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Thread: 2013 Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan (RWD) rental review

  1. #1

    2013 Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan (RWD) rental review

    My apologies for the delay, as I've been extremely busy. I also did not take pics of the car (my phone is full- who knew you could record lectures for your evening classes on it? I'll fix this for the NY Auto Show), but I'll provide some of an identical model (Note: these pics are of a Bluetec diesel model, which my car was not, but they match the equipment, appearance, and color combination perfectly):










    We've all seen this car countless times- it is, after all, the best-seller in its segment by a wide margin, at least in the US and Canada. But how exactly does it drive? How does it feel on a long road trip?

    The car was the commonplace rear wheel drive, luxury trim with the P1 package (backup camera, nav, premium HK sound, HD/satellite radio, heated driver and front passenger seats, hard drive, aux audio input, MP3 player). I would have preferred a 4matic sedan, as I'd be driving across the midwest in wintery conditions, but Hertz handed me this apparently one-way rental from Florida. Before cursing them out, I recalled several things. I'm experienced with RWD in winter conditions, and there were no major storms forecast along my route (for a change!). This would give me the opportunity to compare the RWD configuration to the ubiquitous AWD ones (up in the northeast, at least) when it comes time to shop these puppies.

    Exterior

    I'll be brief here, as the sections to follow will be novels. This car is everywhere in moderately high-income areas, so we've all been blessed by it's wide stance, substantial road presence, and (mostly) just-right detailing. This sedan certainly looks like a proper Mercedes- it's thick in the mid-section, has a nice, large greenhouse, is low/wide, and its wheels fill their wells perfectly in the classic German idiom. Overall, its appearance should stand the test of time. Some people hate a bit on the pontoon-channeling fender crease that arcs over the rear wheel well, but in person it is subtle and if you hate it, well, it's gone from the 2014+ E-class. The W212 really gives an impression of being derived from the classic W124 E-class of the 80s. While this car is substantially larger, and filled with modern details to remind you that it's from the 2010s decade, it does have that classic Mercedes look. I grew up with the Bruno Sacco Benzes all around my neighborhood, so I'm a real sucker for this.

    When you touch the car, it really hits home how well-built it is, and the quality renaissance that Mercedes is currently in the midst of. You can depress the sheet metal of a V35 Infiniti G like mine, and it will give a bit around your fingers. To a lesser extent, this can be done with the V36 and Q50, though you have to put in much more effort. Try this with a W212, and you will end up with a sore, bruised hand. Nothing gives on the exterior of this car, you'd probably have to get abusive with a blunt object to put a dent in it. The sheet metal is of an impressively thick gauge all around- heck, even the plastics of the bumper covers are so solid, they almost give the impression of being metal. Every component is tightly affixed to its neighbor, so much so that I laughed out loud. I pushed on the grille, the exterior mirrors, the lighting fixures, the seals- everything. No quality flaws were evident at all. Consumer Reports wasn't kidding when they said the fit and finish was flawless. And the paint quality was quite possibly the best I've seen in a mass-produced car, Lexus being a close second.

    Interior

    My first impression, going beyond the substantial and purposeful exterior that we've seen before, was how comfortable and ergonomically sound the car feels the second you step in. My backside immediately settled in to the most comfortable thrones in a car that I've driven. The cushions provided an optimal balance of firm support and softness. It helped that the MB tex upholstery does indeed feel like a nice grade of leather. Whatever MB's materials engineers are making, it's not enough. The standard Dakota leather in BMW's 5-series actually feels worse than this stuff- stiff and coarse compared to MB's fake leather. It's also incredibly easy to find your optimal driving position. German cars tend to have the most impressively long front seat track in the industry, and this Mercedes possibly tops them all. Apparently, Shaquille O'neal was the prior renter, as the driver's seat was all the way back. I had to stretch my 6'3'' frame just to reach the pedals. Moving the seat up 3-4 inches created a perfect position in which I was relaxed, yet at attention. My goodness, are the pedals perfectly placed, and the plush armrests (door and center console) ideally located to allow for low-stress, attentive motoring. My Altima really felt like a penalty box after getting out of this car, and the G35 wasn't much better. The front foot well seemed oddly shaped, and the pedals too close and too upright in the Nissan products; I never noticed this until after good seat time in an MB!

