By Eric Yang
on 12.29.11
Photo by EY

Recently, we hopped into the 9th generation E-class for an extended test on the unfamiliar (to us) roads of Miami. Over the span of a week, we logged nearly a thousand miles hurtling our Mercedes-Benz E350 Sport everywhere from South Beach to Little Havana, from the University of Miami to Dania Beach and we’re still racking our brains and notes looking for a quibble or an unruffled feather. The reality is, we have yet to find any one of significance. Perhaps, without making a to-do about it, the engineers at Mercedes decided to make E stand for Excellence.

Our review continues after the jump.

Drive a fair share of cars as we have and friends inevitably ask what cryptic acronyms, letters and numbers mean. That’s understandably so, since nowadays most are driven more by marketing and less so by engineering and descriptive truths. In the case of our latest ride, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E350, and the answer to the question of “what does E mean?” isn’t so simple. Here’s a quick and dirty answer.

First you need to turn back the dial a couple of decades. Back then “E” didn’t precede the engine displacement numbers (230, 320, 350, 430, etc), but rather trailed. To make matters worse, they didn’t necessarily demarcate the class either. This applied throughout most of the lineup except for the flagship S-Class. Next, go back even further to the mid-1900’s and you’ll find that the E, which stood for Einspritzung, represented the latest motoring technology: fuel-injection. Wisely Mercedes tightened up the loosey-goosey nomenclature and settled in on a trickle-down naming hierarchy starting with the S-Class working it’s way down to the E, C and not-for-America B and A classes. Beyond the hardcore enthusiasts who still reference them by platform classifications (W124, W212, etc), the E-Class has become a total win in terms of classification and marketing. As much as we might hate to admit to it, people get the class system.

… the E350 is the car that makes the other 6 days of the week as utterly outstanding as possible. That’s no small feat.

Speaking of class. Let’s start with the dash. In a bid toward its target driver, the instrument cluster tosses-out an over-sized RPM gauge — don’t worry, there’s still one on the right — in exchange for a massive clock (can’t be late for the all-hands meeting) and the COMAND navigation and sound system are immediately simple to use. Let’s face it. If you’re still frustrated at the idea of controlling modern-day telematics — in this case a knurled knob flanked by two buttons — then you’re probably still pining for the days of a Motorola Star-Tac. Mercedes has of course packed in all the technological goodies: real-time traffic, rear-view camera, Dolby Digital, connectivity/memory-everything and it’s all displayed on a high-resolution 7-inch monitor. More immediately prevalent inside, the designers and craftsman at Mercedes have taken things to a whole new level with enduringly comfortable seats, Teutonic telematics (love them or hate them), and at night, an interior bathed in gorgeous ambient lighting. Swaths of leather and well-appointed detailing constantly remind that you earned that raise and thusly the right to spend it.

As for the E350’s driving and performance — less-powerful to its twin-turbo V8 and über-powerful AMG brothers — the car is not just stronger than its predecessors, but smarter too. An all-new 3.5 liter direct-injection V-6 churns out 302 horsepower (276 lb-ft of torque) and mated to a 7-speed transmission plus an innovative adaptive suspension called Agility Control. The result is a powertrain with more giddy-up and better gas mileage. Always a great combination. Plus, there’s just enough road-feel dialed in to make spirited driving just that. Mercedes engineers have even tuned the new electromechanical power-steering system to make driving easier without feeling numb. F1 this may not be, but we’ve come a long way since the Mercedes floation-devices of yore.

And to ensure you stay on the road after trudging through a 14 hour workday, the E350 carries a cache of assistants soley dedicated to doing everything Maggie Gyllenhal so famously did not. That is, keeping you alive and well. Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Assist, Start Assist, Predictive Braking, Pre-Safe collision detection, and Attention Assist all work silently and vigilently. The last is a particularly clever gizmo, though. By measuring 70 different parameters within the first minute of driving, the computer becomes self-aware smart enough to warn you if you’re getting drowsy and warns you with, fittingly, a coffee cup icon and an audible alert. We need one for the office. And of course, if none of that works, a platoon of 11 airbags is ready and at your disposal.

Outside of any classic or vintage mid-sized sedans from Mercedes, the latest iteration is hands-down the best yet — the older clichéd design, ungainly proportions and questionable build-quality have all been shed for a well-sculpted sport sedan. It may not be the car you want to bomb around in on a perfectly sunny afternoon in South Beach (the panoramic sunroof helps though), but rather the E350 is the one that makes the other 6 days of the week as utterly outstanding as possible. That’s no small feat. Whether you choose the Blue-tec diesel, 4-matic, or our preference — the sport sedan edition — the 2012 E350 will conquer roads, do it efficiently and manage to look dashing while doing so.

Hmm… sounds a bit like you.

MSRP: $50,490 | Price as Tested: $68,135 | Learn More

Photography by EY

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