What is it?
The all-new fifth-generation E-Class saloon, which may well be the best car Mercedes makes that isn’t either a) an S-Class, or b) a full-on AMG-tuned brute. And this is the version you’ll want, rather than the one you’ll probably buy, because it’s the range-topping V6 diesel.
Unlike the considerably better-selling 220 d, which gets an all-new four-cylinder engine, the 350 d carries over the old model’s V6. The bad news is this means CO2 emissions are unremarkable, even compared with six-cylinder equivalents from Audi and BMW. The flipside is arguably more interesting, though, because it means there’s still 457lb ft on tap from just 1600prm.
What's it like?
It might be the ‘old’ engine, but six cylinders are always going to give a smoother power delivery than four and the E350 d is a classic case in point. Where the E 220 d shows slight discontent under load with its gritty soundtrack, the V6 revels in being asked to muster its maximum pulling power.
It’s how much extra torque there is over the four-cylinder that’s perhaps most compelling, though. You barely need to labour the engine at all, even during quite spirited driving, and V6 links really well with the 9G-Tronic transmission. The nine-speed ‘box seems hell-bent on keeping the revs below 2500rpm in gentle driving, which suits this engine just fine. That same trait in the E220 d stokes up an occasional unwelcome resonance.
Adding the substantial extra weight of the V6 engine has done little to harm the Merc’s handling. That’s largely because, at least in the air-suspended forms we’ve tried, the new E-Class isn’t a car you’ll be inclined to find the limits of in the way you might the sweeter-steering Jag XF. It’s far happier playing the junior S-Class role that its grand looks and lavish interior owe their very existence to.
With that in mind, the one regret is a ride that’s too easily flummoxed by potholes and recessed drain covers. The E 350 d seemed noticeably more bothered by such hurdles than the E 220 d we tried with the same Air Body Control suspension on the same Portuguese roads. High-speed comfort is tough to knock, though; there’s just enough laziness in the air chambers to smooth over motorway ripples without any unwelcome wallow over larger undulations.
The E 350 d costs £9000 more than the equivalent E 220 d, so it’s hardly surprisingly that Merc expects around 80% of E-Class buyers to settle for four cylinders. Mind you, V6 versions do come with a few extra desirables including Merc’s much-improved Comand infotainment system and standard air suspension.
Should I buy one?
Chances are you won’t and we can’t really blame you. On merit, the E 350 d is probably the best version of the new E-Class we’ve tried, but it’s tricky to justify the 25% premium it commands over the E 220 d – even though you do get a few more gadgets to go with the extra power and torque.
Look at is this way: the E 350 d is undoubtedly an expensive E-Class, but on the performance and engine refinement scores, if perhaps not quite ride comfort, it’s actually closer to the imperious S-Class. From that standpoint, this range-topping E-Class seems somewhat easier to justify.