When Mercedes’ 3.5-litre alloy V6 first appeared, in the SLK 350, it produced a satisfyingly rorty noise: here the soundtrack is more refined and more fitting to an estate car. The sound might be different, but the performance remains the same: pulling strongly from low revs and remaining silky right through to the red line.
With 268bhp and the standard seven-speed auto (only available in the E 350) changing quickly and smoothly, the E 350 is effortlessly quick. It will hit 60mph in 7.1sec and the electronic limiter calls time at 155mph.
The E-Class trounces rivals for interior space and versatility, providing 30 per cent more capacity than its closet rival, BMW’s 5 Series (although with BMW not selling a 3.0-litre petrol estate, the E 350 lacks a direct competitor from Munich). The E 350’s £38,070 list price falls squarely between that of the BMW 525 and 545 Touring, but is about the same as that of the impressive 535d.
Hot versions of the Volvo V70 and Saab 9-5 are within the same price and performance range, yet both are smaller, older and less accomplished. Perhaps the closest competition comes from upmarket 4x4s or the new Audi A6 Avant 3.2, which goes on sale in April.
If you can justify the price, the E 350 is a polished, quick and accomplished estate, with shortcomings limited to dull steering and audible suspension over more extreme ridges. For the time being, on price, space and pace grounds, the E 350 lies in clear water.