2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 review: 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350
Two of the most important components of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350--the engine and the transmission--are completely new. Although it produces noticeably more power than the old engine, there is no real reduction in fuel economy, thanks equally to the new engine's improved design and the new transmission's seven speeds and sophisticated electronic controls.
Additionally, both the standard CD player and the optional in-dash six-disc changer play MP3 CDs. If six CDs' worth of MP3s isn't enough music for a long journey, open the glove box and plug an MP3 player into the jack--an unexpected bonus we also saw with the Mercedes-Benz ML350.
Our test car was rather simply equipped, with only pewter paint ($680), stone leather seating ($1,500), a six-disc CD changer ($420), heated front seats ($680), and the $1,550 Sunroof Package (a glass sunroof, a power rear-window sunshade, and manual rear side-window blinds) added to its $50,050 base price and $775 destination charge. In lieu of the Sunroof Package, we would have preferred the 526 Premium Package, which at $2,950 includes the glass sunroof and sunshades, along with navigation, a Harman Kardon Logic7 surround-sound stereo system, and heated front seats. Other worthwhile options are the $990 Lighting Package, with Xenon HID headlights that provide corner illumination and heated headlamp washers, and Sirius Satellite Radio at a $500-plus subscription.
The contemporary interior design of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 admits plenty of light for a spacious feel, and the standard burled-walnut trim with chrome binding provides a touch of old-world elegance. Darker material on the top of the instrument panel reduces glare. As has been the Mercedes-Benz standard for many years, the seats are firmly padded for long-term comfort. They are power-operated by means of iconic switches, a Mercedes-Benz innovation from long ago. Most controls are well marked and intuitive to use.
The Command interface offers useful buttons for access to the car's functions, but the stereo doesn't read ID3 tag information from MP3s.
Mercedes-Benz's Command system is the interface to the audio controls, as well as to the navigation and telephone systems if those options are included. It also displays service information. Its screen is positioned in the middle of the center stack, where it is protected from glare and can be seen well, even with polarized sunglasses. Application selections are made from marked hard buttons to its side, with context-sensitive soft buttons adjacent to the screen controlling functions for each application. Since our test car was simply equipped, without the navigation system or Mercedes-Benz proprietary cell phone, Command control was correspondingly simple. CD track selection for a single CD may also be controlled from the steering wheel, as well as by individual track numbers entered via the phone keypad. Our only disappointment with this system is that it doesn't display ID3 tag information from MP3 CDs, forcing us to decipher sometimes esoteric filenames.
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350's CD changer is well hidden. It can be found by touching an unmarked button in the center of the controls below the Command screen. Press that, and the wood-faced panel moves forward and up, exposing the changer. The CD slot is perilously close to the shift lever in Park, so care must be taken when loading or unloading discs. The whole unit may also close if a disc is not inserted quickly enough, possibly damaging the disc in the process. Also, the manual warns that audio CDs with copy protection may not play. The sound of the system was good, but it's not as nice as the Harman Kardon Logic7 system that can be had on this car.
Our test 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 may have been short on electronic goodies, but it definitely delivered in the drivetrain performance and handling departments. Its namesake 3.5-liter V-6, also used in the Mercedes-Benz ML350 SUV, shines as a luxury-sedan engine. It improves upon the previous 3.2-liter V-6 in its state-of-the-art mechanical and electronic technology.
Where the old 3.2 V-6 was a single-overhead-camshaft design with three valves per cylinder, the new engine has dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Its variable-valve phasing on both the intake and exhaust cams reduces emissions, as well as increases fuel economy and power output. Tumble flaps in the intake passages and dual-stage intake manifolds further improve efficiency and give it 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,400rpm and 5,000rpm, a broad, flat torque curve. Horsepower is rated at 268 at 6,000rpm.
The E350 uses a console-mounted shifter for its seven-speed automatic, unlike the tree-mounted stick on the ML350.
Mercedes-Benz's newest innovation, its 7G-Tronic transmission, uses seven gears, more than most contemporary cars' five- or six-speed automatics. Individual gear ratios are spaced closer together for more seamless performance, while the overall gear-ratio spread is wider, for improvements in acceleration from lower low gears and highway fuel economy from higher high gears. That said, EPA-rated fuel economy is only 19mpg in the city but a more acceptable 27mpg on the highway.
