The 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class features a more powerful standard engine, the one that comes on the most popular model. This new V6 is a welcome improvement, but it really does not change the basic character of what was already a fine automobile.
The E-Class in many ways epitomizes the Mercedes-Benz brand, at least in the eyes of many consumers. It's the company's best selling line worldwide and one of the best-selling Mercedes models in the United States.
The E-Class describes a full line of big, roomy sedans that are solid, safe, practical, comfortable, luxurious, and fast. Yet the cost of operating the popular E350, in terms of fuel consumption and maintenance, can be quite reasonable. The E-Class features some of the world's most advanced safety technology. And, what most people think of when they think of Mercedes, the E-Class expresses status in elegant, understated fashion.
Since a frame-up overhaul for model year 2003, the E-Class has expanded steadily, and now includes seven variants: sedans that seat five, wagons that seat seven, V6 engines, V8s or one of the finest diesels offered in the United States, optional weather-busting all-wheel drive and screaming super-performance models from supertuner AMG. Any of these seven models delivers a combination of attributes surpassed by few cars or trucks anywhere.
For 2006, there is a slight change in E-Class nomenclature, thanks to a change in engine size. The E350 sedan and wagon are powered by a new-generation 3.5-liter V6 that produces 20 percent more power than the previous 3.2-liter V6 (used in the E320) with no decrease in fuel mileage. The E350 is the Mercedes' first dual-overhead cam V6 and it generates 268 horsepower, compared to 221 from the 3.2-liter V6 it replaces. Yet, matched to Mercedes' high-tech, seven-speed automatic transmission, the E350 loses nothing in mileage to its less powerful predecessor.
Meanwhile, there is no better example of how far passenger car diesel technology has advanced than the E320 CDI with Mercedes' impressive common-rail direct injection turbodiesel engine.
Also new for 2006 is a supercharged E55 AMG wagon boasting 469 horsepower. Woe is the guy in the sports car who smirks at this stodgy station wagon. It is truly a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The Mercedes E-Class is an icon, a benchmark in its class. It competes in one of the most competitive market segments today as it goes toe-to-toe with outstanding luxury sedans such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Acura RL.
The E-Class lineup can seem daunting and complex and the 2006 model year includes a new engine and a new model. It really isn't that difficult, however, because there is only one primary choice: four-door sedan or wagon. From there, it's a matter of choosing the engine and whether you want all-wheel-drive.
The E350 sedan ($50,050) is the standard model. The name change reflects its new 3.5-liter V6 engine. It comes standard with the new seven-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include fully automatic dual-zone climate control, 10-way power front seats with leather seating surfaces and position memory, real burl walnut trim, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a nine-speaker stereo, power windows with one-touch express operation both up and down, auto-dimming mirrors and rain-sensing windshield wipers. 4Matic full-time variable all-wheel drive ($2,500) is available. Also available is an Appearance Package ($3,960) that adds sporty lower body cladding and Mercedes' Airmatic computer-controlled air suspension.
The E320 CDI ($51,050) is equipped identically to the E350, but features the common-rail direct injection turbodiesel engine.
The E500 ($58,400) is powered by a 302-hp V8, with more standard equipment than the E350. Upgrades include a four-zone climate control system with separate temperature adjustments for both sides of the cabin, front and rear, and the variable air suspension.
The E350 wagon ($52,300) and E500 wagon ($62,000) are equipped comparably to the respective sedans. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system comes standard on E500 wagons. A power liftgate and cargo organizer are standard, and the E-Class wagons add something rare among their European counterparts: a folding third seat that increases passenger capacity by two.
Options let buyers equip an E350 with nearly all the upgraded equipment that comes on the E500. There are dozens more options offered on all E-Class models, including radar-controlled Distronic adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set distance from cars ahead; a credit card-sized transmitter called Keyless Go, which allows unlocking the doors and starting the car by touching the door handle and the gear selector; Parktronic obstacle warning, which helps with parking and enhances safety by alerting the driver to objects in front of and behind the car.
The E55 AMG ($81,800) is performance-tuned by Mercedes subsidiary AMG. It's equipped with a supercharged, intercooled V8 producing 469 horsepower, a manually controllable five-speed automatic transmission, bigger tires, wheels and brakes and an aggressively tuned suspension. This hotrod is distinguished by a unique body package, interior trim and AMG markings inside and out. For 2006, Mercedes offers an E55 AMG wagon ($82,600) for the first time.
Safety features on all models include active front head restraints, which are new for 2006. In the event of a rear collision exceeding the system's deployment threshold, the front head restraints move forward nearly two inches and upward by more than an inch, helping to support the head and reduce whiplash injuries. Every E-Class car comes standard with eight airbags: dual front airbags, side-impact airbags for front and rear passengers, and head-protection curtains that run the length of the cabin on both sides. The airbag management system employs multiple impact sensors designed to more precisely control the timing and rate of deployment. The system accounts for the weight of a front-seat passenger and controls seatbelt pretensioners according to the force of impact. Active safety features start with anti-skid stability electronics and the latest evolution of ABS.