The walls may be slowly closing in on the premium executive sedan in its petrol-based guise, but the format itself will always have a validity to it. After all, executives will always need their chariot, and until electrification fully changes the available cast, the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series will remain at the forefront as defining status vehicles for these particular echelons.

The paradigm shift is still a ways away from taking centre stage, and with there still being a sizable slice to fight for, it’s no surprise to find that the tussle to be tops in what is the benchmark segment for executive sedans continues unabated.

With apologies to everyone else, the same two protagonists – from Munich and Stuttgart – continue to lead the parade from a local perspective. Both pitch their wares from slightly different angles, but the intent is the same – to be picked as the business sedan of choice by the small but affluent target market, for whom a car isn’t simply a means of general mobility.

We’ve taken a look at the updated G30, and now it’s the turn to examine the E-Class facelift. How does the rework stack up against its primary competitor? We take a closer look at the locally-assembled E 200 Avantgarde and E 300 AMG Line to find out.

Freshening it up visually

The W213 has always had a nice flow about it, shape-wise, with an overall styling that has blended in easy-on-the-eye lines and strong proportions. The refresh, which arrived on the scene in 2020 but was only launched in Malaysia last year, attempts to expand on this with a series of visual revisions at the front and back of the car. Most work, but some bits don’t quite hit the mark.

The design changes on the outside are led by distinct front ends that easily distinguish the variants. Aside from individual bumper designs, there’s a new slimmer grille that’s differently shaped for each variant – the E 200’s is a hexagon-styled unit with two chrome slats running across a vertical lattice, while the E 300 gets a trapezoid-shaped unit with a single chrome slat framed by a diamond pin-patterned background.

In general, the new front ends are an advancement from the old, but the visuals presented by the E 200’s grille don’t seem to gel with the flow elsewhere. It doesn’t jump out as much when viewed on its own, but put the two variants side by side and the difference in resolution – and visual fidelity – become very apparent.

The lighting elements also have a part in dictating things – the E 200’s LED High Performance headlamps have a less sophisticated veneer about them when put next to the E 300’s Multibeam LED headlamps. Both light assemblies feature Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus functionality.

The front has also been dressed up with a new bonnet, which now features power domes. While the E 300 pulls the look off, the same really can’t be said about the E 200 – it’s not jarring, but the integration doesn’t quite match up with the fascia.

At the back, the facelift gets new tail lights, which are now two-piece units with a much slimmer profile. The new array helps tauten up the rear end, giving the car a less clunky-looking back, but it comes at an expense.

That’s because the previous example’s “stardust effect” internals for the rear lights, created with the use of crystal optics in the reflectors and a specially-configured surface structure, has been completely ditched. The new units light up well enough, but is missing that element of grandeur, although to be fair buyers are hardly going to notice.

Elsewhere, the dual exhaust dummy outlets continue on, but are given more visual prominence with additional chrome garnish elements. As for wheels, the E 200 rides on 18-inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, while the E 300 is shod with 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke wheels.

Styling-wise, the E 200’s wheel is rather plain, and while the main spoke design of the AMG unit on the E 300 looks flash, the same cannot be said about the inner ring element of the unit, which makes the whole unit a bit too busy-looking for its own good. They get the job done, but don’t really match up with the intended projection.

Minor changes on the inside

The W213 has always had a strongly presented interior, and so there hasn’t been the need for many changes for the interval refresh. New steering wheels find their way on – both are three-spoke units but vary in their design. Their styling attempts to further modernise the presentation of the cabin, but there’s a bit of a flipside to that.

It could be the large expanse of gloss black inserts, but the net result is they look a bit out of place in the E, especially with the unit on the E 200. Nonetheless, those into a more progressive look might appreciate how they sporten things up, notably with the sports unit on the E 300. No complaints about how they feel though, with both wheels being good to the touch.

Less so is the sensitivity and accuracy of the capacitive elements of the Touch Control switchgear, which continues to take some getting used to. In this regard, while physical buttons aren’t as sexy, they do get things accomplished in faster – and easier – fashion, so there’s much to be said about that.

The other big change is with the inclusion of the automaker’s Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system, which takes over from the COMAND (and subsequently, Audio 20) systems of old. Standard fit on both variants, the system now adds on touchscreen to the central unit of the two 12.3-inch displays that make up the brand’s Widescreen Cockpit.

The MBUX system introduces a wide range of Mercedes me connected services thanks to a built-in LTE communications module, and there is of course Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. There’s also wireless charging, but only on the E 300.

The new infotainment system is a definite progression from the old, both in terms of features and operability, which has certainly been enhanced with the shift to a touchscreen. Movement around the interface is still not quite as refined as BMW’s iDrive, especially when you’re on the move, but it’s running much closer than before.

Trim, and the rest of the kit count

The trim on the E 200 consists of light longitudinal-grain aluminium accents and open-pored black ash wood for the centre console, while the E 300 goes with the latter tone thematically across the cabin. While the matte black trim for the centre console was introduced on the pre-facelift E 200 Sportstyle, the E 300 continued on with high-gloss elements, and so the change here is a welcome one, being less susceptible to fingerprint markings.

Standard items and features on the E 200 includes Artico man-made leather upholstery, Thermatic dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, powered front seats with memory function, and a powered sunblind for the rear window. As for the E 300, it adds on leather upholstery, a panoramic sliding sunroof, Thermotronic three-zone climate control, AMG floor mats and a Burmester sound system as well as Artico-lined dashboard.

