Globally, the midsize E-Class sedan is Mercedes-Benz’s most popular model, the car primarily responsible for bolstering the bottom line. A German Chevy Impala, if you will. In America, one in every four Mercedes models sold is an E-Class, which is available in your choice of sedan or station wagon body styles with a V6 or a V8 engine installed under its ornamental bonnet. There’s even a hot-rodded performance version courtesy of the speed freaks at AMG.
For 2006, Mercedes-Benz has upgraded its least expensive E-Class, the bread-and-butter model of the lineup. The revised 2006 E350 receives an aluminum 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing. It makes 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, and thanks to the variable valve timing that torque is available between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm. That’s a 20 percent bump in power over the old 3.2-liter V6, according to Mercedes, and the company says that despite the jump in horses the E350 gets better fuel economy. Rated 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, our E350 achieved a combined rating of 24.5 mpg during a week of commuting in the Los Angeles region.
In addition to the new V6, additional hardware upgrades for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 include a seven-speed automatic transmission with driver adaptive logic and Touch Shift manual control. Mercedes says this new transmission produces smoother shifts and quicker acceleration, making the E350 almost half a second faster to 60 mph. The E350 also gets standard 17-inch wheels and tires, and bigger brakes – though the widely criticized electrohydraulic braking system that first debuted in 2003 remains.
Another change for 2006 is the addition of active front head restraints, and new crash sensors can determine the activation of the E350’s seatbelt tensioners to help limit chest loads and shoulder injuries in a crash. Every E-Class also gets a rollover sensor that deploys the seatbelt tensioners and side-curtain airbags if a rollover accident is imminent.
Standard equipment for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 includes dual-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, nine-speaker audio with surround sound, power one-touch up/down windows, and auto-dimming side mirrors. The price of entry also includes leather seating inserts, burl walnut wood trim, a Tele-Aid emergency calling and communications system, and side-impact airbags front and rear.
Choose the optional Appearance Package and you’ll receive tweaked side skirts, modified front and rear aprons, active-curve illuminating bi-Xenon headlights with washers that swivel to help see around curves, blue tinted glass, and LED brake lights. Appearance Package models also get full leather upholstery, an Airmatic DC (Dual Control) suspension, and 17-inch five-spoke wheels. An AMG Sport Package is also available for the E350, and adds revised styling details, polished dual exhaust tips, and 18-inch AMG wheels with high-performance tires. Other key options include a CD changer, a 420-watt Harmon/Kardon Logic7 audio system, and a COMAND navigation system.
To see just how good the new V6 powertrain is, we borrowed a 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan. Our car was pretty basic as E-Classes go, equipped with metallic paint for $680, heated front seats for $680, a six-disc CD changer for $420, and a $1,550 Sunroof Package that included the hole in the roof plus a power rear sunshade and manual rear side window sunshades. That brought the total sticker price of our E350 to $54,155, including the $775 destination charge.
And price, it turns out, was the main complaint voiced by our evaluation team. For some reason, the E350 doesn’t impress as a vehicle worth the money it commands. Value is an issue: our team of evaluators feels you can get just as much car with more goodies for the same or less cash. But the E350 also didn’t feel particularly special from the driver’s seat. Certainly, it is well crafted from premium materials, but it lacks the presence of a luxury sedan, inside and out. In fact, if not for the sparkling hood ornament and three-pointed star embedded into the driver’s airbag cover, it would be difficult to determine the difference between the E350 and a loaded version of a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry in terms of market positioning.
We can only attribute this overall impression to the fact that the E-Class is the Mercedes-Benz workhorse all around the globe, engineered and designed to satisfy a wide variety of roles, from pedestrian to patrician. Undoubtedly, it strikes us as a solid piece of engineering that exudes quality and refinement – but so does an Accord or a Camry. The difference here, of course, is that chrome-trimmed bauble that constantly twinkles on the leading edge of the hood reminding you, and everyone else, that you’ve got the financial wherewithal to afford a Benz.
2nd Opinion – Blackett
True, this German sedan is one of the quietest cars on the road, with a compliant ride, comfortable seats, a 268-horsepower V6 that’s surprisingly quick, and tastefully understated styling. Add in standard stability and traction control systems, airbags stuffed into every nook and cranny, and electrically powered features that do everything but tuck you in at night, and the E350 starts to look pretty darn good. Then consider that a power sunroof tacks another $1,500 onto the already lofty base sticker price, the upgraded wood and leather interior goes for $6,275, that a split folding rear seat is optional for $300, and heated front seats set buyers back nearly $700. Again, keep in mind that the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 has a base price of more than $50,000.