    So at this point, I shut the door, which made the expected bank-vault thunk, and admired the fit-and-finish. I did once say that the pre-facelifted (which this car was) W212 E-class had a slightly less impressive interior than the Infiniti M and Lexus GS. I have no idea what I was smoking. The build quality alone in this car is far superior- and that's not a knock on the Japanese brands' excellent interiors. It's just that every single piece of this cabin was so solidly attached, and every detail so obsessively engineered, that my mind was blown. You really need quite a few hours in a car such as this to appreciate the finer details. For example, the dashboard material seems a bit too hard at first, but then you press in to it, and realize that it seems miles thick and well-padded, while at the same time exuding the classic MB impression of durable solidity.

    Every single button, switch and knob felt like it was engineered by Zeus. Hyperbole it may be, but I cannot emphasize enough how the switch gear of other luxury brands will suddenly feel inadequate and a tad flimsy after extended time in one of these late Mercedes models. The Command system knob naturally is what you use the most, and it has a delightful metallic, knurled finish, weighty operation, and clearly-defined clicks of resistence when turned or depressed. Probably my favorites are these depress-able "keys" that operate the climate control, which feel heavy and solid with no unwanted lateral free play, not unlike the keys of a fine piano:



    The panels that actually were hard were kept to a minimum, and exist only in a small portion of the door card that covers the map pocket, and the perimeter of the center console that is concealed by the seat cushions (the exposed areas by you knees are thickly padded with an extension of the dashboard material). I noted that the interior design avoided seams, particularly between adjacent hard materails, and in partucular, vibration-prone areas such as speaker grilles were all surrounded by thickly-padded soft materials. This no doubt contributed to my impression of a rattle-free car, and with this example clocking in at 38,000 miles of rental abuse when I picked it up, that's impressive. Chrome bright-work is kept to a restrained minimum, typically running the perimeter of the plastic assemblies surrounding the door switches, and accenting a few switches themselves. It seemed perfectly done to me.

    Nitpicks are precious few, but I have two standouts: the stitching of the leather steering wheel was a bit coarse and may wear on those with sensitive skin. It's certainly not as well-tucked and concealed as the stitching found in Infiniti wheels. The other minor issue is that the door lock pins felt a bit light and cheap, though they were solidly attached. Chunky, hefty ones as in the new S- and C-classes will undoubtedly make an appearance in the next E-class.

    (1 of 3)
    Last edited by JayG35; 02-17-2014 at 04:51 PM.

  2. #2
    (Continued: 2 of 3)

    If space is what you want in a mid-luxury sedan, in particular versatile space, then this is your car. Beyond the comfort offered by the superb seats, both front and rear, you get the aforementioned seats that are adjustable in seemingly infinite ways, and surprisingly many storage solutions. The map pockets in all four doors are roomy and lined with fine felt. In the rear of the front seats are generous map pockets that are lined in the MBtex leatherette (not rubberized hard plastic as is becoming an increasingly common cost-cutting measure, even in luxury cars). The glove box is large, as is typical of modern cars, and is also felt-lined. In the center console, the lack of a shifter opens up space for change, personal electronics, and two sizable cup holders (complete with over-engineered, spring-loaded support tabs- those Germans!). The center console storage under the neat, clamshell armrest is cavernous, and again, flocked with the requisite felt. The front passenger seat will recline so far back that you can either sleep in it, or utilize the optional folding rear seats to load long items over it. Speaking of the rear seats, the HVAC vents in the back of the center console are huge and powerful, the rear center arm rest is a model of solidity right down to its fold-out dual cup holder, and all interior lighting is LED. The accent lighting underneath the wood trim panels continues from the dash and front doors to the rear doors panels. This lends the entire cabin a wonderfully warm atmosphere at night.

    I found the Command system easy to use. It seemed similar to modern Infiniti infotainment units, though perhaps more simplistic than the new Intouch. I can say that it never froze or became laggy, like so many newer solutions, and that's worth its weight in gold. The small (for its segment) integrated dash screen can be forgiven when you account for Command's refinement, ease of use, and eye-pleasing graphics. I never use navigation systems (never even owned a car with one), but I did use this one. It served its purpose well. I greatly admired the audio system, a Harmon-Kardon Logic-7 surround stereo, and the ease with which you could make adjustments via the central knob. Sound quality was superb, perhaps better than any Bose system I've heard in an Infiniti. I turned the volume all the way up- it was quite loud, but with no distortion. Everything from bluegrass to 90s grunge rock sounded wonderful- this is the point in the review in which I make a shout-out to Sirius's superb "Lithium" station. I am a 90s kid all the way.