On the safety front

As for safety and assistance systems, the E 200 comes equipped with Active Brake Assist (autonomous emergency braking), Active Parking Assist with Parktronic, Blind Spot Assist, Keyless-Go, Pre-Safe and a reverse camera,

The E 300 adds on these with the inclusion of a Driving Assistance Package, which brings Active Distance Assist Distronic (adaptive cruise control), Active Steering Assist, Active Brake Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist into the mix. Also going on are Active Blind Spot Assist and Pre-Safe Plus as well as a 360-degree camera.

Same powertrains, same outputs

The engine on the facelift is the one that was introduced here with the 2019 update. There are no changes to the outputs of the M264 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine in both variants – on the E 200, it’s 194 hp (197 PS) from 5,500 to 6,100 rpm and 320 Nm of torque from 1,650 to 4,000 rpm, while on the E 300, the output tune is 255 hp (258 PS) from 5,800 to 6,100 rpm and 370 Nm from 1,800 to 4,000 rpm.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels via a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission, and performance-wise, the E 200 manages the 0-100 km/h sprint in 7.4 seconds and has a 240 km/h top speed, while the E 300 does the same run in 6.2 seconds and gets to a slightly higher 250 km/h maximum speed. Both variants feature a Dynamic Select drive mode selector and Agility Control suspension with a passive selective damping system.

The song remains the same

The one constant in the facelift is in how it performs. As you’d expect, there’s no radical shift with the same engine and output present, and so the format continues largely unchanged in terms of dynamics and push.

As it was in the last update on the pre-facelift, the M264 continues to provide decent poke, with the advantage of the extra horses in the E 300 only coming to the fore when you go about flooring the pedal. Otherwise, there’s very little that’s noticeable between the two output tunes, especially if you’re puttering about.

Viewed in isolation, the mill feels thoroughly capable and its performance surely more than adept enough for the customer base, but it and the partnering 9G-Tronic are shown up somewhat when pitted against the B48 and ZF eight-speeder combo on the 5 Series, as was the case when we sampled both in a short back-to-back session.

It’s not that the difference is huge, but the BMW pairing simply feels more integrated in its workings, that bit more cohesive in how it stitches together its presentation, notably where the transmission is concerned. The ZF box is simply ace, not just by being snappier but also smoother across the entire spectrum, making the Mercedes unit rather languid in comparison.

With both variants getting the same suspension set-up now, there’s no difference in how they behave in terms of ride and handling, and aspects continue as they were on the 2019 pre-facelift iteration of the E 200. In terms of primary ride, the E-Class is excellent at highway cruising speeds, its composure resolute and comfort levels, high.

However, sticking to the same melody means that everything else down the line has the same tonality about it, and so the low speed ride presentation from before is also carried over. While not brittle, the secondary ride continues to be flummoxed by certain surface imperfections. In this context, the E 200 is the more compliant of the duo and feels better sorted across the board, the smaller 18-inch wheels likely having much to do with it.

Noise levels are low, and it isn’t until you push on well past the highway speed limit that wind noise starts being an issue, similar to what Hafriz noted when he drove the cars. I found the tyre noise on the E 300 far less intrusive than he did though, enough that it was hardly noticeable over the course of the trial period.

As for the ability to twist, well, the E-Class has never been a corner carver, and this remains the case here. It’s happy to comply with some gymnastics when asked, and tidily so at that, but athletic it is not. Not that it matters, really, because it’s not that kind of car. For its intended audience, the car will surely feel a thoroughly capable drive over the entire working spectrum it will normally be subjected to.

Some thoughts on interior comfort and associated components. Questionable steering design aside, the W213’s cabin is really a special place to be in, and there’s so much more luxe and occasion compared to the business-like presentation of the 5er.

Indeed, from the sophisticated veneer of its ambient lighting to the choice of trim integration, the E hardly puts a foot wrong, although this is only valid in the case of the E 300. The projection on the E 200, from trim combination and upholstery has markedly less gloss about it. You’ll also hear it – the standard audio system is decent enough, but doesn’t hold a candle to the Burmester on the E 300, which like the one on the new A 45 S, is finally starting to sound premium, as it should be.

Maintaining the fidelity

There’s nothing radical about the facelifted E-Class, not from where it came from previously. It’s definitely more refined now than when it first appeared on the scene in 2016, but updates along the way and the progression to the engine that is in use now with the last upgrade means the jump from the old isn’t a significant one.

In any case, the facelift advances things enough, honing the revisions nicely in the areas that matter. The MBUX is a big plus, and I have the feeling that most will like the modern take presented by the new steering wheels as well as the external changes, especially so in the case of the E 300.

Of the duo, anyone looking at buying a civilian E-Class – which remains very much a steadfast, solid performer in the segment, with plenty of presence – should really opt for the E 300 AMG Line, which presently goes for RM378,930 (on-the-road, without insurance), up slightly from the RM375,432 it was at when launched.

Aside from the additional kit, it looks snazzier, and its interior scheme better captures the gravitas of what is really a well-presented, classy cabin. For just under fifty grand over the E 200’s RM330,241 ask, you get a lot more in the way of everything.

GALLERY: Mercedes-Benz E 200 Avantgarde

GALLERY: Mercedes-Benz E 300 AMG Line