Driving Northwest: The Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 News car expert

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KING5.com

Posted on February 4, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Symbols are powerful shorthand for communicating. The stop sign. Bono. A Coke bottle. The Nike swoosh. Those Darwin fish. Iconic symbols all. Add the Mercedes-Benz 3-pointed star to the list. No, put it near the top. It instantly says three things- luxury car, German engineering, and the owner isn’t working at another icon, the Golden Arches.

The E-Class is Mercedes Benz’s bread and butter car, slotting in between the smaller C and larger S. They sell an awful lot of them, making the E an icon itself.  New for 2010, the E350s sheetmetal is more sinewy, the interior richer. Here in the states 49 grand will buy you a base model. The very well equipped 4MATIC all-wheel drive tester in my parking spot goes for 63K. 

Attitude is everything.

It’s tough to be everything to everybody and with the latest generation, MB appears to be saying “we just want to be ourselves”. Instead of trying to be all sporty like its rival the BMW 5 Series, E-Class is confident in simply being a vault-like German luxury car. “Know thyself” is always a good strategy. It accelerates from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, corners securely and stops right now. It does all that with the authority of a Fortune 500 CEO. In short, it’s a classic iconic Mercedes.

The power to do these things starts with a buttery smooth 3.5-liter V6 that pumps out 268 horses. It’s connected to a 7-speed gear box which is operated by Mercedes’ unique shift column. As always, rear drive is standard. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is optional. FYI, if the E350 doesn’t have enough scoot for you, MB dealers are happy to point toward the E550 with its 5.5-liter V8 pumping out 382 HP.

Is it a car or an electronics store?

In the old days the drivetrain was where the tech lived. Now cars have more gadgets packed into them than a Best Buy.  As the E-Class cruises the street, PARKTRONIC finds parking spots big enough, then tells drivers when to turn the wheel to make slipping in a breeze.  Makes you look like a pro. ATTENTION ASSIST continuously monitors the driver´s condition using 70 different parameters and automatically warns if it detects signs of driver drowsiness. It shows a coffee cup in the gauge cluster and suggests taking a break. This message brought to you by Starbucks.

DISTRONIC PLUS isn’t just radar adaptive cruise control that adjusts to the traffic ahead, it warns drivers when they are about to run into something. PRE-SAFE braking slows the car down to lessen the severity of a crash if it senses the driver is not responding. Someone in your blind spot? Blind Spot Assist lets you know with a light in the side mirror. Why this feature doesn’t get all capital letters like the others I do not know. Also without all caps is Lane Keeping Assist. Cameras watch the road markings and vibrate the steering wheel silently if you start wandering about. That way the driver is discreetly warned but not embarrassed.

A must see inside

To appreciate the material quality of the E-Class you really have to look at it in person. There’s top notch stuff inside and it doesn’t translate on video. The wood is beautiful but not too perfect as to look fake.  With the best adjustment controls in the biz, the firm front seats are excellent for road trips and the bolsters actively move to cradle torsos during cornering (if the Drive-Dynamic option box gets checked). E-Class even gives a hug when you buckle up, snuggling the seat belt up to take up any slack.

The instrument panel gets a more masculine presence this time around with a design reminiscent of past Mercedes. At night the cabin has elegant lighting with illuminated piping sweeping from the dash to the door panels. As always I find the COMAND user interface distracting to use while driving. Hmmm, maybe I’d get used to it if I kept the car for a year… Fortunately the voice recognition system works pretty well.

Not that E-Class owners are often pressed into carpool duty but three adults will be perfectly happy back in the rear. Even with a substantial drive shaft tunnel, knees and feet fit fine. The seats themselves are quite comfy and unlike some luxury cars the center position has enough headroom for an average sized adult.  A nice touch, there optional side torso airbags for the back occupants. Seat backs are fixed unless the split folding seating is ordered.

 A trunk full of toilet paper?

Admittedly my signature test is a little weird so let me remind you why it’s done. People don’t stash cubic feet into a trunk, they put larger square and rectangular things into them. Boxes, suitcases, cases of fine wine and such. Often the cargo hold walls swerve and curve making those things difficult to stash. The TP test keeps a trunk honest.

Filling up the E Class takes 6 packs, the average amount for a sedan of this size, perhaps a skosh small.  Without the gooseneck hinge arms that take up space, I bet one more could squeeze in.

Watch those options

The 4MATIC car Mercedes has dropped off has $10,750 worth of options on it (the price of a Kia Rio whith hard bargaining). For those wondering, the iPod interface is part of a $3,950 Premium package here and there’s no keyless ignition on this particular car. So while the E350 with 4MATIC starts out at a reasonable $51,975 with destination, it does so without equipment that’s standard on competitor’s cars.

The new E-Class exudes the sort of gravitas that people admire in a luxury car. Everything from its design to the way it rolls down the road is steel girder solid. The design is more chiseled and athletic looking this time around though when it comes to moves it’s more the impeccably dressed NBA coach than player. But hey, the iconic Phil Jackson is cool enough to be doing mobile phone commercials. Looking for a car that communicates the feel AND image of luxury? The Mercedes-Benz E350 is a good place to start test driving.

Post Script

If you watch the steaming video, the coffee cup icon shown is not the one you’d see if the Attention Assist system were to kick in. I tried driving badly (in a professional sort of way of course) to get the warning to appear so it could be photographed but it’s not easy. I’m sure one or two folks on the road called 911 to report me as a drunk driver. At one point I thought I was almost there and… then a police car came up behind me. Why he didn’t pull me over is beyond me.

 

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