2006 Mercedes-Benz E350
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Only a few automakers can get away with selling a popular, prestigious car for more than a decade in this country with only a slight power increase. Such has been the case with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class 6-cylinder sedan and station wagon, which get a larger, more potent V6 for 2006.
The new midsize E-Class models are called the E350 because of an increase in engine displacement from 3.2 to 3.5 liters. The E350 is an early 2006 model being sold alongside 2005 versions in the E-Class lineup.
The E-Class is one of the most popular upscale foreign cars and represents about 25 percent of Mercedes' total U.S. sales. The first E-Class arrived for 1994 as the E320 with an inline 6-cylinder generating 217 horsepower. The last E320 is a 2005 model with a 221-horsepower V6—not much of a power jump in 11 years.
The 2005 E-Class continues to be sold with V8s producing 302 and 469 horsepower, and also with a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder diesel engine generating 201 horsepower.
Bread and Butter Version
The new all-aluminum V6 also has added torque for better responsiveness during U.S. driving than the old 18-valve V6. Maximum torque is available from 2,400 rpm all the way to 5,000 rpm, with 87 percent of maximum torque at just 1,500 rpm, which is near engine idle speed. The E320 is a little slow off the line, but not the E350.
The E350 has the same dual-overhead-camshaft engine used in Mercedes' SLK sports car, which was redesigned for 2005. The new V6 provides faster acceleration in the two-seat SLK, but that's to be expected with the smaller sports car because it weighs about 500 pounds less than the E350.
Besides being larger, the new V6 has a higher compression ratio than its predecessor, a two-stage intake manifold and variable valve timing for better responsiveness and fuel economy: an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 24 on highways with a 5-speed automatic transmission and 19 and 27 with Mercedes' new 7-speed automatic.
The E350 sedan lists at $50,050 with rear-wheel drive and at $52,550 with all-wheel drive, which offers extra traction. The rear-wheel-drive wagon costs $52,300 and is $54,800 with all-wheel drive.
Nevertheless, Mercedes has made the rear-wheel-drive E350 available with a $4,900 AMG Sport package from its hot rod AMG unit. The package has such items as a sculpted front air dam, dual chrome exhaust tips and higher performance tires on wider, specially designed wheels.
Making more sense is the $3,960 Appearance package. It contains aerodynamic body cladding under the doors for a lower look and an "active cornering" headlight system that adjusts headlight direction in response to the car's speed and steering angle. The package also has leather-covered seats, unique wood interior trim, an air spring suspension with driver-adjustable shock absorber firmness and wider tires on larger wheels.
Safety features include front-rear side airbags and side-curtain airbags, anti-lock all-disc brakes with a brake assist feature for surer sudden stops—along with traction control and anti-skid systems.
The E350 feels anvil-solid, with quick steering along with ride and handling that are quite good. The brakes are rather touchy and need more of a linear pedal action. However, I eventually became used to them.
The gauges can be quickly read, but the big speedometer is flanked by a clock to its left and a tachometer to its right. The clock should be in the center of the contoured dashboard, with the tachometer in its traditional spot to the left of the speedometer. Sound-system controls are too complicated, and interior storage space for small items is average.
Watch Trunk Lid
Quality issues have plagued Mercedes, partly because it has made its cars overly complicated. But it's worked hard to eliminate them, and its three-pointed star emblem continues to shine brightly.