Driving Impressions

By May 27, 2008

All of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars are enjoyable to drive. Smooth, serene and quiet are the dominant impressions at the wheel of any E-Class, unless you have the accelerator floored. There's very little vibration anywhere in the cabin, and almost no wind noise.

Improvements to the geometry of the front suspension for 2007 has given the E-Class a crisper, quicker turn-in while cornering, perceptibly increasing the sporty nature of the car's handling. All of the E-Class cars corner responsively and provide a smooth, if slightly firm, ride, a balance we like in luxury sedans. The four-link front suspension is similar to that under the expensive S-Class models, and the five-link rear suspension does a superb job of controlling unwanted wheel movement, which is crucial to handling and ride quality.

The variable-power steering system was improved for 2007 with a 10-percent quicker ratio for more precise control of front wheel direction. The system provides more boost for easy turning at low speeds and less for more progressive steering response and feedback at higher speeds. With 2.6 turns lock-to-lock compared to the previous system's 3.3 turns, we found the new steering makes maneuvering through crowded parking lots easier and more pleasant, and it's far more responsive in the corners.

The Sport models are tuned for those who like to feel in closer touch to the pavement, as they are fitted with shorter springs for a slightly lower ride height, stiffer shocks, and low-profile performance tires on 18-inch wheels.

On V8 models, the Airmatic Dual Control suspension replaces the standard steel coil springs with air springs. This computer-managed system adjusts the air pressure to the spring at each wheel, based on road conditions or driving style, to slightly soften or firm the ride and to add or decrease body roll (lean) in corners. In combination with electronically adjusted shock absorbers, the air suspension can automatically improve ride quality or handling or optimize the balance of the two, depending on where the car is traveling and whether the driver is cruising or driving quickly. The system works automatically, without switching suspension settings between sport and comfort.

The previously touchy brake system was simplified for 2007, and now provides an ultra-smooth grasp, even at slow speeds. Each E-Class model has progressively larger brake rotors and more complex piston designs to complement the engine's power and corresponding speed potential. The E-Class wagons give up almost nothing to the sedans in performance, fuel economy or handling dynamics.

The E350 comes with a 3.5-liter engine, the first Mercedes V6 with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. The 3.5-liter V6 generates 268 horsepower, and it mates well with the high-tech seven-speed automatic transmission that comes standard. The E350 is as responsive as any V6-powered car we've driven. This engine also features fully variable valve timing, so it delivers an impressive amount of torque from idle all the way to redline. The E350 responds immediately, no matter how fast it's already traveling when the driver dips the gas pedal. The 3.5-liter engine is also appreciably smooth, particularly at high rpm. And thanks to the seven-speed automatic, it delivers decent fuel mileage.

The E320 Bluetec diesel gets vastly superior fuel economy, with EPA ratings of 23 city/32 highway mpg. With predominantly highway travel, this gives it a range over 600 miles per tankfull. The Bluetec is designed to run on the ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel introduced into the U.S. starting October 2006. Mercedes' first V6 diesel, the Bluetec features all the latest high-tech goodies, including turbocharging, a variable nozzle turbine, four valves per cylinder, exhaust gas recirculation and a third generation of CDI, the common-rail direct-injection system that delivers fuel to the engine at an incredible 23,000 psi (compared to 1