Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - E350 sedan
Ride, handling, comfort, performance
Room for improvement
Foot-operated handbrake, transmission selector
11 Nov 2009
By PHILIP LORD
BUILDING a car to a supreme standard and high critical acclaim can be a double-edged sword for a car company. Every model that follows will be compared to the brilliant predecessor and not always favourably.
It is like having a successful older sibling - everyone enjoys reminding you of it, asking how that brilliant brother/sister of your’s is going.
It has often been said that the best Mercedes-Benz of all time was the W124 E-class, built from 1986 to 1995.
Launched before Mercedes management decided they had better let the accountants peek behind the curtain to see what was really going on in the engineering department, the W124 was an enormously competent car and the E-class that follow it was inevitably compared with that fantastic feat of design, engineering and quality.
If comparisons are odious, then none are as much as that between the W124 and its successors the W210 and W212. Neither were bad cars, but they did not nearly match the degree of excellence of the W124.
So how does the latest E-class sedan, the W212, series stack up?
It’s true that styling is entirely subjective, but even the most fanatical Mercedes-Benz enthusiast must have instinctively winced when they saw the first pictures of the W212’s nose. Although Daimler designers were trying to recall the four-headlight front of the W211, it was not terribly successful the first time around.
Yet there we were at Bald Point, south of Sydney’s Royal National Park, admiring the new W212 E350. True, my eyes did not settle on the headlights, but the overall design really grew on me. This is a distinctive, attractive car as a whole.
The E350’s interior will not polarise opinion as easily. It is well finished and the seats are comfortable and supportive. The control layout is simple and, despite the myriad features, it is an easy control centre to navigate. Storage is plentiful.
The only downsides to the interior are the wand control for gear selection and the foot parking brake – neither of which are exactly a resolved feat of engineering and design.
The gear selector becomes second nature with use, but it is not an intuitive design.
The foot parking brake is not objectionable, except for the fact that many competitors now use electronically supervised park brakes. With such an outdated feature, you begin to think Mercedes-Benz’s ‘keyless start’ might in fact be an engine crank handle (thankfully, it’s not).
The visibility is largely unimpeded and the lane-change warning is a boon, even though it issues a warning beep for a standard-issue Sydney lane-change gap.
The rear seat feels firmer than the front buckets, and the centre position is, like many cars, not a spot for an adult to sit for a long drive. Not only does the centre tunnel impede legroom, the seatback is angled too far back.
The boot is long and wide without any annoying protrusions but lacks depth. At least the aperture is a reasonable size and the loading lip low. The underfloor spare wheel is a full-size alloy.
The E350’s V6 is a smooth and quiet achiever around town in gentle running, with a throttle responsive to input and a transmission that generally picks the ratio you need and does not make a fuss about it.
When you draw on the E350’s power reserves the V6 revs out quickly and smoothly, although it isn’t the aural delight of an Alfa Romeo - or even a Volkswagen - V6.
Performance is not so much earth shattering as responsive and quick.
The V6 consumed an average of 10.2L/100km in urban and country running.
The brakes are strong and well modulated, seeming to avoid the braking sharpness suffer by many modern braking systems at slow speeds.
The suspension is firm around town, jarring over road joins and potholes, but as speeds rise it gets better and better. The big Benz floats over the largest of bumps and settles quickly. It’s a nice balance between suspension compliance and control.
The steering feels a bit artificial, especially around centre, but is well-weighted and responsive to input. The E350 tracks around corners well, with minimal body roll and a well balanced, forgiving chassis.
The 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres grip admirably, delivering quick point-to-point in a relaxed mood.
The E350 may not redefine its segment as the W124 did in 1986, but plenty of evidence suggests this is a Mercedes-Benz every bit as worthy of the E-class badge as the W124.
Despite minor anomalies such as the parking brake and unfortunate front-end styling, this is an accomplished car with a fine balance of comfort, space, performance, handling and quality.
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