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.