ostensibly brings this privilege to a more affordable price point, albeit, still 45 grand over the base model’s RM353,888 pricetag. With the more recognisable 230 badge, it combines both the sense of discernment yet avoids the ostentatiousness of buying something top-of-the-line for what is meant to be a an executive limo unlike the imposing and attention-grabbing presence of the S-Class.

In fact, Merc has probably realised that while they’re at it, they might as well make the E280 even more ostentatious with the AMG Sports package, giving it AMG styling and also technical changes for the suspension, brakes, exhaust and a jacked-up price of RM438,888.

Interestingly, this is all locally-fitted as the entire E-Class range is locally-assembled. Predictably, Merc says that audit teams from Germany as well as high levels of local QA ensure that there is no discernible difference between a CKD and CBU unit, and in fact, the CKDs, they claim, can be better due to adjustments for local conditions.

At a factory tour, one of the more impressive processes was the computerised measuring station, where two mechatronic arms take 919 different measurements to ensure that the dimensions of the car are correct. The allowable variances are miniscule, for example, the wheelbase of 2855mm is allowed a maximum of 1mm deviation, which is a 0.035% tolerance. Tolerances for safety-related measurements are even more stringent.

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In any case, the E280 AMG’s presence (white car above) gives the E230 some breathing room, once again, avoiding the admittedly good-looking but hardly subtle AMG styling as it’s practically spec-ed the same as the E280 Avantgarde. This means as opposed to the E200K, it has completely different interior trim, 17” wheels, the huge panoramic glass-roof that offers better sound insulation, through-loading from boot to rearseat for long objects and sat-nav as standard. There’s also Linguatronic, the intriguing voice-control system to work the Comand APS which oversees all telematic functions.

There’s no need to go into all that at length but what’s new is the Intelligent Light System, an evolution of the Active Light system. The bi-xenon headlamps include five different modes now, for example, the country mode that provides brighter and further illumination, increasing the driver’s range of vision by around 10 metres. The motorway mode on the other hand, which activates automatically above 90km/h, produces a light cone that extends up to 120 metres away.

What’s going to be the big issue in fact, is whether the 201hp 2.5-litre V6 coupled to the 7G-Tronic actually offers much better performance than the 5-speed auto trasmission on the E200K’s 181hp 1.8-litre supercharged unit. The answer is: sometimes.

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Certainly it’s much creamier whether just cruising or accelerating but as far as sprinting away, the stats say it all. The E230 only offers a 0.3s improvement in the 0-100km/h, clocking just outside of 9s. It’s a situation that arises despite the 700cc difference in displacement due to the Kompressor’s peak torque of 250Nm as compared to the naturally-aspirated V6′s 245Nm. The V6 though, feels less harried due to its wider peak torque band, ranging from 2,900-5,500rpm.

Annoyingly, while the 7G-Tronic offers better fuel consumption (combined rating of over 10km to the litre) and smoother acceleration, dropping gears to burst away from traffic and in overtaking manoeuvres results in the car hunting for the right gear, losing you precious time. Time you can hardly make up by keeping your foot down due to the E’s traditional bias for ride quality over handling.

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Happily for prospective Merc owners though, this is certainly not the sort of driving they intend to do on a regular basis. In fact, the car seems to have the effect of sedating any such desires. The highly-wooded interior and four-spoke steering (both of which are not to my personal taste), the suitable sound system and overall spaciousness and ride quality tends to make one prefer to just take it easy.

After all, once you’ve adjusted your seat with the outstandingly intuitive system on your door and popped out the concealed six-disc changer at the bottom of your centre console, you’re already delighted to know what an elegantly conceived car you have.

PHOTO GALLERY: Mercedes-Benz E230 Avantgarde
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