Jan 12,2007 00:00
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is one of those cars that continues to get better with evolution and age -- the age of the driver and the evolutionary improvements of the car.
This is Mercedes' golden goose, with monthly sales pushing 5,000 cars. The sleek body style debuted in 1996 and was redesigned for 2003. It gets a few tweaks for 2007, including a revised grille treatment and more features.
The midsize E-Class is sold in sedan and wagon, rear or all-wheel drive and in four levels of performance.
Perhaps it's my baby-boomer age creeping up, but I rather like the fitness and economy of the V-6. Roll on the power and the engine gives a satisfying roar and sharp response. The seven-speed automatic transmission makes fluid changes among the gears to extract the most economy and performance.
The styling is attractive but not demonstrative. The 18-inch wheels, lowered suspension and dual exhaust tips of the optional Sport package are a sip from the fountain of youth.
Interior design is contemporary and functional, not superficial. It's a place where kids could scuff and I wouldn't cringe.
It used to be that these German cars were built with hard seats and heavy steering for control at autobahn speeds. But that strictness has been modified for an American duty cycle of long commutes -- with softer but supportive seats -- and steering force that allows two-finger tooling and maneuverability in high-density parking garages.
A full suite of safety features includes the Pre-Safe anticipatory safety system, which was added for '07 from the top-line S-Class.
Pre-Safe is activated in the event of imminent crash. Seat belts are cinched, seat backs are moved to the upright position and the sunroof and windows are closed. Then anti-lock brakes, Brake Assist, traction control and Electronic Stability Program are energized for immediate action.
The E350 was a nimble and accommodating escort on a recent drive from San Diego to the Los Angeles auto show and around the city for various news conferences. It was a drive of more than 300 miles. Fuel mileage was a bit more than the EPA-certified 26 miles per gallon on the highway. I left San Diego with not quite a full tank and returned with just more than a quarter-tank.
The navigation system is simple to program and, unlike some systems, I was able to make changes while the vehicle is in motion. Most American marques don't allow nav-system input when the vehicle is moving.
And at long last, the electronic driver assists have been refined to allow performance without scolding the user. In previous generations, the electronic networking of traction control, stability system and anti-lock brakes would engage with heavy-handed intervention to keep the car on the straight and narrow, thwarting all efforts for athletic driving even when appropriate.
I've reached an age that my ideal vehicle centers on how I see the world through the windshield -- not how the world sees me. I judge a car by how I fit behind the wheel and how I enjoy the driving experience. Styling can be overlooked if performance and personal preferences are all satisfied.
And such preferences can be achieved for less money than a Mercedes E-Class. The Hyundai Azera, for example, has as much interior room, a commanding set of safety features and costs half as much.
But there is something about a car that is built to be driven 150 mph on an autobahn -- and when the wipers are switched on, they don't blow off the car. This car exudes that type of engineering.
Sixty thousand is a lot to pay for a car, but the E350 could be the last car you'd want to buy.Copley News Service