    The Drive

    Start the car up, and the superb M276 (more on that in a bit) fires up with a nice, subdued exhaust bark, and quickly settles into a near-silent idle. This engine is clearly more quiet at idle than the VQs I have experienced, both inside the vehicle and out. I thought that I'd hate the column-monted shifter, but I actually enjoyed its simplicity and smooth operation. Like all other switches in the cabin, it moves with a finely-oiled heft. Pressing up for reverse, down for drive, and depressing the chrome button on its end takes some getting used to, but becomes second-nature.

    Pulling out of its dock, the first impression is that this is a wide, large car. Being used to G35s and 3-series, I wondered if I would truly enjoy the dynamics of something this large, heavy, and biased toward comfort. The first mile or so of slow driving had me wondering if this is what the S-class felt like: it was extremely solid, confident, and felt large, with a wonderfully creamy ride. The ride in particular prompted me to text my enthusiast buddy at the first red light, "This thing's suspension is magical. It makes my G feel like an econo-box in comparison!" The roads around Newark, NJ are as awful as you may have heard, yet the W212 (non-sport, at least) floats over the deepest, nastiest imperfections with nary a jiggle transcribed to your butt, and all you hear of deep potholes is a distant, muted thud. Terrible road quality didn't seem to perturbed the E-class at low speeds whatsoever, as the car remained planted and secure. This is surely how a great German car should feel. But would this sedan's "bigness" as I gingerly loped about on local roads, getting accustomed to its dimensions and controls, inhibit it in spirited driving? Would it feel like a boat, a luxo-barge but with decent road manners, unlike full-sized American sedans of yore? Read on...

    I took a ramp for I-78 westbound to pick up my friend and begin the journey to the midwest. This being northern NJ, the highway ramp was the typical narrow, windy affair with an insufficient acceleration lane at its conclusion. Here was my first hint of the E's dynamic capability- I pushed it a bit harder on this sucky ramp, and it did not protest. In fact, the large sedan feel began to subside, and was replaced with a cornering feel that felt eerily like my non-sport G35. I'm as surprised as you are. The E350 resisted body roll, exhibited sharp turn-in, and superb steering feel. Though the ride remained far smoother than any G35/37, there was no noticeable suspension slop. Moderate throttle is met with an adequate, though not exactly awesome, push from the rear accompanied by a nice hum from the V6.

    Some in the press complain about the Mercedes 7G-tronic automatic transmission- that it's slow to downshift, and gets confused in spirited driving. I wonder if they forgot to put press the button that engages "Sport," because I felt none of that. It could be that my standards are lower due to experience with Infiniti's much-maligned 7-speed, but this transmission felt sharp, snappy, and down-shifted decisively when my right foot got heavy. Never did shifts come across as harsh. When you settle down and drive like a normal person, they are in fact imperceptible. In relaxed cruising, the tranny is excellent at settling into a high gear after stabs at the throttle. Surely, this helps the E350 attain surprising fuel efficiency, which I'll touch more on in a few paragraphs.

    The throttle tip-in is interesting- it certainly feels refined, and not as abrupt as in Nissan/Infiniti sedans. The first 10-15% of the pedal yields very little forward shove, but does enable the car to be driven very smoothly. From that point, power output builds linearly and organically, making for a driving experience that is almost telepathic. It's quite easy to modulate the controls in order to dial in the speed and degree of aggression that suits your mood. I began to understand some of the criticisms laid upon Infinitis (pre-Q50, at least) for being a tiny bit too synthetic in their operations, compared to a Benz or BMW. Want to meander about city streets at 25-35 mph? Cruise urban highways at 55, occasionally passing a slow-poke? Go all-out on a rural interstate at 80+ mph? This car makes it all easy, and incredibly, stupendously smooth.

    The brakes are very strong, with excellent feel and a nice, firm pedal. Like the throttle, response to the degree with which you depress your foot is linear and quite organic. I have never driven an E with the failed, abandoned SBC electro-hydraulic braking tech. If it messed with the solid feel of this sedan's binders, then I'm glad they axed it. If I would compare these brakes to my G35 and the G37x sedans that I've driven, again, I'd rate them about equal in strength and superior in feel and modulation.

