2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Elegance Sedan Road Test Review
EARLIER THIS YEAR Mercedes-Benz launched the latest additions to its passenger car range: the W212 E-Class sedan and the C207 E-Class Coupe.
Both body-styles arrived on our shores with the choice of a 3.5 litre V6 or 5.5 litre V8 petrol engine, while a range of thrifty diesels and a direct-injected petrol four have since been added to the mix.
We decided to test the model that sits in the middle of the petrol engined offerings: the E350 sedan.
The 2010 E-Class sedan is all-new, and the ninth generation model in the E-Class’s 60-year history.
The bodywork is fresh, the interior is completely different and the underpinnings promise an even better ride and improved performance. It’s easy to quantify the changes on a spec sheet, but what we wanted to know was, “does it still feel like an E-Class?”
According to Mercedes, the 2010 E350 "wears its heritage on its sleeve".
Trainspotters will notice the pontoon-like shaping of the rear fenders (a homage to 1940s-era Benzes); the shape of the bonnet is also designed to evoke memories of early Mercedes sedans.
Of course, to the average observer, the new E-Class is simply “classic Benz”. But the rounded corners and soft edges of the W211 are gone, replaced by sharp creases and ruler-straight cutlines.
While the 2010 E-Class is the third generation to wear the quad-headlamped face, the front end sees the round lenses of the last model dropped in favour of more rectangular units. And the front bumper now sports a squarer and more athletic jaw.
Two L-shaped LED daytime running lamps occupy each corner of the lower bumper, and are perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the new E’s design.
The flanks appear bigger and bulkier, the beltline has been moved up and a prominent longitudinal crease now ties the front fenders to the rear.
The LED taillights, like the headlights, are more rectangular in shape and are joined by a chrome strip that spans the bootlid. The V6 has a pair of chrome oval exhaust tips protruding from underneath its bumper, while the V8 gets rectangular-shaped outlets.
Being an Elegance-spec E350, our tester sported a set of 17-inch alloys, while the Avantgarde E350s wear 18-inch alloys.
The Elegance trim also adds more chrome on the bumpers and rubbing strips, along with a four-slat (rather than three-slat) chrome grille.
The new E-Class is longer, wider, lower and has a longer wheelbase than the W211. The bold n’ bulky design adds to the effect, endowing the 2010 E-class sedan with a lot more visual presence than the outgoing model.
In fact, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the W124 E-Class of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The styling is undeniably modern and fresh, but there’s more than a hint of the W124’s Mafia-style appeal in the new E-Class’s form.
So it certainly looks like an E-Class should.
The cabin of the new E-Class is entirely new, and improved.
Mercedes-Benz now offers all new E-Class models (aside from the base E220 CDI) in Avantgarde trim by default, with the comfort-oriented Elegance specification a no-cost option.
The difference? The Elegance is designed to appeal to a more mature audience, a group that Mercedes calls its “traditional buyers”.
It’s easy to see why. While the Avantgarde gets black-on-black cabin plastics, dark wood trim, darker leather and a black headliner, the Elegance is a tribute to polished walnut trim, beige and grey.
An optional Exclusive package adds more wood, an Alcantara headliner and a leather-trimmed dash.
Ergonomically, the new E-Class is fantastic. Both front seats move electrically in virtually every conceivable direction, and the side bolsters, lumbar cushion and seat squab are pneumatically adjustable to improve support.
All of the controls fall readily to hand, and functions that can’t be activated by the steering wheel buttons can be accessed via the console-mounted controller for the COMAND system.
The multi-function LCD display has been moved to its own binnacle next to the instrument cluster, where it is more easily seen by the driver.
The gear shift now resides on the steering column (like the S-Class), freeing up valuable real estate on the centre console.
The steering column is electrically powered, and both rake and reach can be tailored to each driver. A memory function also allows three different seat/wheel positions to be saved.
The shortcut buttons for the stereo, sat-nav and telephone are a little distant from the driver, but a few clicks of the COMAND controller will bring those up on the screen in a second or two.
The instrument cluster houses a large, central speedometer that rings an LCD multifunction display. A tachometer and clock flank the speedo, while a fuel and temperature gauge sit further outboard.
The multifunction display can show trip-computer read-outs, vehicle status messages and navigation instructions, and is clear and legible under all lighting conditions.
For rear seat passengers, both space and comfort are plentiful. The seat cushions are supportive, there are three height-adjustable headrests and legroom for the two outer passengers is more than adequate. The tall centre tunnel does limit the middle passenger’s legroom, however.
Should you request it, the Rear Comfort Package deletes the rear bench and replaces it with two individual heated seats separated by a raised centre console.
At the back of the centre console is a climate control display that’s flanked by fan and temperature controls. Air outlets on the centre console and B pillars keep backseat passengers cool, ideal for keeping the peace on long family road trips.
