Mercedes-Benz’s new E 350 mild-hybrid model effectively replaces four models in the E-Class range.
Gone are the old E 300 four-cylinder petrol machine, the diesel E 220d and E350d variants and the powerful six-cylinder E 400.
The move is part of Benz’ push to reduce emissions – and costs – by putting four-cylinder engines in as many cars as possible. Even the fire-breathing V8-powered C 63 AMG is in line for 2.0-litre treatment next year.
The latest E-Class serves up strong 220kW and 400Nm outputs with the help of a turbocharger. Mild hybridisation in the form of a 48-volt battery and an integrated starter generator adds up to 10kW and 150Nm as required, improving acceleration and reducing fuel consumption.
The 0-100km/h dash is dispatched in 5.9 seconds – half a tick less than the old E300 – and fuel use drops by 0.3L/100km to 7.7 litres of unleaded for every 100 kilometres travelled.
That sort of progress comes at $10,800 premium over the discontinued E 300, taking the price to $128,200 plus on-roads in coupe form (about $139,000 drive-away).
Loaded with luxuries as standard, the E 350 has matrix LED headlights, leather seats, open-pore interior wood trim, smart keys and more.
You get twin 12.3-inch digital displays – one that replaces conventional dials behind the steering wheel and one for infotainment in the centre of the dashboard. Both are customisable and controlled using touch-sensitive elements on the steering wheel, along with a handy controller near the driver’s elbow.
Interior presentation remains a strong point for Mercedes. Premium materials, tight panel gaps and eye-catching design contribute to a genuinely impressive cabin. It’s even better at night, helped by the glow of ambient lighting in a choice of 64 colours that can make alternative machines feel pedestrian by comparison. The coupe feels particularly special, helped by pillarless door apertures delivering luxuriant airiness to the cabin – especially so if you choose the optional panoramic sunroof.
Riding on elegant 20-inch wheels and multi-mode air suspension, the E 350 bridges the gap between the $26,000-cheaper E 200 and the AMG-badged E 53 positioned $39,000 upstream.
The motor impresses on paper, offering the sort of performance expected of a mid-range, mid-sized luxury car.
It has more poke than 2.0-litre versions of the BMW 5-Series or Audi A6 but doesn’t match competitively-priced six-cylinder rivals.
Motorists accustomed to the power delivery of $100,000-plus luxury cars might feel short-changed by the technically accomplished but viscerally underwhelming engine in the E 350.
In the same way rude restaurant staff can compromise a fine dining experience, the four-cylinder engine sounds stressed when delivering peak performance at the top of the tacho. It lacks the creamy effortlessness of a well-sorted six-cylinder engine – the sort you can find in rival machines at this price.
Doughy in “comfort” mode and tetchy in “sport plus”, the motor is a little coarse compared with Benz’ best efforts, and its strained sound is more of a constant presence than in muscular engines with more capacity.
A nine-speed transmission does a good job choosing the right gears, though it can be a little keen to change down and save fuel instead of using boost – both electric and turbocharged – to get the job done in a higher gear.
Light and accurate steering makes the E-Class easy to manoeuvre, helped by one of the best driver assistance packages on the road. Mercedes’ active cruise control, lane keeping and traffic jam assistance is essentially as good as it gets – measured, consistent and relaxing to use.
The air suspension works well in its various modes, deftly controlling movement from the Mercedes’ big body.
But those 20-inch alloys thump hard over the sharpest imperfections, taking the shine off what should be a more luxurious experience.
The new Mercedes E 350 offers the power of a six-cylinder engine, but not the grace. Big-motor Benz fans might not see the value, but folks looking for a polished all-rounder will be pleased by the new machine.
MERCEDES-BENZ E350 VITALS
Price: About $139,000 drive-away
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 220kW/400Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-yr/u’ltd km, $4800 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping and traffic jam assistance, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Spare: Repair kit
Cargo: 425 litres