    As I left the NY metro on I-80 westbound, crossing the Appalachians threw a few curves at the E350. First off, it was cold up there- the in-cabin readout feeding me and outside temperatures raging from 5 degrees in night driving to the mid-20s during the days. These temperatures persisted throughout the trip, so I was slightly concerned with how my RWD (hardy-har-harrr!) with all-seasons would handle the traction situation. The answer: with the utmost confidence and composure. On dry pavement, there was no issue at all, the car's stiff, balanced chassis and suspension keeping it planted enough to encourage some degree of misbehavior. MB's stability control systems are famous for being very good, and not fully defeatable. I can say that most of its operation was seamless and undetectable, with the slip light and obvious cuts to the throttle response only coming in the light snowfall that was accumulating in the mountains of Pennsylvania and later in Indiana. I am a slightly conservative driver, and when conditions go south, I have no problem putting on the flashers and going 35 mph in the right lane on the open interstate. I only had to do this for two brief stretches in PA and IN, during snow showers, in which I dared not test the stability assist's limits with no 4matic safety net. On several occasions, I ran over what I could tell was a patch of black ice: both times, the tail waged an inch or two laterally, and was caught immediately by the stability control- fantastic! The car never felt anything less than safe and assured. When driven with reasonable care and constraint, I can't imagine it getting into serious trouble. The Mercedes reputation for safety is well-deserved.
    Last edited by JayG35; 02-17-2014 at 05:03 PM.

  3. #3
    (Continued: 3 of 3)

    For stretches of road in good (albeit cold) and dry conditions, this E350 was a beast. First of all, the chassis is as stiff as you've read in the press. Wave-like road undulations and washboard bumps alike failed to elicit any notifiable flex in the structure. While these surfaces would cause the remarkably stiff FM platform in the Infinitis I've driven to buck underfoot just a little, the E-class retained its granitic solidity. This could only make the suspension's job easier, and indeed, the highway ride ranged from commendably smooth (over poor surfaces) to miraculous (over smooth roads). How anything with this ride quality could handle like a sport-sedan is beyond me, but perhaps that's where there is something to the mythos of "German engineering." What's more, the already excellent-feeling steering, throttle and brakes really come alive at speeds above 100mph. As expected, NVH suppression is impressive. I wish that I could have driven the newer, softer 5-series models, which are supposed to be very quiet as well. I can say that the cabin noise is significantly quieter at 100 in the E than it is at 60 in my G.

    And handle like a sport sedan it did. As I mentioned before, this thing shrinks the more aggressively you drive. I can see how the W212 has won some press comparisons to the F10 5-series, and how the E63 AMG can be so good in this generation. There is definitely a bit of BMW soul lurking underneath this traditional MB skin. On the windy mountain roads that I took as brief detours from the interstate, the car felt familiar and capable. You could blindfold me, sit me in this driver seat, and tell me that I was driving a G37. The engine and exhaust note sounded vaguely like a VQ at high revs, though much smoother. I appreciate that MB more or less silenced the engine noise until you rev it up over 5,000 rpm, at which point the cabin lets in a bit of refined roar- very well-done. If not for the superb noise suppression and ride quality, I might believe you. Turn-in was sharp, body motions well-controlled, and grip impressive. Drive faster on a challenging road, and all this sedan does is hunker down and grip. With confidence and no drama, the E-class takes a set. I feel that anyone who calls this E a float-y barge is either payed by BMW or simply never took the time to drive it around decreasing-radius mountain curves at 50+ mph. Though general handling exceeded my expectations, the steering was probably the most pleasant surprise. It was light at low speeds, but progressively built weight as the steering angle increased, and had lots of road feel. Unlike my G, there is a solid on-center feel without that slight over-sensitivity off-center; again, the steering was more smooth and natural in feel. Could it be that, in this new age of electric-assist, Mercedes has surpassed BMW in steering feel?

    My observed fuel economy was almost as shocking, in a good way, as the steering. My best tank, with the transmission and throttle set to "Eco" mode and highway cruising speeds between 70-80 mph was 29 mpg. My worst tank, in "Sport" mode and cruising well in excess of 80 mph, was 25 mpg. Either figure blows away my G35 RWD with its 5-AT, as well as the 7-AT G37x loaners I've driven. In fact, given the winter fuel with 10% ethanol content that I was filling up with, I doubt that my Altima 2.5 S with its old-school 4-AT would have done any better.

    Conclusion

    As you can tell, I became quite emotionally involved with this car. It exceeded my already high expectations, particularly with respect to dynamics, and struck me as by far the best car I've driven. The W212 feels to me like a larger Infiniti G with greater high-speed stability and dozens upon dozens of layers of refinement engineered in. I can clearly see how this car demolishes its segment competitors on the sales charts, and I even suppose that quite a few of the Infiniti M sales lost over the past several years went right to the E-class. With a now-excellent (and trending upward) reliability record, I can highly recommend this car to anyone shopping for a mid-luxury sedan. The icing on the cake may be MB's recent elimination of mileage restrictions on their CPO warranties- perhaps an avenue that I can pursue in order to obtain one of these in the future.

