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2006 Mercedes Benz E350 Wagon Road Test

By Nick Yost
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $50,000 - $60,000 Mid-Size Station Wagon
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a high quality European sport wagon prestige, comfort and room for 7.
Comparable cars in this class: Audi A6 Wagon, BMW 5 series wagon
With few exceptions the snazzy new CLS four-door coupe being one of them Mercedes-Benz has always soldiered along at its own pace, making change in a slow and evolutionary way when its meaningful, but never just for its own sake.

So, it really shouldnt be surprising that over the last 12 years, representing 2 1/2 generations of its popular E class sedans and station wagons, the German manufacturer has stayed with six-cylinder engines of almost identical output.

The E 320 badge has been a fixture on the trunk lid since 1994, first signifying a 3.2-liter, in-line six-cylinder engine producing 217-horsepower and, from 1997, a 3.2-liter V-6 engine that generated 221 horsepower.

Yes, there is now an optional 302-horsepower V-8, and more recently a 201-horsepower V-6 diesel engine, but the gasoline-powered six has been the manystay engine of U. S. buyers.

Now, at last, there is a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine that features an aluminum head and block, four valves per cylinder (the previous generation 3.2-liter V-6 had three), double overhead camshafts, variable valve timing and a two-stage manifold..

The result is 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 47 horses and 26 pound-feet over last years models.

The new engine is smoother, a bit more turbine-like than its predecessor, and faster off the line and in passing situations. The upgrade is not dramatic, but drivers will certainly find it useful in certain situations.

The new powerplant was installed first in the companys two-seat SLK 350 sports car. For use in the more sedate sedans and station wagons, engineers retuned the exhaust for a quieter driving experience.

Accompanying the new engine in rear-wheel-drive models is a seven-speed automatic transmission, which has a lower first gear and taller final gear than the previous five-speed shifter. From a stop, it moves the Benz almost transparently through the gears but, when a driver needs to accelerate in a hurry, it will skip down a couple of gears until it finds the right one to do the job.

Because the new transmission takes up more space than the old, it is not available on E Class sedans and wagons with Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive. These cars continue with the five-speed automatic that features a manual override feature.

As it turned out, the car provided for my inspection was an E350 4Matic wagon and I must say that I felt no severe penalty in driveability or fuel efficiency. The EPA predicts average fuel mileage at 18 mpg city and 24 on the highway, compared with the 18-26 mpg on cars with the seven-speed shifter. For the record, I averaged between 15 and 23 mpg in a mix of urban/suburban driving.

Although the term station wagon has become anathema among many U.S. drivers, the handsome Benz wagons have never had trouble finding a niche in the upscale end of the marketplace.

No doubt, one big reason for this is that the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, independent suspension and strong disc brakes offer handling comparable to that of the sedan..

Some might consider the steering a bit sluggish, the accelerator a bit stiff, or the ride a bit firm, but this in no way compromises the cars driving dynamics. In reality, these traits contribute to the sense of rock-solid construction that has been a hallmark of Mercedes-Benz cars for as long as I can remember.

My travels took me along twisty two-lane roads as well as traffic clogged and lightly traveled interstates and the station wagon was agile and responsive to all my commands.

The electronic four-wheel drive system, which allows the Mercedes to go when winter roads are trying to say no, never factored into my summer driving experience. It simply stayed unnoticed in the background.

Inside the E350 wagon there is room for four adults five in a pinch -in the first two rows of seats.

A third, rear-facing bench can be raised from the cargo floor but it strikes me as the one negative feature in a car that is filled with positives.

First, it offers tight, basically unpleasant quarters for all but pre-teens who might be convinced there is some pleasure in being as far from parents as possible. In any case, who else would want to enter a luxury car through the rear hatch?

On a more practical note, the fold-away rear seat seems to take up space that could better be left for cargo. The E class wagon really does not offer a lot of room for cargo unless the second-row seats are folded away.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that a car with a price tag topping $60,000 is most likely to be bought by older adults who might want the space for luggage or golf clubs after their children have grown up.

Third-row seat aside, the Benz lives up to the promise of its price. Inside and out, it exudes an aura of understated opulence, a combination of functionality and exclusivity.

It comes standard with a large complement of comfort and convenience features, and can be fitted with more, including a navigation system, at extra cost.

Like many other automotive journalists, I fail to see the value in a complicated and expensive guidance assistant that takes time to master and tends to lure a drivers eyes away from the road.

But Im willing to concede that our frustration may in part result from driving lots of different vehicles with systems that have their own learning curves. I suspect any system would become reasonably simple to operate if it were the only one I had to learn. Still, I find it hard to envision many occasions in which I dont already know where Im going.

Safety has always been a top priority on all Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Standard on the E class wagon are stability control, electrohydraulic braking, a roll-over sensor, front and side-mounted airbags, head protection curtains, a reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones and an emergency communication system.

Base price of the E350 4Matic Wagon is $54,800. Add the navigation system, power tailgate, upgraded sound system, cold weather package and a sunroof, and the price jumps to $61,250.

To many who do not have the price of admission, there seems to be no rational justification for spending so much money on a car which, in the final analysis, cannot perform any tasks that cannot be completed by the average CarParts.com.

But that misses the point. A Mercedes-Benz is designed and built for people who want and can afford quality and exclusivity. Mere competence is not the goal.

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Specifications

Engine Type 3.5 liter Aluminum V6 Engine, double overhead camshaft,  four valves per cylinder 
Horsepower 268 @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 258 @ 2,400 RPM
Fuel Recommended Premium Unleaded.
Transmission Seven Speed Shiftable Automatic (5-speed on AWD models)
Drive Type (std)
Drive Type (opt)
Rear Wheel Drive
All Wheel Drive
Tires  P225/55HR16 all season tires
Overall Length 190.9"
Wheelbase 112.4"
Width 71.7"
Turning Diameter 37.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,990 lbs.
Fuel Tank 20.6 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 18, hwy 26.  (18/24 with AWD)
Acceleration 0 to 60 6.9 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $52,300.00 + $775 destination charge

Standard Equipment
(Partial List)

  • Seven-speed electronic automatic transmission
  • Dual-zone climate control with rear-seat outlets and activated charcoal filtration
  • Leather Seating Inserts
  • Leather Steering Wheel & Shift Knob
  • Hand-polished burl walnut trim
  • 10 way power front seats with 3-position memory
  • Power tilt/telescoping steering wheel
  • Power Windows with Express Up & Down on all windows
  • Automatic headlamps
  • Auto-Dimming Rear & Driver Side Mirrors
  • Integrated Garage Door Opener
  • Trip Computer
  • SOS button for Tele Aid
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
  • Automatic Slip Control
  • Four (4) door-mounted side airbags
  • curtain side airbags
  • Electronically controlled 4-circuit 4-wheel disc braking system with ABS and Brake Assist
  • Touch Turn Signals flash three times with one touch of turn-signal lever for lane change.

Major Available Options

  • All-wheel Drive
  • Airmatic Dual Control Active Suspension System
  • Command System GPS Navigation
  • Drive-Dynamic Seats with Multicontour Seatbacks
  • Heated Front Seats
  • Glass Sunroof
  • Wood & Leather Steering Wheel
  • Keyless Go
  • 6-disc CD Changer
  • Harman kardon Sound System
  • Tire-Pressure Monitoring System
  • Serius Satellite Radio
  • Automatic Lift Gate
  • Bi-Xenon High Intensity Discharge (HID) Headlamps

For more information on the E-Class, visit Mercedes.com

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