Mercedes-Benz added a 302-hp, direct injection, 3.5-liter V6 for 2012 to one of our favorite cars, the midsized E-Class sedan. Oh, darn... time for retest.
For years, we've enjoyed the E-Class's near-brilliant combination of comfort, agility, quietness, and performance. Even base six-cylinder models were quick and satisfying, and the recent diesel version delighted with its impressive frugality and long cruising range.
So, when Mercedes announces an update, we have high expectations. The new E350 gives us an opportunity to test an example without the "Sport" suspension, as our recent car had been equipped, to see how it affects handling, ride, and noise.
We bought a 2012 E350 in "Luxury" trim, equipped with the $4,000 Premium 1 Package, which includes navigation, upgraded audio system, and heated front seats (among other features). And since we wanted to try the company's latest active safety features, such as the blind-spot assist and lane-departure warning systems, we opted for them, too. Grand total: $57,965.
One other option we got was the split fold-down rear seat ($440), which we discovered had a most unusual quirk.
To meet a buddy recently for a weekend bike ride, I lowered the folding rear seats and loaded my bike in the back, as I've done with dozens of other test cars.
But when my friend jumped into the front passenger seat, he complained that the seatback was bolt upright and that he couldn't recline. It turns out that if you fold down the passenger-side rear seat, the front passenger seat automatically moves forward and the seatback moves to a full upright position. Once there, it can't be reclined at all, even if doing so doesn't interfere with the cargo. To get the front seat habitable again, you have to fold the rear seat back up, which meant in this case removing my bike first. There is a work-around. You can fold down the driver's side passenger seat without paralyzing the driver's seatback, but it's only a partial solution since the left rear seatback is the small part of the 60/40 configuration.
A Mercedes-Benz representative told us that the seats were operating as designed since the backseats need enough room to fold down.. Still, we can't think of any other car that makes one of the front seats essentially unusable if you need to throw some bulky cargo in the back.
She also alerted us to another trick that the owner's manual leaves out. If you leave the front door open while folding the back seats down, you can use the front seat adjustment to stop the passenger seat from moving too far forward.
But we found a catch: It takes two people, one to flip the fold-down lever in the trunk and one to stand outside the front passenger door pushing the seat adjuster at the same instant.
Is this a case of a car being over-engineered and under-thought? Why in the world would any car designer make you choose between hauling cargo or accommodating a front passenger?
As we rack up the miles we'll keep an eye out for any other surprises.