The fold-down centre armrest houses a small storage tray and an elaborate cupholder, and there’s ample storage room in the door pockets and front seatback map pockets.
The boot has a generous 540 litre capacity with the rear seatbacks up, which can be folded down easily thanks to the boot-mounted release handles. A large retractable shopping bag hook helps keep groceries from spilling into the boot, and there are various tie-downs on the boot’s flat(ish) floor.
The changes are wholesale, and the benefits obvious. Mercedes has clearly invested a lot in making the new E’s cabin not only more comfortable, but more user-friendly.
It’s also a higher-quality fit-out. Everything feels solid and unbreakable – qualities that older Benzes enjoyed in abundance– and you get the sense that it won’t deteriorate with age.
Equipment and features
Mercedes-Benz’s large cars have always been a platform for showcasing the company’s latest technology.
While the S-Class is generally the model that debuts ground-breaking new tech, the E-Class doesn’t need to wait long before the gizmos trickle onto its spec sheet.
This new E-Class is no different, and it comes loaded with some sophisticated new gadgetry.
Standard equipment includes the COMAND multi-function system, which ties together the voice-activated control system, Bluetooth phone integration, satellite navigation, reversing camera, a 6GB hard disk drive for music and, on our car, a digital TV receiver.
There’s also iPod integration, an auxillary input for USB memory sticks, heated wing mirrors and auto-dipping bi-xenon headlamps. The three-zone climate control and pneumatically-adjustable seats are also standard features of the E350 sedan.
The options list is even more extensive. The aforementioned Rear Comfort Package bisects the rear cabin and adds two full-size bucket seats, the Entertainment Package (fitted to our car) brings a Harmon Kardon premium sound system and sunroof, while the AMG package adds alloy pedals, a three-spoke sports steering wheel and sports seats.
Passenger safety is well catered for too. Mercedes has placed a big emphasis on crash avoidance, and the 2010 E-Class boasts a great deal of active safety systems in addition to the usual ABS, EBD, stability control and traction control.
On the E350, an array of cameras can detect when the driver strays over the painted line, and vibrates the steering wheel to prompt them to return to their lane.
Two radar units in the rear bumper detect if another vehicle has moved alongside the E-class, and illuminate a warning light in the corresponding wing mirror to alert the driver. Indicate in the direction of the detected vehicle, and the system sounds a buzzer.
Attention Assist is another weapon in the E-Class’s safety arsenal, and monitors the steering, acceleration and braking habits of the driver to determine whether they are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
Doze off or drive erratically, and the system sounds an alarm and flashes up an alert on the multifunction display recommending the driver pull over.
The above three systems are standard on the E350 sedan, however there are two more high-tech collision-avoidance systems available on the new E-Class.
One is the Distronic Plus radar-guided cruise control, which detects upcoming traffic and, if necessary, automatically brakes the car to match their speed. It will also slow the car down to a complete stop, meaning traffic jams can feasibly be negotiated with the cruise control set to 100km/h.
The Distronic system also brings a pre-emptive emergency braking system, which can autonomously brake the car if it detects an imminent collision. Mercedes says it won’t stop the crash from occurring by itself, but instead serves to minimize the force of the collision.
Another optional piece of safety equipment is the Night View Assist PLUS system.
A modified version of the night vision camera offered on the S-Class, the Night View Assist system is now capable of detecting pedestrians and highlighting them on the live video feed that’s played on the dashboard screen.
Passive safety equipment consists of pretensioning front and rear side seatbelts, dual front airbags, side airbags for front and rear occupants, full-length curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.
Anti-whiplash heatrests are also fitted, and all E-Class models ship with Mercedes-Benz’s Pre-Safe damage minimization system.
Pre-Safe detects emergency situations such as hard braking or uncontrolled skidding, and works by pretensioning the front seatbelts, moving the front passenger seat into an optimal position for the airbags and closing the windows and sunroof. They’re small measures, but Mercedes-Benz says they increase crash survivability by a substantial amount.
While the interior, exterior and equipment levels are markedly different from the last E-Class, the powertrain is somewhat similar.
Outputs from the 3.5 litre V6 remain unchanged at 200kW and 350Nm. In fact there’s been no major changes made to the V6 – virtually the only engine in the E-Class range to carry over unmodified.
The transmission, on the other hand, is slightly different to the old models.
While the four-cylinder and V6 diesel E-Class variants make do with a five-speed automatic, Mercedes-Benz has fitted the V6 and V8 petrol models with its seven-speed 7G Tronic auto.
With seven ratios on hand and two shift modes (Comfort and Sport), the 7G Tronic ‘box can deliver either good fuel economy or brisk performance.
In Comfort mode, shifts are smoothly slurred and occur low in the rev-range, keeping engine speed (and thus fuel consumption) low. Sport mode sharpens up throttle response and puts a more performance-oriented shift map into play, while tapping one of the wheel-mounted shifter paddles gives the driver manual control over gear ratios.