Besides the issue of value, there are a few other points of contention regarding the E350. Most significant is the steering, a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion system that is supposed to require little effort at slow speeds while offering a tighter, more responsive feel at higher speeds. However, in real-world application the steering is too light at speed and too stiff on even slow-speed corners. Another quibble focuses on the center console – there’s a nice retractable storage cover surrounded by slightly padded leather, but there’s no real armrest on which to comfortably rest your arm. Finally, the styling is bland and dated. None of these are major complaints, nor are they issues that should arise with a car priced above the U.S. median income. – Thom Blackett
2nd Opinion – Kim
However, discerning buyers who base their purchase on substance over brand and image are well aware that the midsize luxury sedan market is peppered with the best and brightest stars of a carmaker’s stables; the spirited Acura RL, the stately Audi A6, perennial favorite BMW 5 Series, the athletic Infiniti M, the refined Lexus GS. All of these offer much more value, technological advancement, and superior driving experience for the same amount of money. But never mind; for Mercedes traditionalists, nothing but the 2006 E350 will quite do. – Liz Kim
2nd Opinion – Perry
The new V6 engine is smooth and docile around town but when called upon quickly downshifts and accelerates effortlessly. Seamless transmission operation masks the E350’s brisk acceleration as it quickly climbs toward the triple digits. Another attribute is the fuel economy. This big sedan gets better mileage than my lightweight Toyota Tacoma truck.
Climb inside and the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 continues to draw accolades. Simple, easy-to-use and -understand dials and buttons are employed for everything from the climate controls to the navigation system. The E350 don’t need no stinkin’ iDrive! Seating is comfortable for all parties with adequate driver seat adjustments and a quiet ride. Interior materials have a quality feel to them and the overall design of the interior is user friendly.
Now, I didn’t get the opportunity to drive the E350 hard, but around town, steering input felt positive and the brakes gave great feedback when called upon. The E350 accelerates smoothly with sufficient torque to get you where you want to go, and after my stint behind the wheel I found this to be a true luxury sedan – and a very capable one at that.
Of course, no car is perfect and the E350 does have a few minor issues that need attention. Most notable is the view provided by the side mirrors. They are way too small for a car this size; especially the passenger side mirror. From my seating position behind the wheel, the mirror is partially blocked by the right A-pillar. Also annoying is the placement of the turn signal lever. Placed low on the left side of the steering column with the cruise control lever placed higher above it, (where I feel the turn signal lever should be) I regularly hit the cruise control lever when I wanted to turn on the indicator. But the E350’s biggest fault has to be how common the E-Class has become, especially here in southern California. When spending this kind of money on a luxury sedan, you don’t want to see a car like yours at every intersection. Ah, the perils of success.
As a past owner of a Mercedes-Benz E320, I love what the company has done to improve the E-Class with this latest iteration of its main model. The 2006 E350 is a car that does everything well and does it with the style and class one expects from a Mercedes. – Ron Perry
2nd Opinion – Wardlaw
I know, I know. Brand prestige, that altar so many Americans worship. And, the engineering doesn’t suck. I suppose that if it’s important to own a Mercedes, the E-Class is a fine way to express your success, even if the car is bland to the point that in some metropolitan areas, it goes utterly unnoticed. The new powertrain is a gem, the driving experience marred only by steering that is too heavy around town and a brake pedal that makes it difficult to execute smooth stops every time. And the E350 is quite comfortable, too, with tall, firm, supportive front seats and a terrific view of that three-pointed star hood ornament up front. The cabin is open and airy, more like an economy car than a stately sedan, but the materials are definitely a step above what you’d get in a humdrum familymobile. I even thought the E350’s control layout and user friendliness were better than most Benzes – but that might be due to the lack of high-tech options on our test car.
Still, as competent and unfettered an automobile as the E350 might be, it doesn’t exude luxury from its pores. It doesn’t knock you over the head with personality. It doesn’t bowl you over with unmatched driving dynamics. Rather, it is a car in which you blend into the urban backdrop. For my money, a Honda Accord pulls off the same trick quite nicely. But clearly, given the E-Class’s status as sales leader in the U.S., there are thousands of consumers who need a pricier path to anonymity. – Christian Wardlaw
Price of Test Vehicle: $54,155 (including the $775 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 268 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 258 lb.-ft. between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift feature
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,760
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/27 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 24.5 mpg
Length: 189.7 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Wheelbase: 112.4 inches
Height: 57.0 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 41.9/35.6 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.1/37.8 inches (with sunroof)
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 15.9 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura RL, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac STS, Chrysler 300, Infiniti M, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS, Saab 9-5, Volvo S80
Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz