On the face of it, this V6 diesel version of the new Mercedes E-Class makes little sense. It costs a whopping £9000 more than the four-cylinder E 220 d version and the only obvious difference would seem to be its larger, more powerful engine.
More power is no bad thing, of course, but the E 220 d is hardly short of oomph and is much cheaper to fuel and tax. So, does the E 350 d make any sense at all, not only compared with cheaper offerings in the E-Class line-up, but also next to six-cylinder versions of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF?
What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E 350 d like to drive?
Six-cylinder engines are almost always smoother than their four-cylinder counterparts and the E 350 d is a classic case in point. There's a muted hum, rather than an obvious chug, at tickover and even when you accelerate hard the 3.0-litre V6 stays more subdued than the 2.0-litre engine in the E 220 d.
Not that you'll need to put your foot down very often because the V6 is effortlessly punchy. Yes, it has quite a bit more outright power than the 2.0-litre, but it’s how much extra low-down muscle, or torque, there is that’s most telling. Even light pressure on the accelerator pedal will waft it up to speed briskly, putting performance roughly on a par with the rival BMW 530d.
In other respects, the E 350 d drives in a similar fashion to lesser versions of the E-Class. That means it’s geared more towards comfort than entertaining handling, so there’s more body lean through corners than in, say, a Jaguar XF, and less feedback through the steering, too.
The E 350 d gets Mercedes’ Air Body Control suspension as standard (a £1495 option on the E 220 d), which helps explain away some of that £9000 premium. This does a fine job at high speeds, smoothing over smaller motorway ripples without allowing too much unwelcome wallow over larger undulations, although the ride could be better around town. Potholes and recessed drain covers send unwelcome jolts through your backside as the suspension struggles to keep everything under control.
There's also a surprising amount of road noise, something that isn't a problem on the smaller-wheeled E 220 d SE we tested earlier this year. Mind you, the E-Class's aerodynamic body slips through the air cleanly, generating very little wind noise at motorway speeds.
What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz E 350 d like inside?
The new E-Class looks and feels much like a junior S-Class from behind the wheel. The giant display that appears to stretch continuously from the centre of the dashboard isn’t just for show, either – it brings more important information closer to your line of sight. However, if you're much more than six feet tall you’ll probably find the steering wheel blocks your view of some of the digital instruments.
Mercedes’ signature gloss black centre console makes just as much of a visual impression as it does in the smaller C-Class and the GLC SUV, but here it feels more solid and doesn’t flex and creak so obviously when you prod it. In fact, overall quality in the E-Class pips the 5 Series and isn't far off the Audi A6.
Unlike the entry-level E 220 d, which gets a fairly basic Garmin-powered sat-nav, the E 350 d come with Mercedes’ range-topping Comand infotainment system. It’s a real step forward over the equivalent system in other Mercedes models – even the S-Class – because the interface is much more intuitive. Common tasks, such as changing the radio station or tapping in a destination, are easier to learn and less laborious.
You’ll have no issues carrying a couple of adults in the back, although the optional panoramic glass roof eats up some head room. Foot space is a bit tight under the front seats compared with a BMW 5 Series, too, although the footwells are big enough for this not to be a real issue.
The E-Class officially has a slightly bigger boot than the 5 Series and A6, and there’s certainly enough space for a couple of sets of golf clubs or several large suitcases. The opening is fairly narrow, though, and Mercedes charges extra for split-folding rear seats.
Should I buy one?
If you're a company car driver, this range-topping E-Class really doesn't make much sense at all. Its higher list price and much higher CO2 emissions make it impossible to recommend over the entry-level E 220 d.
There's more to recommend the E 350 d if you're buying privately. It's effortlessly fast, that V6 engine is smooth, and the extra kit you get over the E 220 d helps justify some of the sizeable price premium. Nevertheless, given that the smaller-wheeled E 220 d SE rides more smoothly and generates far less road noise, that's still where our money would go.
Before you buy any E-Class, though, be sure to check out the BMW 5 Series. It's a slightly better all-rounder and is that bit more rewarding to drive, despite the fact it's due for replacement early next year.
What Car? says…
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
Mercedes-Benz E 350 d
Engine size 3.0-litre diesel
Price from £44,930
Torque 457lb ft
0-62mph 5.9 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 54.3mpg
CO2/BIK band 136g/km/27%