2021 Merc E-Class: how does it fare against the BMW 5 Series and Volvo S90?

By daryl, 30 July 2021

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Volvo S90 

2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 AMG Line CKD

The arrival of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz W213 E-Class facelift completes the trifecta of locally-assembled mid-size luxury saloons on sale in Malaysia, all of which have had their looks and spec sheet improved in recent months. The other cars we’re referring to are BMW’s G30 5 Series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse), which arrived just a couple of months ago and the Volvo S90 which was updated in April

If you’re looking to spend RM300k-RM400k on a new ride to impress either your family or mates from work, and aren’t particularly fond of SUVs, chances are you have all three European entries on your radar. Traditionally, the E-Class has dominated this space, not just globally but also in Malaysia – over 10,000 units of the pre-facelift W213 were sold locally before it was discontinued. But with its rivals offering more diverse powertrains at hugely competitive prices, are Merc's updates sufficient to keep the competition at bay however extensive they may be?  

Let’s find out… 

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 CKD
2021 BMW 530e M Sport CKD

Prices – all the numbers that matter 

Whenever we name a car, you ask how much. So, let’s dive right into the trimlines and powertrains offered by each brand and how much they’ll cost you starting with the newest kid on the block, the facelifted W213 E-Class. 

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde kicks things off at RM326,943, the cheapest price tag you’ll see in this three-way battle of posh saloons (just for now). For an additional RM49k, you can get the Mercedes-Benz E300 AMG Line for RM375,432 on-the-road without insurance. All prices quoted here factor in the ongoing sales tax exemption, which remains in effect until the end of 2021. Mercedes even offers financing solutions starting from RM2,388 per month for the E200 and RM2,988 per month for the E300 using the company’s five-year ‘Step-Up Agility Financing’ plans. 

In the opposing Bavarian camp, the cheapest variant of BMW’s G30 5 Series LCI is actually the peppier 530e M Sport plug-in hybrid, which starts at RM334,354. The 530i M Sport which takes the E300 head on costs RM51k more at RM384,942. BMW Group Financial Services Malaysia offer balloon financing too, though their rates start at RM3,788 monthly for the 530e and RM4,388 for the 530i over five years. 

Volvo Car Malaysia employs a similar product range as the 5er, with a sole plug-in variant and a pure petrol alternative for buyers with more conventional tastes. However, unlike the 5 Series, the roles of the S90 duo are switched, with the un-electrified S90 T5 Momentum getting the ball rolling at RM328,888 without insurance. It’s worth noting that this price is inclusive of sales tax – deliveries for the T5 weren’t due till the second half of the year and Volvo was expecting SST to be re-implemented by then at the time of the S90’s launch. The range-topping S90 Recharge T8 Inscription Plus has a confirmed SST-exempted price tag: RM339,879. 

Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde Interior
Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Interior
BMW 530e M Sport interior

Running costs – a quick snapshot

Mercedes quotes the same fuel consumption average of 6.9l per 100km for both variants of the redesigned E-Class. This is an immediate disadvantage on paper when compared against the low figures managed by the electrified S90 T8 and 530e, which manage 2.1 and 2.3 litres per 100km respectively. That’s a difference of nearly RM10 in fuel for every 100km by today’s RON95 prices, on the strict condition that the PHEVs are utilised as they’re intended; by plugging into the grid on a regular basis. 

On a level playing field free of electric motors, the W213 E-Class sits right between the BMW 530i, which averages 6.7l per 100km, and the S90 T5 which does 7.0l per 100km. That said, factory claims should only be observed as a rough estimate – real-world figures often deviate depending on driving conditions ranging from how heavy your foot is, how much AC you use and how the traffic is like throughout your commute. 

As for maintenance, BMW is the only one that covers scheduled service for the first five years or 100,000km, whichever comes first. There’s the option to remove the ‘Extended Warranty and Service Package’, which shortens the factory coverage to just two years. Doing so will reduce the retail prices of the 530e and 530i to RM317,534 and RM368,122 respectively. Enticing, but we’d prefer to maintain the official five-year coverage for better peace of mind. 

Between the S90 and E-Class, the Swedish option is probably cheaper to service in the long run as Volvo observes service intervals of 20,000km or 24 months, which means low-mileage users might only end up servicing their car once every two years without breaching any warranty conditions. Like BMW, Mercedes practises more conventional 12-month intervals, which might require owners to visit the service centre more frequently just for regular maintenance, although this might not be something to complain about given how inviting luxury car showrooms like Merc’s have gotten over the years. We hear the free coffee they serve at these places is pretty good… 

Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde side profile

Performance, performance, performance 

Right off the bat, the Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde is at a huge disadvantage, with its maximum output not even getting past the 200hp mark. A grand total of 197bhp and 320Nm make for the lowest figures in the segment. That said, power isn’t everything in a segment that sells on comfort and refinement on the move. Even a brand as synonymous with driver engagement as BMW have given us some low-output gems – the 320i Sport and pre-facelift 520i Luxury are a couple of stellar examples. 

Despite probably being the cheapest saloon of the lot (presumably after the Penjana sales tax waiver is factored in), the Volvo S90 T5 offers an impressive amount of performance with 254hp and 350Nm on offer, which is a lot closer to the E300 AMG Line’s 258hp/370Nm output than that of the E200’s. The Swede is also marginally more powerful than the 530i M Sport, which only has 252hp and the same 350Nm of twist to offer. That said, the Bimmer’s (and Merc’s) RWD architecture should prove more entertaining behind the wheel than the S90’s front-biased setup. 

