As most of its predecessors, the current model Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2016-spec, but launched in India in 2017) is a veritable technological tour-de-force. The German OEM has been building cars for all of 90 years, and fully brings that experience to bear – when it comes to sheer refinement, the way the engine performs, the way the chassis and the suspension have been optimised for optimum ride and handling, the fit and finish, or anything else that you care to name – the new E-Class has it all. We recently had an opportunity to spend a few days with the new E350d, and here’s our detailed review of the car.
DESIGN AND STYLING
The E350d is big. Really, really big. The mid- to late-1990s Mercedes-Benz E220 (the W124 series) sold in India was 4,740 mm long, 1,740 mm wide, 1,428 mm tall, had a wheelbase of 2,800 mm and a kerb weight of 1,390 kg. The current E350d (specifically, the long wheelbase variant that’s being offered in the Indian market) is 5,063 mm long, 1,860 mm wide, 1,494 mm tall, has a wheelbase of 3,079 mm and a kerb weight of 1,800 kg. So there you are, like many of the humans it’s supposed to carry, the E-Class has also become bigger. And, of course, vastly more luxurious and much safer as well.
Despite its increased dimensions (as compared to its predecessor from 20 years ago), the E350d is unquestionably good looking. As befits a German luxury car with the kind of heritage that the E-Class has, the E350d has a proud, authoritative stance, with a long, streamlined hood, pronounced wheelarches, high beltline, subtly sculpted silhouette, a gently tapering rear and full-LED headlamps and taillamps. The car rides on 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, which, along with the car’s blacked-out B-pillars, lend a sporty touch to the E350d. And while it looks good, it’s also very aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of just 0.23.
Overall, the way the E-Class’ styling has evolved is, perhaps, a reflection of how global car markets have evolved over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, the E-Class, with uncompromisingly angular, upright lines was resolutely Germanic. Now, as Asian and Middle-Eastern markets have become increasingly important for European car manufacturers, design trends have also changed and evolved, partly also to cater to buyers in various global markets. But any which way we look at the new E-Class, we quite admire its lines – it’s simply brilliant.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The E350d is powered by a 3.0 l turbo-diesel V6, which produces 258 hp at 3,400 rpm and a massive 620 Nm of torque at 1,600-2,400 rpm. The engine features Mercedes-Benz’s latest-generation common-rail direct injection and fuel preheating system, along with an inlet-metered high-pressure pump that sends fuel to the high-pressure fuel rail, where pressures of up to 1600 bar are developed. The V6 engine’s piezo-electric injectors inject fuel directly into the combustion chamber, and due to the very high injection pressures, combustion efficiency (and thereby performance and efficiency) are maximised.
The E350d’s turbo-diesel V6 is mated to a 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission, which gets the best out of the car’s engine. Indeed, performance figures provided by Mercedes-Benz, for the E350d, are quite impressive – zero to 100 km/h takes 6.6 second, while top speed is 250 km/h. For a large luxury saloon, that’s not bad at all.
On the move, the E350d’s turbo-diesel V6 is creamy smooth, providing effortless acceleration at any road speed. Once you’re inside the cabin, the only giveaway that the car is being propelled by a diesel engine is the substantial and instant torque delivery. Apart from that, the engine is smooth, quiet and refined – which, of course, is how you’d expect it to be.
The 9G-TRONIC works seamlessly, responding to throttle inputs with an admirable immediacy. Mash the throttle to the floor and the E350d accelerates like a runaway diesel locomotive, whipping past traffic relentlessly at triple-digit speeds. For those who like performance customised to their own tastes, the E350d has five driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual – which affect throttle, suspension and steering response, as well as the gear shifting pattern.
We actually preferred the gentler responses of ‘Comfort’ mode, but if you intend to take your E-Class to the track (or if you’re in the mood to take on your BMW 5 Series or Audi A6 owning neighbours!), yes, the Sport and Sport+ modes really do make a difference to the way the car responds to driver inputs. With firmed-up suspension, more immediate steering responses and a more aggressive gear shift pattern, the big E can be made to perform like a boy-racer in Sport/Sport+ modes, though we really don’t believe that that is the car’s forte.
