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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Within its segment, the E is by far the most adaptable, rewarding and confident car for the widest variety of surfaces and situations.
The E550 Cabriolet, by comparison, rides much more firmly — even with its Dynamic Handling Suspension in its Comfort setting.
Neither car will set an enthusiast’s pulse racing, but the E350 and the E550 are highly competent vehicles.
Car and Driver
Although it’s not a sports car, the E-class still steers well, with good self-centering, and it has perfectly good body control and a ride that strikes the right balance between supple and firm.
The E350 Bluetec is not a blast to drive, period. In fact, the driving experience is actually quite dull.
The E-Class family of cars includes a four body styles, and four drivetrains--two of them new in the 2012 model year and one new for 2013. So it's little shock that there's an amazing variety in tuning and road feel among the constituents.
The softly sprung manners of the standard E350 hardly feel related to those of the E63 AMG four-door. And yet, that's the flavor most drivers will experience, via the combination of the Mercedes 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic found in the sedan, wagon, coupe, and cabriolet. New in 2012, the engine now features direct injection and puts out 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It's a worthwhile improvement over the previous engine in smoothness, with a strong powerband all the way up to redline and plenty of torque down low.
This E-Class comes in the sedan and wagon in either luxury or sport trim; the latter is soft and laden with lean in cornering, even though it's quick to accelerate to 60 mph (in under 7 seconds for any body style). Top speed settles in at 130 mph. Sport tuning firms up the ride without letting stiffness or bigger 18-inch wheels remove the polish from the E-Class' demeanor.
All-wheel drive is an option on this sedan and the coupe, standard on the wagon, and unavailable on the convertible; it's only a slight acceleration and fuel-economy penalty. It's now standard on the E550 sedan.
On the E550, a new 4.6-liter direct-injection V-8 makes 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. It's offered in the sedan, coupe, and convertible body styles. It's a much more evocative performer, with top speed rising to 155 mph and with 0-60 mph times falling to as low as 4.9 seconds on the coupe.
A 210-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 is offered only in the rear-wheel-drive sedan, and it's an ultra-long-distance hauler--if that's what you're in the market for. In its last year before it gets replaced by a smaller-displacement diesel, the six-cylinder can hit 60 mph in about 7.2 seconds, according to Mercedes, and tops out at 130 mph. We've admired its relatively smooth drivetrain and been astonished by its well over 600-mile cruising range on a single tank of diesel. And in other respects, it's a reasonably assertive luxury sedan, with the latest E-Class' improved steering feel carrying over intact with the green drivetrain, and few other noticeable changes in effect.
All standard E Class variants come standard with a seven-speed automatic transmission, and driver-adjustable suspensions. An air-shock system provides a range of comfort to sport ride quality for the V-8 models, while V-6s use a mechanical valve control to produce a similar range of adjustment. Driving dynamics are controlled and agile for the car's size, though tuning isn't as taut as the sportier end of BMW's or Audi's ranges until you step up to the factory-tuned AMG car.
And at the top of the line, performance-oriented E63 AMG models get a 518-hp, 5.5-liter biturbo V-8 built by in-house tuner AMG. It's rear-wheel-drive only for 2013--but big changes are coming for the 2014 model year. We've had the least amount of driving time in these versions and in the new E400 Hybrid, which pairs the V-6 with a 27-hp electric motor, start/stop, and lithium-ion batteries, just as in the S400 Hybrid. For a more comprehensive look at all the changes that have come to the drivetrains since our last in-depth drive, look ahead to our road test of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Base versions can feel soft, but talk about overcompensating: the E63 AMG's strong V-8 changes the complexion of the car entirely.