- Life Style
Mercedes E-Class sedan just feels right
by Mark Maynard
It just feels right, for men or women, tall or short.
It is a large car, but the EPA considers it a midsize, and that's with more than 39 inches of front headroom, 35 1/2 inches of back seat legroom and almost 16 cubic feet of open and flat trunk space.
The exterior styling isn't trend-setting anymore, and since the Kia Amanti apes the front end, it's a horrible association. But the arc of the roofline creates an open cabin with no bad sightlines. The front seats fit like a good mitt, and large teens fit in back with room to stuff their size-13 shoes.
Everything onboard has a purpose, but it's built with richness and durability, not superficial luxury cues.
Whether as a family car or executive-class sedan, the E-Class helps busy people get their jobs done. Climb in, hit the one-twist ignition, strap on the seat belt and check the mirrors.
The driver fine-tunes his or her position with power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and both front seats have 10-way power-adjusted seats. Few are neglected with this versatility in setting the ideal position.
There's just something reassuring about sighting down the hoodline with the Mercedes star. That's because you know where the ends and corners of the car are. No guessing when parking. And the turning circle, 37.4 feet, means you can make a U-turn on most side streets without concern of scraping a wheel.
The E350, today's test car, is an upgrade from last year's E320, which had a 3.2-liter V-6.
The new 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is more powerful and almost as fuel-efficient. The engine is the company's first use of double overhead camshafts and other engineering tweaks for performance and emissions. It debuted on the SLK sports car and is being applied throughout the line.
Curb weight is up 12 pounds, but still fit at 3,703 pounds. And the car's a half-second faster to 60 mph, at 6.6 seconds. Fuel economy is down 1 mile per gallon to 19 mpg around town and 27 on the highway, with 91 octane. I was getting 22.4 on combined driving, according to the onboard computer.
A seven-speed automatic transmission replaces the five-speed. The TouchShift can be shifted manually, but the driver-adaptive electronics do an excellent job of doling out well-paced shifts or holding gears on downhill grades. Jump onto the throttle and the transmission decides whether you'll need to drop two gears or three.
The E320 diesel sedan (not sold in California), E55 AMG sedan and wagon and 4MATIC sedans and wagons still use the five-speed automatic.
Because this is a solid and versatile chassis, it also accommodates the 302-hp, V-8 E500 ($59,175) and the 469-hp, E55 AMG ($82,575).
But the finesse and balance of the E350 make it my favorite model. Roll on the throttle and the big rear-drive car moves out with heavy-cream smoothness. Dive into a corner and the rear end tucks in like any fine sport sedan, except this one isn't promoted that way.
But you can give it that edge with the Appearance package ($4,000), which adds sculpted side skirts, front and rear aprons, active-curve illuminating bi-xenon headlights with headlamp washers, blue tinted glass, LED brake lights, full leather seats, Airmatic air suspension and 17-inch five-spoke wheels.
Along with the increased horsepower come larger brakes, including 13-inch vented front discs, larger 17-inch tires and active front head restraints that move forward and upward to support the head and neck in a rear-ender.
Other safety equipment includes adaptive dual-stage front air bags - in a less-severe impact, only the first stage of the air bag deploys - and a rollover sensor that can deploy the window bags and belt tensioners.
Active Curve bi-xenon headlights (a $990 option) improve illumination by as much as 90 percent, compared to fixed halogen lights, Mercedes says. Each light module has an electric motor that turns the light in response to speed and steering angle.
The E-Class has had its share of warranty issues lately, but company executives in Germany say that is over now. It should be. This car's too good to neglect.
2006 Mercedes-Benz E350
Body style: Midsize five-passenger rear-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: Aluminum 3.5-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 268 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds at 2,400-5,000 rpm
Transmission: seven-speed TouchShift automatic
Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph, 6.6 seconds
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 27 highway; 91 octane recommended
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.1/41.9/56.4 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.8/35.6/56.1 inches
Trunk space: 15.9 cubic feet
Standard equipment: Remote locking, dual-zone automatic AC, 10-way power-adjusted front seats with three-position memory, multifunction steering wheel with power tilt-telescopic adjustment, cruise control, nine-speaker audio with single-disc CD, leather seating inserts, burl walnut trim, power windows with one-touch up-down, auto-dimming rear and driver-side mirrors with right side tilt for park assist
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front air bags, head protection curtains, rollover sensor, side bags, front belt pretensioners and force limiters, electronic stability, Brake Assist and electronic brake force distribution
Base price: $50,825, including $775 freight charge; price as tested, $54,025
Options on test vehicle: Pewter paint ($680), 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with six-disc CD changer ($970), sunroof package ($1,550) of glass sunroof, power rear sunshade and rear side roller blinds.
The competition: Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS, Cadillac STS
Waranty: four years/50,000 miles with roadside assistance
Where assembled: Sindelfingen, Germany
PLUSES: Ideal size for family or business, performance or pleasure.
MINUSES: Mercedes should hire away the Kia Motors designer who copied the E-Class front end.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at email@example.com.
© Copley News Service