    Never done this before, but here's my stab at some quantitative subjective/objective ratings:

    Exterior Design: 9/10
    Exterior Fit-and-Finish: 10/10
    Interior Design: 9/10
    Interior Fit-and-Finish: 10/10
    Controls: 9/10
    Comfort/Space/Versatility: 9/10
    Safety: 10/10
    Power train: 9/10
    Ride: 10/10
    Handling: 8/10

    Overall: 93/100

  4. #4
    Senior Administrator palmerwmd's Avatar
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    Wow nice review!!

    I always liked the MBs available Diesel engine.
    That way int he Zombie apocalypse you can tank up on overturned Semis

    Seriously now.. looks like a beautiful car perfect for that long trip.

    Been looking at some used M56's lately but it seems they are all X's ..
    "In the end we all just play the roles given us... Sometimes they dont fit so well,... but I guess we make do."

    Dont forget MultiMedia forums!!
    http://www.freshalloy.com/forumdisplay.php/55-Multi-Media-Forum

    2x91,92,94 Q45s, 2x 350Z, 1x 240SX w/ SR20DET, 1x Sentra SER SPEC-V, 2k2 Maxima, 2x03 G35, 09 Maxima, 2k2 Maxima, 2015 XTerra, 2005 Xterra, 2012 Pathfinder,

  5. #5
    Thanks, Fred! This E-class is just sublime on a road trip; the best ride-handling compromise I've experienced first-hand. I've driven E46 and E90 BMW 3ers, and while they handle better (not by a ton though!), they ride nowhere near as smooth and serene as this sedan. It certainly would be a tough choice between this and the M. I can't directly compare the cars that I haven't driven, but I know from many sources that the Infiniti M comes up a bit short on refinement, while simultaneously being a bit more fun. Perhaps it's more fun because you can feel the road more, for better or worse. Still I was borderline shocked by how well this car handled, while never sacrificing its luxury-cruiser comfort. It's very, very fun for what it's intended to be. It feels very much like a G that grew up and went to finishing school while carving canyons- even kinda sounds like one.

    One thing that I can't emphasize enough, if comparing to the Infiniti sedans, is that the E's rear felt much more stable. This is probably indicative of the more robust and up-to-date chassis of the W212, and its more sophisticated-feeling suspension. Now that detracts from the fun a bit, as I would scarcely call the E350 "Tail-happy." As I mentioned, even a dusting of fresh powder covering black ice patches was hard-pressed to break this thing's tail out. But, I have to admire how this Merc rides as if it were on rails, moreso than the Gs and FXs that I've driven before (going back to my brief stint at a Nissan dealer). It goes exactly where you point it, nothing more, nothing less. There is a wonderful feeling of safety and stability associated with this. So it's not the car for drifting- the Infinitis are better at that, bar-none. But does it handle perceptively worse? To this non-professional driver: No. It's really, really good in curves.

    I may have to test drive some older E-classes after grad school, because I doubt that they were this dynamically accomplished. I recall C&D stating that the E was gaining on the 5 in the handling department beginning with the W211 (last gen). Now they have the W212 beating the 5 both in base (E350) trim, and in AMG trim.

    Oh, and I think I neglected to mention just how great the wood trim was in my lightly-edited stream-of-consciousness review. The wood paneling was fabulous. It was just so good to look at, and even better to touch. I don't know if it's the trees that MB sources, the lacquer they apply or what-have-you, but that had to be the nicest wood of any sub-$90,000 car I've been in. It looks 10 miles deep and feels so smooth. When you knock the wood panels, they feel as solid as any other part of the car. Wow!

    Here's a 0-100 mph video of a 2013 E350 like the one I had, just to support my description of this wonderful engine. It sounds absolutely marvelous! It also likes to rev and the car is faster than you'd think given the specs, and faster than it feels with all that rigid chassis and refined suspension under you. Could those Germans be under-rating their engines yet again? Heh. Anyway, it felt a few ticks quicker than the 03 G35, and in this video it's somewhere in the 5.5-5.8 range 0-60:

    Last edited by JayG35; 02-23-2014 at 02:12 AM.

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