With the highest output among all pure petrol alternatives, the E300 is naturally the segment’s fastest European saloon in a straight line. The updated Merc’s 20Nm torque advantage over its rivals helps it to 100kph from a standstill in 6.2 seconds – 0.2 seconds quicker than the 530i and 0.6 seconds faster than the S90 T5. Both German nemeses will keep on going before maxing out at 250kph while the S90 cuts of at 180kph as its safety-conscious maker remains determined to ensure that no one is seriously injured or killed in a crash while piloting a modern Volvo. 

Buyers who prioritise peak figures – the very guys who buy an Android phone because it has more processing cores and megapixels than an iPhone – will undoubtedly be drawn to the PHEVs, as the 530e has a combined 292hp and 420Nm at its disposal while the S90 T8 is considerably peppier with a total output that reads 407hp and 640Nm – that’s 270Nm more than the E300’s max twist. Naturally, they’re incredibly quick in the century sprint: 5.9 seconds for the 5er and 4.9 for the Volvo. However, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s past attempts at selling the pre-facelift E350e and general experience in the local premium segment suggests that this may not be as much of a missed opportunity for the three-pointed star as the armchair critic might think. Only time will tell… 

Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX)
Volvo S90 Sensus infotainment touchscreen
BMW Live Cockpit professional

Tech and luxury – the reason you’d want one of these in the first place 

Each of the three brands involved in this leather-wrapped skirmish are all pioneers in automotive engineering in their own way. And it’s no surprise that little separates them as far as posh creature comforts and on-board intelligence are concerned. 

Starting with user interfaces, the LCD acreage in all three cars is impressive to say the least, though the side-by-side panels in the W213 E-Class probably look the most futuristic. The system packs the latest MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) software while BMW has its own Live Cockpit Professional with Intelligent Personal Assistant, and Volvo has Sensus Connect. To say one is better than the other is like trying to objectively decide if my favourite nasi lemak is better than yours – it’s all a matter of personal tastes. Although we’d probably flag Volvo’s system for being the only one that doesn’t offer any physical climate control settings. Flailing about on a touchscreen as the cabin burns up in our weather is really an unpleasant chore. 

Stay at the top of each brand’s product range and you’ll find these systems hooked up to pretty neat speakers. Mercedes-Benz offers Burmester audio in the E300, the 530i gets a Harman Kardon surround sound system while Volvo’s 1,400-watt 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins setup seems to be the most sophisticated, audiophile-endearing audio rig of the lot. 

Onto things that actually matter on the road, all three cars have their own versions of lane change assist, collision prevention, adaptive cruise control and self-parking. Each is endowed with its own set of fancy LED lighting to pierce through darkness, although Mercedes deserves some extra praise for redesigning the W213’s dated clusters altogether for a distinctly new look. As for the ride, all of them have adaptive suspensions but the S90 is the only one with air dampers in the rear for that added bit of plushness on the move.  

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (CKD)
2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class (CKD)
E200 Avantgarde
Price: RM326,943
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo, 197hp, 320Nm
Transmission: 9spd auto, RWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 7.4secs, 240kph
Economy: 6.9l/100km, 158g/km CO2
E300 AMG Line
Price: RM375,432
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo, 258hp, 370Nm
Transmission: 9spd auto, RWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 6.2secs, 250kph
Economy: 6.9l/100km, 157g/km CO2
2021 Volvo S90 (CKD)
2021 Volvo S90 (CKD)
S90 T5 Momentum
Price: RM328,888 (before SST exemption)
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo, 254hp, 350Nm
Transmission: 8spd auto, FWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 6.8secs, 180kph
Economy: 7.0l/100km, 159g/km CO2
S90 T8 Inscription Plus
Price: RM339,315
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo PHEV, 407hp, 640Nm (combined)
Transmission: 8spd auto, AWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 4.9secs, 180kph
Economy: 2.1l/100km, 46g/km CO2
2021 BMW 5 Series (CKD)
2021 BMW 5 Series (CKD)
530e M Sport
Price: RM334,354
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo PHEV, 292hp, 420Nm (combined)
Transmission: 8spd auto, RWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 5.9secs, 235kph
Economy: 2.3l/100km, 53g/km CO2
530i M Sport
Price: RM384,942
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo, 252hp, 350Nm
Transmission: 8spd auto, RWD
Performance: 0-100kph in 6.4secs, 250kph
Economy: 6.7l/100km, 154g/km CO2

Despite typing well over 1,500 words thus far, we're only skating the surface with what each car truly brings to the table – most of us rarely utilise more than half our car's potential during the daily grind after all. The W213 E-Class facelift certainly looks promising, especially in E300 AMG Line trim. But there's certainly a strong argument to be made for the PHEV alternatives offered by its rivals.

That said, each nameplate makes a compelling case for itself in its own way, which really makes the viewing angle of each potential buyer a major decider at the end of the day. And the one thing that we won't be able to quantify in words (no matter how many of them we type) without driving the new E-Class, 5 Series and S90 side by side is the subjective sensation behind the wheel of each saloon. Unfortunately, a group test isn't something we can do until the lockdown is lifted. And once it does, we suggest you give these three a go as well before signing on the dotted line.  

Once you have a winner on your cards, drop us a line on our Facebook page. We'd really love to know which one you prefer, and why.