Sophisticated computer-control algorithms with adaptive logic learn each driver's driving style and adjust shifts accordingly, but the transmission can also be manually shifted for maximum driver control and enjoyment. It's as close to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as is possible, with discrete gear ratios. There are two automatic shift modes, Standard and Comfort, the latter of which shifts more gently and at lower engine speeds, plus is more appropriate for winter driving. Unlike with the ML350, the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350's gearshift is controlled by a regular console-mounted shift lever.
The combination of the 3.5 V-6 and 7G-Tronic transmission makes for a first-rate driving experience. Acceleration is brisk, with 0 to 60 reported by the factory to be less than 7 seconds. With the accelerator anywhere near to the floor, the car takes off at a great rate and holds gears until redline. We couldn't find any real advantage to manual shifting. When descending grades, the transmission chooses lower gears, letting engine braking slow the car.
Only during spirited sports-type driving did manual shifting improve performance--however, not by much. At that time, too, the suspension calibration showed its true mettle. Our test car had the standard tuning of its four-link front, five-link rear suspension, not the optional sports tuning. This provided the smooth, comfortable ride expected of a luxury sedan. But when asked to perform, it did well. The steering is weighted nearly perfectly, plus it's neither too light for control nor too heavy for comfort.
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 has been rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as one of the safest cars on the road. As expected of a Mercedes-Benz, the 2006 E350 has a full complement of active and passive safety features. The unibody structure surrounds the passenger cabin with a strong safety cage, and front and rear crumple zones further protect occupants. Good handling, strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electrohydraulic operation, traction control, and the ESP electronic stability system help with active safety. In the event of an emergency, the Tele Aid system can provide assistance. The 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350's standard 48-month/50,000-mile warranty against defects in materials or workmanship can be extended by up to an additional 36 months, with total mileage up to 100,000 miles at any time during the initial warranty period.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class concept has been around since 1953. Considered an executive car, it’s in the middle of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and it’s been produced with many different body styles and engine configurations. The Mercedes-Benz E350 has been offered as a sedan, a coupe, a convertible, and a wagon, but there is one year you want to avoid no matter what.
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 is a year to avoid
According to CarComplaints.com, 2006 was not a good year for the Mercedes-Benz E350. This is mainly due to engine problems, specifically the balance shaft. It’s a problem that is so severe, it has owners saying that Mercedes-Benz should be ashamed of themselves. They were extremely disappointed that such an expensive car would have such serious and expensive engine problems, which often were not covered by warranty.
When taken in for service by certified Mercedes-Benz lab technicians, they found severe problems. The repairs took days to complete and cost close to $5,000 on average to repair. Since many times, that repair meant replacing the entire engine, you’re probably going to want to skip this model when shopping for a pre-owned luxury vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz balance shaft failure
The biggest problem owners reported with the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 was with the 24-valve DOHC 3.5-liter V6 engine in the 2006 E350. 2006 was the very first year they used this engine in the E-Series vehicles, and the engines have been re-engineered since then. The issue usually began at about 85,800 miles when owners noticed the check engine light coming on. When taken into a dealership, it was found that the check engine light was due to crankshaft solenoid failure, caused by balance shaft failure. The balance shaft gear helps balance all the engine components and eliminate high-speed vibrations.
Car Complaints gave balance shaft failure a severity rating of 8.7, or “pretty bad.” It’s a very expensive problem to repair, costing owners an average of $4,850. One solution is to replace the balance shaft, which required a huge amount of labor because the engine had to be removed, disassembled, repaired, and reinstalled. This meant the repair took several days to accomplish. The other solution was to replace the entire engine with a used engine, however, that engine could wind up having the same problem, and it is also a time-consuming process.
Drivers frustrated by Mercedes-Benz’s response
Owners of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 with this problem were not happy with the way the German carmaker dealt with the problem. One owner said it was an known issue to Mercedes-Benz, and that inferior steel had been used in the production of the part.
Other owners were simply told their warranty had run out and they had to deal with the problem themselves. Other owners found themselves without warranty coverage for the problem, even though the car had less than 100,000 miles.
