Right at the heart of the extensive Mercedes-Benz lineup you’ll find the E-Class.
Available in sedan, wagon or convertible format this mid-sized Benz can be had with an amazing array of drivetrains, interiors and features from the bare-bones, four-cylinder diesel taxis common in Germany to the leather-lined, gut-wrenching 518-horsepower E63 AMG. There is an E-Class for everyone.
In North America we get the choice of four body styles, each with a different engine selection. The E350 sedan, the subject of this review, with a 3.5-litre V-6; the coupe with the same six or a 4.7-litre V-8; the convertible with the six or a 402-horsepower, 5.5-litre V-8; and a station wagon with the six or 518-horsepower AMG V-8. All have a seven-speed automatic transmission.
My test vehicle was the E3350 4Matic sedan with a V-6 engine, automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel-drive system. The only options were "designo" black lacquer trim ($1,000) and a "Premium" package ($3,500), which included wireless connectivity, audio upgrade, rear window sunshade, power trunk closer, rearview camera and keyless start/stop.
The E-Class received an extensive makeover for the 2011 model year so carries over into 2012 visually unchanged. The latest restyle resulted in a touch of attitude, with a pronounced forward slope and more aggressive look.
From the vaunted three-pointed star on the hood to the twin, chromed, rectangular exhaust outlets, this four-door looks purposeful. There is no mistaking it for anything other than a Mercedes.
Quality is evident in the details, the way switches and levers move, the sound the doors make when closed. The quality of materials is first rate, although I’m not a fan of the optional piano-black lacquer trim. But it sure is shiny.
The doors open wide for ease of entry and exit but you have to duck to avoid the low roofline. Visibility is good to all quarters thanks to relatively thin pillars and plenty of glass. The seats are highly supportive, seemingly stiff at first, but you’ll appreciate that on long sittings.
There is ample room in back for a pair of full-sized adults, three if they don’t mind sharing some shoulder space. There are storage bins under each front seat and the steering
The interior is typically Mercedes-Benz with meticulous attention to detail throughout. There is a distinct impression of refinement, nothing flashy, no bling, just a nicely laid out array of instruments and controls and all the features you expect at this price point.
wheel, seats and mirrors are all heated – much appreciated when the cold arrives.
Innovation is in the Mercedes gene so it comes as no surprise to find a number of novel touches:
- A residual feature of the dual-zone climate control system allows it to continue to supply warm air after the engine has been turned off.
- A single dial surrounded by a series of buttons with information displayed on a highly legible screen controls the navigation and other features of the COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system –more intuitive and easy to decipher than most.
- Getting drowsy? The "Attention Assist" system monitors your awareness and sends an alert if it senses you are no longer paying attention.
- The radar-based
Distronic Plus cruise control is the best of the bunch with smooth and gradual intervention. The system will even bring the car to a complete stop if the vehicle in front does.
Other notable features of the test car were the optional Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system. This is an audible treat from crystal clear highs to thumping base. The headlights were among the best I’ve had the pleasure of driving behind – crisp, white Xenon lighting that moves both horizontally and vertically with projectors and suspension sensors working hand-in-hand.
Unlike some cars where 50% of engine output is called up within the first millimetre of throttle movement, the right-hand pedal of this Benz has a fair bit of travel before much happens. But that is not to say it is slow, or that you can’t get neck-snapping acceleration. This sedan leaps from rest to 100 km in less than six seconds – pretty stout.
The automatic is silky smooth and always in the right gear but is a little reluctant to downshift, even when prodded with the paddle shifters in the back of the steering wheel.
The fourth-generation 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is first rate. Mercedes has done away with energy and fuel-sapping differentials in favour of high-speed sensors. When the electronic traction control system detects slippage, it applies the brakes temporarily to that wheel and sends power to those with grip. Light, compact and easy to package the system also is more fuel efficient since there are no gears, axles and differentials to move.
The steering is quick, responsive and provides plenty of feedback. The ride is quiet and relaxed with plenty of vertical absorption and a fairly small amount of lean until pressed very hard in the turns. The vehicle feels as though carved from a big block of east coast granite.
Safety feature abound. In addition to the aforementioned distance sensing cruise control, awesome headlights and attention assist, there are nine airbags, active headlamps and a "Pre-Safe" system that closes the windows and sunroof, adjusts the seats and pre-tensions the belts when a crash is judged to be in the very immediate future.
My biggest complaint is common to the marque – the location of the turn signal and cruise control levers. It is too easy to activate the cruise control when slowing and intending to signal for a turn.
Power came from a 3.5-litre V-6 that is new for 2102, providing 13% more power than the unit it replaces thanks, in part, to direct injection. This is a relatively heavy vehicle so action off the line is leisurely unless you give it plenty of boot.
Not surprisingly, this latest generation E-Class, carries the family colours with aplomb.