A new feature of the 7G Tronic gearbox is its ability to automatically shift to neutral while the car is at standstill, reducing load on the engine and lowering fuel consumption while at idle.
Mercedes-Benz claims a combined fuel consumption number of 9.4 l/100km: a notable improvement over the W211 E350’s 10.9 l/100km rating.
The suspension uses the same MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear arrangement of the previous E-Class, but mounting points, control arm geometry and damping hardware are all substantially tweaked.
Benz’s Airmatic air suspension system is available on V6 models and standard on V8s, but we had the standard coil-and-damper arrangement on our E350 tester, which, as an Elegance model, used comfort-oriented spring and damper rates.
Steering hardware is all-new for 2010, with Mercedes fitting the hydraulically-assisted system with a variable-ratio rack. A speed-sensitive power steering pump also firms up the tiller during spirited driving at high speed, while reducing steering effort when pottering about urban streets.
Braking is taken care of by 322mm ventilated discs up front and 300mm discs at the rear, with all four gripped by single-piston sliding calipers.
The new E-Class’s appearance, quality and mechanical specs promise a great drive, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Ride quality is excellent around suburban streets, more so with the Elegance model’s softer suspension tune. The ride is supple and smooth, and it soaks up low-quality pavement in a thoroughly unruffled manner.
It’s also exceptionally quiet. Those vault-like doors carry a lot of sound deadening, and the E350’s cabin is a peaceful environment on all but the most coarse of surfaces.
Wind noise is also pleasingly absent – no surprise considering the new E-Class’s super-slippery (and class-leading) 0.25 coefficient of drag.
Despite the higher window sills, visibility is still excellent. Over-the-shoulder vision is hard to fault, and the E350’s Blind Spot Assist system makes it almost impossible to not notice any surrounding traffic.
The E350 sedan’s 11.25 metre turning circle won’t challenge smaller hatchbacks, but it’s enough for the big four-door to execute snappy U-turns and parallel park without too much fuss. For such a large car, it’s surprisingly easy to drive in an urban environment.
Point that bonnet-mounted three-pointed star away from the city, and it gets better. The suspension damping reduces pitching and rolling on smooth, sweeping turns, and the variable-ratio rack means drivers won’t need to wind on a lot of lock in tight turns.
Assistance from the power steering drops off at high speed, but the steering wheel still lacks feedback.
It’s hard to know what the front wheels are doing when pushing through a bumpy corner, but, should you find yourself at the margins, the Benz’s excellent stability control system can be relied upon to keep you on the straight and narrow.
The engine, although lacking the outright brawn of its V8 big brother, is still a very tractable unit.
Performance is strong and the 3.5 litre V6 makes a satisfying supercharger-like whine from mid-to-high RPM, while the torque curve serves up a linear spread of muscle for the gearbox to exploit.
The 7G Tronic gearbox is well-sorted, although in comfort mode it can be a little unexciting. With the “C” symbol lit up in the dash, shifts occur very early, the car moves away from a standstill in second gear and progress is sedate.
Throttle mapping is also changed, and the dulled response of the right pedal makes it feel like there’s a soft rubber ball between your foot and the accelerator.
Sport mode adds a bit more excitement by sharpening throttle response, enabling first-gear getaways and moving shift points higher up the rev range. Hit one of the gearshift paddles on the steering wheel, and manual control of gearchanges is handed over to the driver.
But this is an E-Class, and we suspect most buyers will have little interest in the fact that neither auto or manual modes will allow a gear to be taken to the redline. The 7G Tronic preferring to shift up as soon as the needle hits 6500rpm.
Manual downshifts aren’t allowed while on the throttle either, so the best solution is to simply stick it in “S” and avoid using the paddles. The Sport mode mapping is intelligent enough to determine how much power you want to extract, even if downshifts can be a little slow.
The new E-Class's styling is perhaps the most noticeable tribute to classic E-Class qualities, but its quality feel and unshakeable on-road performance are also E-Class hallmarks.
Our comfort-tuned E350 Elegance was a pleasure to drive, and a perfect fit for more mature buyers. Crucially though, younger buyers in the luxury car market will find the E-Class - in Avantgarde trim - worth a serious look.
It might lack the outright dynamic performance of the BMW 530i, but the slightly softer nature of the E350 makes it a better car around town. With more torque on tap from its bigger V6, it’s also marginally faster.
At $128,900 before on-road costs, it’s a good $10,000 more expensive too. However, it’s a much newer car than the soon to be replaced 5 Series, and the technology offered in the Benz is hard to equal.
Critically, the new E-Class represents a return to form for the model line. It's big, it's businesslike and it's bloody good - in every respect, it's a better car than the model it replaces.