Sometimes drivers felt there should have been a recall and they should have had protection from the MBUS Settlement Act. In this case, the NHTSA settled with Mercedes-Benz U.S. for $20 million over investigations into the company’s recall execution and reporting practices.
The engine problems with the 2006 E350 did not get a recall, even though it affected a large number of vehicles. 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 owners also felt deeply disappointed that a problem like this could happen with a luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz. Overall, they expected many more years of use out of their vehicles as well as a better response from Mercedes.
Although buyers might be tempted by its good looks and the E-Series’ reputation, it’s best to avoid the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E350.
From the March 2005 issue of Car and Driver.
The six-cylinder E-class sits smack in the middle of Mercedes' huge lineup and has until recently been ignored like a quiet middle child. Back before Mercedes started dropping V-8s into the mid-size E-class, the six-cylinder E-class was the shining star of the Benz squad-sportier than the S-class but more accomplished than the C-class and the 190E before it. In 1994 the E320 arrived with an inline-six that had 217 horsepower. The last of the E320s has 221 horsepower from an 18-valve V-6. It's hard to imagine going more than 10 years without a significant increase in power, but the E320 had to go through two generations with basically the same output. Now, that's neglect. In the intervening years, seemingly average cars have surpassed the output of the once proud E320. But despite lacking class-leading acceleration, an E320 squeaked out a one-point victory in a seven-car comparo [C/D, March 2003]. So in hopes of keeping its spot on the top of the heap, Mercedes is swapping the old V-6 for the more powerful 24-valve DOHC 3.5-liter V-6 introduced in the SLK roadster.
Packing 268 horsepower, 47 more than the 3.2-liter it replaces and only seven less than the 4.3-liter V-8 from the previous-generation E-class, the E350 accelerates with a renewed sense of urgency. Mercedes claims the E350 lops off 0.7 second from the dash to 62 mph. The last E320 we tested in '03 did away with 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, so we expect the E350 to run to 60 in less than seven. In the E-class the 3.5-liter doesn't pin you to the seat as it does in the lighter SLK350, nor will it threaten the superiority of the E500's 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of thrust, but the gain in acceleration is noticeable.
The 3.5-liter is a development of the 90-degree 3.2-liter V-6 that debuted in 1997. Bore and stroke have been increased to bring the displacement to 3.5 liters, there are now four valves per cylinder instead of three, and compression increases from 10.0:1 to 10.7:1. Those valves are actuated by four cams that benefit from variable timing on the exhaust and intake sides. Torque jumps from the 3.2-liter's 232 pound-feet to 258, available at 2400 rpm.
Making the most of the healthy power band is Mercedes' seven-speed automatic transmission with the hip-hop friendly name of 7G-Tronic. Initially only available on eight-cylinder Benzes, the seven-speed will eventually latch onto all Mercedes engines. Compared with the five-speed, the new transmission has closer ratios as well as a lower first gear (benefiting acceleration) and a taller top gear (to boost fuel economy). All-wheel-drive, or 4MATIC, versions of the E350 will soldier on with the five-speed automatic because there is not enough room for the slightly larger seven-speed and the all-wheel-drive transfer case.
Accelerate at less than wide-open throttle, and it's unlikely you'll notice the seven-speed transmission busily moving through its numerous cogs. Introduce the pedal to the floor long enough to force a shift at the 6400-rpm redline, and you'll barely see a drop in revs as the transmission whips from first gear to second. Marry the pedal to the floor, and the E350 will whisk you almost inaudibly to a governed Euro velocity of 155 mph. U.S.-bound E350s will be governed at 130 mph.
The transplant from the SLK350 to the E-class has entirely changed the character of the 3.5-liter V-6. In the SLK, engine intake and exhaust noise is always present, although never intrusive; in the E350, the intake noise wouldn't qualify as a whisper, and the exhaust has been similarly emasculated. We understand the subdued nature of the E350 is appropriate for a sedan, but we just love the way the SLK sounds, so we were disappointed that the new engine wasn't allowed to do its Ferrari impersonation.
