Last year we reviewed the E300 version of the three-pointed star’s new executive sedan range and found it a welcome return to traditional Mercedes virtues of solidity, conservatism and comfort. The new E-Class may not be a stylistic masterpiece, but in a market increasingly filled with wannabe sports sedans all trying to out-corner the 5 Series, its more sober approach is actually refreshing. In this test we focus on the more expensive Mercedes-Benz E350 derivative, a car that has to battle some pretty powerful rivals from the likes of Jaguar, Audi and, of course, old foe BMW. Can it reinforce the good first impressions left by the E300?
Classy Conservatism for Mercedes-Benz E350There’s not much to differentiate the bigger-engined model from its smaller sibling – both cars ride on 17-inch alloy wheels – so immediately customers may be tempted to dive into the very vast optional extras list. Having now seen a few E-Classes on the road sporting bigger wheels etc, it has to be said that the shape gains a degree of menace when the wheels fill the arches more snugly. But, in standard form, the E-Class is a hefty looking vehicle that reminds of the type of sedans Mercedes used to build in the ‘80s, such as the immortal W124. There are little hints of flair here and there – most notably the curve over the rear wheelarches which is said to have been inspired by the classic Pontoon sedan. What is very obvious when first seeing the new Mercedes-Benz E350 is its bulk. It measures 4 868 mm in length, and the square-cut looks and, especially the wide rear lamps, accentuate its width. Thankfully the growth in dimensions has translated into an even more spacious cabin than before. Rear legroom is significantly improved, and the boot measures a commodious 540 litres. Pity that you have to pay extra for a folding rear seat!
In front, drivers of the previous-generation E-Class will immediately notice some rather big changes. The old car’s curvy, flowing facia has been replaced by a very square, conservative design that initially looks like a step backwards. Spend some time in the cabin, however, and you’ll come to appreciate its impeccable build and improved ergonomics. One senses that Mercedes had spent a lot of time and money making sure that the various high-tech controls and displays are neatly integrated into the design. The digital display within the speedo is a case in point, as is the hooded large screen on top of the facia. Driver comfort in the Mercedes-Benz E350 is exemplary, even though the seats initially feel overly firm. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable (including height and memory) and the steering offers generous rake/reach adjustment. Most drivers will quickly find an ideal position, even though typical Mercedes quirks such as the foot-operated park brake and single column stalk remain.
The standard features package covers all the necessities required of a luxury car. The Mercedes-Benz E350 comes fitted with climate control, auto lights/wipers, radio/CD player with Bluetooth, cruise control, front and rear park assist and leather upholstery. There are also eight airbags, ESP (electronic stability system) and hill-start assist.
Underwhelming EngineThis Mercedes-Benz E350 is powered by a stalwart of the Mercedes line-up, a naturally aspirated 3,5-litre V6 that delivers 200 kW and 350 Nm of torque. As is the case with the E300, the engine is matched with Mercedes’ seven-speed 7G-tronic transmission, driving the rear wheels. Mercedes claims a 0-100 km/h time of 6,6 seconds for this model, which promises much in the way of performance. Unfortunately, the Mercedes-Benz E350 never quite lives up to performance expectations. In fact, the E300, which has 30 kW and 50 Nm less to work with, feels somehow more refined and just as athletic. We’re not saying that the E350 is slow or unrefined, just that, perhaps, the cheaper E300 does, relatively speaking, a more impressive job… Interestingly, the E300 and E350 have identical fuel consumption figures (9,1 L/100 km).
Finally, as ever, the 7G-tronic transmission is generally smooth during up-shifts, but can be clunky when shifting down. As we reported with the E300, the car’s weight and size create expectations of compromised dynamics, but in reality the E-Class is a capable handler. The Mercedes-Benz E350, like its smaller sibling, feels very stable and precise when driven hard, and yet the ride quality remains impressively supple over all surfaces. Due mostly to its superbly isolated cabin environment and the aloof steering feel, it never really allows the driver to form a close bond with it, but that’s not a major concern and one senses it is exactly what Mercedes had intended.
Mercedes-Benz E350 - VerdictOverall, the E-Class continues to impress with its solidity, focus on comfort and refinement, ride quality and luxury. We can’t help but wonder, however, if the cheaper E300 is not a better buy than this E350. From behind the steering wheel they feel similarly fast, and the fuel economy is the same. Relatively speaking, the 3,5-litre engine in this model feels slightly behind the times. Perhaps, Mercedes, it’s time to bring out the turbos?
• Spacious cabin • Cabin comfort • Ride • Solidity
We don’t like:
• Engine outclassed by rivals • 7G-tronic doesn’t impress • Stodgy design
Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, petrol Power: 200 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 350 Nm @ 2 400 rpm Transmission: seven-speed automatic Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 250 km/h 0-100 km/h: 6,6 seconds Fuel economy: 9,1 litres/100 km
• BMW 550i Steptronic: Right now, BMW is replacing the 5 Series with an all-new model, so there are good deals to be had on the outgoing and still very competent model, including this extremely fast and fun 550i. Go haggle…
• Audi A6 3,0T FSI quattro Tiptronic: The current A6 is nearing the end of its product life cycle, but remains a solid choice for more conservative folk. Its design may no longer be cutting edge, but the engine is bang up to date, and the standard specification far more generous.
• Lexus GS450h SE: This petrol/electric hybrid offers comparable power and is similarly priced to the Mercedes-Benz E350. The GS is often underrated, offering exceptional build quality, a spacious feature-rich cabin, and superb ride comfort. An interesting alternative.