By comparison with some of the high-performance multi-cylinder diesel engines recently offered by Audi, BMW and Porsche, the decade-old ‘OM642’ V6 diesel in the E350d isn’t exactly headline-grabbing. And yet it remains so good at ushering the car along that it seldom really needs to break a sweat, and perfectly suits the brisk but relaxed stride that so much else about the car encourages you to adopt.
Weighing close-to two tonnes, the E-Class Estate depends on torque for that sense of easy pace – and the E350d has 457lb ft of the stuff from just 1600rpm. That’s enough to make a heavy car seem surprisingly light, and to put meaningful extra potency under even smallish accelerator pedal extensions.
The car’s nine-speed automatic gearbox is also tuned very cleverly to keep the crankshaft operating along its torque peak, and shifts more quickly and intuitively than Mercedes’ auto boxes used to. The upshot is simply that, while other manufacturers are desperate to convince you that their latest big diesel engine is as exciting as a petrol, Mercedes seems happy to continue to let this one stick to what it’s good at: lazy-revving, laid-back, smooth muscularity.
The E-Class comes with self-levelling air-sprung rear suspension as standard, with all-corner air springs an option that was fitted to our test car. The way the car rides and handles will leave nobody in doubt about its priorities. This is a modern luxury executive car rather than a sports saloon, which makes it all the more distinctive amongst a field of rivals increasingly congregated at the sporting end of the dynamic spectrum. And so an equivalent Jaguar XF or BMW 5-series is a touch more direct and involving (not that you can buy a wagon version of the former).
But if you want proper devotion to the causes of loping comfort, inner-cabin calm and effortless ease-of-use, the E-Class provides it. The car steers with moderate and consistent weight and pace, and little or no steering feel – but also with a matching imperviousness to bump-steer. The ride is medium-soft, dealing very well with hollows and lumps in the road surface, although occasionally tripping up a little bit over sharp ridges. And while the car’s comfort bias makes its steering response a little bit sleepy, lateral body control is still respectable – the car more likely to run out of vertical poise on a testing B-road before it runs out of cornering grip.
The richness, comfort and practicality of the E-Class Estate’s cabin matches its suave and relaxing performance and handling very neatly. Among the highlights here are Mercedes’ huge and appealingly well-rendered optional digital instrument and infotainment screens, superbly comfortable leather seats, colour-selectable ambient lighting strips, and plenty of ornate and tactile chrome trim.