The E-class is only the second stop on the new engine's tour of the Mercedes lineup. Soon the 3.5-liter V-6 will be as ubiquitous as steroids in baseball, giving a boost to several models starting with a C-class version, which we'll get in the States, and CLS-, SL-, and S-class versions, which we won't get. The E350 goes on sale this month as a 2006. Although Mercedes was coy about exact pricing, buyers shouldn't expect to pay much more for the added power and content of the E350; the base E320's price started a few dollars south of 50 grand, and the E350's should start a few dollars north. The changes are welcome, and the resulting E350 is a happier car than the E320. And that's what every middle child needs and wants-attention.
2066 Mercedes-Benz E350
Front-engine, rear- or 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan or 5-door wagon
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE
DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 213 cu in, 3498cc
Power (SAE net): 268 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 258 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm
5-speed automatic, 7-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.4 in
Length: 189.7-190.9 in
Width: 71.7 in
Height: 57.0-59.0 in
Curb weight: 3700-4200 lb
PERFORMANCE RATINGS (MFR'S EST)
Zero to 62 mph: 6.9-7.4 sec
Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph
PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (MFR'S EST)
European combined cycle: 22-24 mpg
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2006 Mercedes-Benz E350 Review
Byte Bite: With its new engine and transmission, the Mercedes-Benz E350 continues as the benchmark for mid-size luxury sedans.
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz
From outside, there seems to be no change to Mercedes-Benz's mid-size, mid-level six-cylinder E Class sedan for 2006. Looking closer, the name has changed, from E320 to E350. That seemingly small change makes a major difference. Important changes to the engine and a seven-speed automatic transmission add power and refinement to a car that has long been a benchmark in the mid-luxury class, with no decrease in fuel economy.
Although the 90-degree engine block is familiar, cylinder displacement has been enlarged and compression slightly increased. More importantly, the old single overhead cam, three-valve-per-cylinder heads have been replaced with new dual overhead cam, four-valve-per-cylinder heads with variable cam phasing on both intake and exhaust cams and other high-tech features that improve power output considerably, with no increase in fuel consumption. Performance and efficiency are also enhanced by a new transmission. The previous five-speed automatic is gone, replaced by a seven-speed unit, except in four-wheel drive (4MATIC, in M-B speak) models, where the new transmission's slightly larger size is incompatible with the four-wheel drive hardware.
An astute observer of all things Mercedes-Benz will be getting a sense of deja vu all over again, to quote Mr. Berra. And it's true. Neither the engine nor the transmission is new to Mercedes-Benz, they are only new to the V6 member of the E-Class. The engine was first used in the SLK350 last year, and then in the 2006 ML350 SUV. The ML350 also has the 7G-TRONIC transmission, and it was used in the E Class last year, but that was in the premium, V8-powered E500. Together in the E350, they make a wonderful and formidable match.
With 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the new E350 bests last year's E320 by 47 horses and 26 lb-ft. And it compares favorably with the previous generation E420 V8's 275 hp and 295 lb-ft. I've just finished an impressive week with a new E350. As great as the drivetrain may be, there is even more to recommend the car. It's very well balanced, with a chassis that provides luxury levels of ride comfort and quiet... and near sport levels of handling ability on the road. There is a long list of option packages and standalone options for personalization, but my test car was very simply-equipped with only pewter metallic paint, leather upholstery, the sunroof/sunshade package, and the 6-disc CD changer. Even at that, it had first-class interior comfort and very enjoyable driving characteristics. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has long been the benchmark mid-size, mid-level luxury sedan, and that won't change soon.
APPEARANCE: There have been no changes to the current E-Class's exterior since its introduction in 2003, and none were needed. Over the years, Mercedes-Benz styling has gone from old-world formal, with simple, almost austere lines, to an increasingly less formal look. With its elegantly-sculpted, almost coupe-like lines, today's E-Class sedans are almost ``business casual'' in comparison to their older predecessors. Which is very fitting given the tastes of the target market. Traditional elements are there, in the ever lower and wider Mercedes-Benz grille and the proudly-standing three-pointed star above it, as are more recent additions to the company's design language in the form of the quad oval headlights and the front fenders that take their shape from them. But the graceful shape of the passenger cabin is more that of a coupe than a formal sedan, and the car's proportions are athletic without being muscle-bound.
