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2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E350 4MATIC Wagon Review

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SEE ALSO: Mercedes-Benz Buyers Guide

2011 Mercedes Benz E350 4MATIC Wagon; A station wagon that seats seven.

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Chicago, IL October, 2010; Living in Chicago with its top-notch public transportation system allows my two-person household to be a one-vehicle household. And that vehicle is a station wagon---brand to remain unnamed. I like station wagons because they are car-based, and not a truck that rides hard and requires you to climb up to get in, have room for 5 with 4 doors for ease of entry and can carry stuff, which in our case very often is a Labrador retriever.

The station wagon (or estate car) has evolved from its early use as a specialized vehicle to carry people and luggage to and from a train station---remember those exposed wood bodied wagons or woodies. There aren’t many station wagons on the market today, having fallen by the wayside due to the popularity of minivans, SUVs and now crossovers. I’ve spent lots of time in and have owned a number of these vehicle-types. However, I always missed the car-like ride and easy of entry, exit and loading of a true station wagon.

Admittedly, I’ve been smitten with the Mercedes Benz E-class station wagon through many of its generations. Other station wagon offerings on the market today come mostly from European brands—they are extremely popular in Europe, and there is also the relatively new Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. The CTS Sport Wagon and the Audi A6 Avant are the closest in size to the E350, with the E’s one slight advantage being the rear-facing third seat making it a 7-passenger.

I had an opportunity to get some good seat-time in a 2011 E350 4MATIC Wagon at the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Fall Rally. A new-generation of the wagon, joining its sedan, coupe and cabriolet siblings in the E-Class family, the E350 wagon is only offered with a 3.5 liter V6 engine producing 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC all-wheel drive is standard and nicely integrated with the 7-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes, like Audi, Cadillac and other brands, has refined the modern all-wheel-drive system to the point there is negligible impact on weight and fuel consumption. The EPA estimates are 16 city mpg and 23 highway mpg, providing all-day road trip driving with the 21.1 gal. fuel tank.

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The traditional five-seat configuration can easily expand to seven seats by unfolding a standard third-row seat from the luggage compartment floor.

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The E350 wagon is the only vehicle in its market segment to feature seven-place seating. Mercedes says 5 adults and 2 children; an NBA or NFL pro won’t fit. A 60-40 fold-down rear seat expands the 34.8 cu ft cargo area. Folded completely, the cargo volume in 68.9 cu ft and 79 inches long. Mercedes gives the example of the E350 wagon carrying a grandfather clock and three occupants, or a load of lumber can be carried with four people aboard. That college bound daughter or son and all their stuff would fit fairly well.

E350 wagon pricing starts at $56,200 and is available in Sport or Luxury trim.

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All Luxury models have a comfort suspension and can be identified by a four-lamella (thin horizontal plate-like element) front grille and a four-spoke steering wheel. Sport models come with LED daytime running lights, a three-lamella grille and a three-spoke wheel as well as a sport suspension with a slightly lower ride height.

For its somewhat lofty price you get many standard features that are very innovative. The Attention Assist system that alerts the driver to the first signs of drowsiness; Active Lane Keeping Assist which alerts the driver by simulating rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on; Adaptive Highbeam Assist uses a small video camera to sense both headlights and taillights, then softly and automatically transitions between high and low beam operation to avoid dazzling other drivers.

Night View Assist PLUS allows a driver to see pedestrians up to 300 feet earlier than passive systems relying on thermal imaging. This active system uses infra-red light from headlight mounted beams. Optional Distronic Plus system also includes Active Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both blind spots behind, and to the side of, the vehicle. PRE-SAFE® brake can now apply full braking automatically in emergencies, to reduce accident severity.

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The very refined interior includes 14-way adjustable power front seats that feature stylish divided seat cushions that cover steel seat frames featuring their own suspension. An optional Drive-Dynamic multi-contour seat for the driver uses a series of air bladders and mechanical bolsters in the bottom cushion and seat back to offer impressively variable seat adjustments. To provide extra support during spirited driving, the Drive-Dynamic seat inflates the right-side bolster in a left turn or conversely, the left bolster in a right turn.

Also standard is a COMAND system featuring a large seven-inch color display screen with a standard in-dash, six-disc CD/DVD changer and a Bluetooth interface that allows a phone still in a pocket or purse to be operated through the car's audio system. A rear-view camera displays the area behind the car whenever it's in reverse.

The bottom line: A great vehicle for any active lifestyle family and very suitable for that occasional car-pool obligation.

© Larry Nutson