Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - E350 sedan range
New V6's improved acceleration and response, engine note, new seven-speed auto's speed and smoothness, steering, overall refinement
Room for improvement
2 Mar 2005
WHEN Mercedes finally laid its famous old 162kW 3.2-litre in-line six-cylinder engine to rest a little way into the last-generation (W210) E-Class’ life back in 1997, many enthusiasts felt that the newer, more compact 18-valve 3.2 V6 lost something special in the translation.
The V6 just didn’t seem as spunky, smooth or mellifluous as the old motor, despite worthwhile improvements in efficiency and emissions reduction.
Mind you, it wasn’t bad at all – just a little lacklustre in the way an American V6 engine is while a Nissan 350Z unit resolutely is not.
So behind the wheel of a 2005 E350 Estate with only around 450km on the odometer, I wasn’t expecting it to come alive as I drove out from that Albury gate drive.
But the devil in me soon did.
Even with the new quad-cam 24-valve variable-adjustment camshaft V6 as new and tight as it was, the acceleration and response from the E350 was nothing short of tremendous.
Remembering that there is still plenty of accelerator travel to traverse, take-off is quick and clean, with all 350Nm of torque on tap and at hand.
And speaking of tap, the company’s 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic gearbox is sensational, allotting the appropriate gear with a speed and smoothness that befits the $130,500-plus ask for this wagon.
Mercedes says it has worked hard to adapt this transmission to the varying needs of the person behind the wheel. It can even down-shift four ratios if the demand for instant acceleration is there.
The new engine and transmission, however, have brought a $2000 price increase to the E-Class sedan and wagon's already-hefty pricetags.
A colleague sitting beside me at the time said that a telling test of a great-driving wagon is that after a few minutes behind the wheel you forget that you’re driving one!
In the E350 Estate, corners are carved with alacrity and ease of a well-sorted sedan, backed up by a nicely defined rack-and-pinion steering that leaves the driver feeling that he or she is in control at all times.
The ride is also commendable, although on rougher roads it did seem a tad too firm and fidgety – nothing that a load in the back wouldn’t quell.
Refinement levels are what you’d expect from this level of vehicle, with just enough of the engine’s (acoustically tuned) baritone permeating inside when accelerating hard to please enthusiasts.
Which brings me back to the glorious old Mercedes straight sixes. Fans should rejoice – a worthy successor is finally here.
I cannot wait to sample another, more run-in example, soon.
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