COMFORT: A quiet, refined driving or riding experience has always been at the heart of any European luxury car, and the E-Class delivers this in a near-perfect manner. ``Insulated, not isolated'' was a company slogan a few years ago, and that does describe the experience very well. Occupants are aware of the world around them, but it does not unduly intrude. Inside, the contemporary design complements the exterior, with flowingly-rounded shapes and first-class materials. The equipment level is high, with dual-zone automatic climate control with dust and pollen filtration, 10-way power-adjustable front seats with three-position memory, excellent interior lighting, and burled walnut trim among the many useful standard comfort features. MB-Tex synthetic is the standard upholstery, with leather inserts; full leather is available. The front seats are, in the Mercedes-Benz manner, firmly comfortable with excellent support for long days of travel. The rear seat is just as comfortable, and offers good head and leg room. Instrumentation and controls are generally well-placed and simple to understand. The COMAND system is the interface to the audio and car information systems, and also to the telephone and navigation systems if they are specified. It uses a combination of (marked, thank you) hard-coded and context-sensitive buttons, and is generally simple to use. But a Mercedes wouldn't be a Mercedes without at least one hidden feature, and here it is the optional CD changer. It's well-hidden, which comes as no surprise as this is the company that used to put the cassette deck behind the audio head - and still puts the nav system CD behind the screen. Read the manual - the CD changer is accessed via an unmarked switch under the hazard flasher button. The panel then moves up out of the way to reveal the CD changer, which is placed perilously close to the shift lever. But both the changer and the single-disc player can play MP3 CDs as well as commercial and home-burned discs, and there is a jack in the glove box for an MP3 player.
SAFETY: The 2006 Mercedes E-Class has a strong chassis structure with large front and rear crumple zones, adaptive airbags, a rollover sensor that can deploy side windowbags, and ``Tele Aid'' telematics to summon help in the event of a severe accident. ESP stability control, traction control, and antilock brakes with Brake Assist are all standard.
RIDE AND HANDLING: For being the ``base'' E-Class model and allegedly having no sports pretensions, the 2006 E350 strikes a near-perfect balance between luxury comfort and sporty handling. Credit is due its strong, rigid, and relatively light structure and well-designed suspension. The hood, front fenders, trunk lid, and suspension subframes are aluminum, as are numerous suspension pieces, and high-strength steel is used for much of the structure. In absolutely standard trim, my E350 test car had the smooth, quiet ride expected of a luxury car, with road shocks filtered but not completely removed - ``insulated, not isolated, '' remember - and yet was very amenable to spirited driving. If there was more body roll in the corners than in a ``real'' sports sedan, the comfort level was correspondingly higher. The E350 might be at a disadvantage on the race track; in the real world it is a fine performer.
PERFORMANCE: The vast Mercedes-Benz parts bin has done well by the E350. Its predecessor was comfortable and stylish, but fell behind in the horsepower race. No problem now - think of the new engine and transmission as being the equivalent of a triple espresso in the performance department. There is noticeably more oomph when the accelerator is pressed, yet fuel consumption is not really affected. The engine and 7G-TRONIC transmission work together extremely well. Better breathing afforded by the new head design and its variable phasing of both intake and exhaust cams, variable-length intake manifolds, and other technological bits has increased power and decreased emissions. The engine's 268 horses at 6000 rpm are impressive, but the real work is done by torque, and here it truly shines, with 258 lb-ft between 2400 and 5000 rpm, and nearly that from as low as 1500 rpm. How do you say ``torque plateau''? This means instant power at all commonly-used engine speeds, for immediate acceleration. Now add the seven-speed transmission. Its many ratios allow both low low gears, for acceleration, and high high gears for economical highway cruising. Sophisticated electronic controls adapt to each driver's style, and will hold gears on hills for climbing prowess going up and engine braking going down. It's manually shiftable, but that is not really necessary. If in standard mode, it seems to shift smoothly, in comfort mode shifts are nearly imperceptible. It's almost like a CVT. And in the E300, it's controlled by a regular console-mounted lever, not the strange lever on the ML350's steering column.
CONCLUSIONS: With its new engine and transmission, the Mercedes-Benz E350 continues as the benchmark for mid-size luxury sedans.
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