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.
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.