The only thing we didn’t like here is the ECO start/stop function, which conserves some fuel by switching the engine off automatically at stop lights (or anywhere else, in traffic, where the car is not moving for some time and the driver has taken his foot off the accelerator pedal), and switching it back on when the throttle is pressed. We found this system to be a bit jerky at times, which can be irksome in a luxury sedan like the E-Class. If Mercedes-Benz insists on having start/stop, they should work on making it smoother in operation.
CHASSIS AND SUSPENSION
For this generation of the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz has used a higher proportion of aluminium for the car’s bodywork (as compared to earlier-generation E-Class cars), along with ultra-high-strength steel for select components. The bonnet, boot lid and large sections of the front and rear ends are made of sheet or cast aluminium, which has helped reduce the car’s weight, thereby leading to reduced fuel consumption and more agile handling. At the same time, with the use of ultra-high-strength steel in critical areas, the car’s safety standards have also simultaneously been improved.
Coming to the suspension, the E350d gets AIR BODY CONTROL, Mercedes-Benz’s full, multi-chamber air suspension system with continuously variable damper control, which offers a near-perfect mix of ride comfort combined with driving dynamics. Depending on the driving mode selected by the driver (which alters the suspension system’s responses), the damping system automatically adjusts to any given set of road conditions.
The air suspension remains soft at lower speeds and progressively becomes tauter as speeds increase, making for tightly controlled body movements. Of course, the E350d is a large luxury sedan, not a sports car, but the air suspension ensures that it never gets wild and woolly, especially when pushed hard. Other practical benefits of this system are, one, that it’s self-levelling all around, so the car’s ‘stance’ doesn’t change if there are passengers in the back seat (and/or heavy luggage in the boot) and, two, the entire car can be raised by up to 25 mm, which is useful when you need more ground clearance to deal with poorly designed speed breakers.
Overall, the E350d’s air suspension system allows the car’s occupants to waft along in proper luxury, without bothering about the terrain and road conditions. Real-world performance of this system is superlative.
INTERIORS AND SAFETY
In India at least, more often than not, E-Class cars are bought for their plush, well-appointed and luxurious interiors, and the new E350d dutifully delivers in that area. There’s open-pore black ashwood trim on the dashboard, while the vast, ergonomically designed and electrically adjustable seats are upholstered in high-quality vinyl. Mercedes-Benz refers to this as ‘ARTICO man-made leather,’ and it does look and feel like real leather, though it isn’t as soft and supple as the real leather upholstery that we’ve experienced in some even more expensive cars. Still, this ARTICO stuff is probably more eco-friendly than real leather, so let’s not complain.
Notable bits in the E350d’s cabin include a three-zone automatic climate control system that can be operated in ‘diffuse’ mode (for indirect ventilation and reduced direct airflow, so that occupants don’t get hit by drafts of cold air!), a panoramic sliding sunroof, rain-sensing automatic windscreen wipers, full smartphone integration (both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported) with smartphone navigation and infotainment systems, and various driver assistance functions, including parking assist and 360-degree camera (which gets switched on automatically when reverse gear is selected).
There’s also a 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound hi-fi system that audiophiles will love, and the car’s 12.3-inch full colour display allows users to control the E350d’s infotainment system with ease. Yes, it does take a fair bit of time to figure out the car’s controls – the steering wheel-mounted buttons, central touchscreen, rotary-dial controller and a smattering of buttons and toggle-type switches all work quite well, but if you want to go deep into system settings, be prepared to spend some time trying to configure things exactly the way you want.
Coming to safety, the E350d is equipped with seven airbags, electronic stability assist (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS), adaptive brake lights that flash during very hard braking (helps prevent rear-end collisions) and PRE-SAFE, which identifies critical situations, and automatically initiates a host of measures to ensure occupant safety. These measures could include automatic tightening of safety belts, closing of any side windows that might be open and so on. With its advanced safety electronics and driver assistance systems, plus the use of ultra-high-strength steel in critical areas, the E350d has been designed to be one of the safest cars on the planet.
Priced at Rs 70.15 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz E350d is one of the best luxury sedans in its segment in the Indian market. The turbo-diesel V6 provides a superlative driving experience – unrelenting power and torque delivery, combined with a high degree of refinement. The air suspension system provides great ride comfort, while the car’s host of electronic safety systems and sheer build quality ensure that the E350d provides maximum safety on the road. If you’re in the market for a premium luxury sedan, you simply cannot go wrong with this vehicle.
TEXT AND PHOTO: Sameer Kumar