2012 Mercedes E350 Tech Drive: A Benz with Brains and Brawn

It's no longer enough to have the best performance, sleekest lines, or most plush leather to stay on top of the luxury car world. You have to constantly innovate, and bring compelling new technology to each vehicle that rolls off of the assembly line. Nowhere is that line of thinking more evident than in Mercedes’ 2012 E350 luxury sports sedan.

From its Assist safety features to its Comand infotainment system, the E350 is one truly teched-out Benz. But with many of these features adding considerably to the E350’s $50,490 base price, are they really worth the extra expense? To find out, we spent a week gallivanting around the New York area in a loaded E350. So read on to see whether you should roll in this Benz.

Comand Infotainment System

Mercedes’ Comand infotainment and telematics system offers some of the best controls and visuals we’ve seen to date. At its heart is a 7-inch high-definition display, but it's not a traditional touch screen; you interact with the system by way of a conveniently placed silver rotary knob with a shallow knurling grip situated just in front of the E350’s center armrest. 

You can either turn the knob, push it down, or move it up, down or side-to-side to move between menus and settings. Need to back out of a menu? Just tap the back button to the left of the knob. You can also quickly delete information using the Clear button located on the right side of the knob.

Comand offers users six main features, including navigation, audio, phone, video, settings and weather. Of the many integrated navigation systems we’ve seen in various vehicles, Mercedes’ offering is one of the best. It doesn’t offer the kind of 3D mapping that Cadillac’s CUE system does, but the speed with which it was able to load guidance data, as well as traffic and incident information, was far more impressive.

Using the Comand control knob, we were able to zoom out far enough to see the entire continental United States then quickly zoom in close enough to see the access roads surrounding a nearby hospital. While zoomed in, Comand’s navigation system also displays area points-of-interest, gas stations and ATMs.

The E350’s smartphone integration system allows users to access their iPhone or Android device’s phonebook, as well as make calls and listen to text messages via Bluetooth. Connecting our Droid X was as easy as enabling its Bluetooth function and opening Comand’s Phone menu. Once connected, we could answer incoming phone calls via the E350’s steering wheel mounted smartphone controls. To make calls we could either use the Comand knob to scroll through our phonebook, or use the E350’s voice control.

Audio options available on our E350 were nearly limitless. From Bluetooth iPod connectivity and SiriusXM Satellite Radio to a 10GB storage drive and HD radio, we were never at a loss for content. We especially liked the old school design of the on-screen radio dial. Our E350 also came equipped with DVD-playback functionality via the in-dash CD/DVD changer and 7-inch display. For those concerned about distracted driving, Mercedes has disabled the ability to watch DVDs when the car is not in park. Optional rear-seat displays, built into the front-seat headrests, are also available.

Thanks to its SiriusXM Satellite functionality, E350 users gain access to live weather reports whenever they want via Comand. To open the weather tab, simply turn the Comand knob to the far right and press down. The weather for your immediate area will then be displayed on the E350’s display, as well as options for viewing the five-day forecast and weather map. Just like Comand’s GPS feature, the weather option allows users to zoom out far enough to reveal a weather map of the entire U.S. and zoom in close enough to view small towns. We found weather forecasts to be fairly reliable, while radar images were spot on.

The system is extremely detailed and provides users with not only Doppler radar information, but high and low pressure systems and wind directions and speed. One particularly compelling feature offered via the weather service is the ability to scroll across the map and get the weather report for any location by pinpointing it and pushing the Comand knob.

The one issue we had with Comand was its voice recognition. When setting up the system, Mercedes requires users to speak several different words and phrases in order for it to calibrate to your voice. Despite the calibration, we noted several occasions when the feature was either unable to understand what we were saying or brought us to the wrong menu.

The biggest problem arose when we were trying to use the voice recognition system to enter an address in another state. Instead of accepting the address, the system would continuously ask us to repeat the name of the state we wanted to drive to.

Mercedes Assist Systems

Mercedes packed our E350 with an assortment of Assist safety systems capable of taking control of the vehicle when it detects you are driving erratically, falling asleep at the wheel or a crash is imminent. It’s not exactly a robotic car, but it comes pretty close. Our E350 came packed with Mercedes’ Attention Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist, the most impressive of which was Attention Assist.

The system works by recording your driving behavior within the first few minutes of starting your vehicle. Attention Assist then uses that initial driving behavior as a baseline against which it tests all of your future steering inputs. To make sure the system doesn’t continually return false readings, Attention Assist will also take into account all of your recent vehicle interactions, as well as current weather and road conditions. When Attention Assist detects that you’re drowsy, it will issue an audible alert and display a message telling you to take a break on the digital instrument cluster.

In addition to Attention Assist, our E350 came with Mercedes’ Active Blind Spot Assist. The feature uses radar sensors located in the rear bumper to monitor your car’s blind spot and alert you when it detects another vehicle by displaying an amber alert icon in the side mirror that the vehicle is closest to.

If you flip your turn signal on to merge into the lane another vehicle is occupying, Active Blind Spot Assist will provide you with an audible alert and the amber indicator in the side mirror will flash bright red. One of the things we appreciated most about the indicators was their size. Similar systems we’ve tested in other vehicles have traditionally used smaller indicators, which can be difficult to see in bright sunlight.

Overall, we found the system useful on more than one occasion while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. However, when we took to the streets of Manhattan Blind Spot Assist was more of a distraction because of the sheer number of cabs flying past us at any given time.

Our E350 also came with Active Lane Keeping Assist, a feature designed to monitor whether you’re keeping your vehicle within its lane. When active, the feature will display a green icon with a car positioned between two parallel lines in the E350’s instrument cluster. If you happen to drift into another lane, the system will automatically alert you by sending a pulse through the steering wheel.

When testing this feature, we found it difficult to tell the difference between the pulses and ruts in the road being transferred to the steering wheel. Fortunately, if Active Lane Keeping Assist detects that you haven’t corrected your steering, it will activate the brakes on the opposite side of your car, pulling you back into your lane.

The Ride

During our week with the Mercedes Benz E350, we drove from the bucolic suburbs of New Jersey to midtown Manhattan and back several times. We spent hours in rush hour traffic, crossed a multitude of unsettlingly dilapidated bridges and, in one instance, sat in the Lincoln Tunnel for a solid hour. At no time were we ever uncomfortable.

Like any Mercedes sedan, cruising around in the E350 was a delight. Its plush, ivory-colored leather adjustable seats offered plenty of support, ensuring that our ride was cushy during both spirited driving and normal cruising.

The new E350 is a stunning work of art, from its LED daytime running lights on its front fascia and exaggerated snout to its bespoked wheels and muscular haunches. On more than one occasion, we were flagged down by a pedestrian or fellow driver who wanted nothing more than to tell us how gorgeous our blue E350 press loaner was.

In one particularly interesting instance, we were pulled over by a van full of New York’s finest, only to be asked what year our loaner was. After a quick exchange, one of the officers say, “I wish that was my car.”

Despite its rather large size, the E350’s 302 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 hustled down the highway with aplomb. It's engine note isn't as strong, or lust worthy as that of one of Mercedes' V8's, but when pushed, the E350 can still unleash its own satisfyingly sonorous gurgle. Plant your foot on the accelerator and the E350 will take off without so much as a chirp from its tires. You won't win any drag races in this Benz, but it can certainly move.

When in Eco Mode, we managed a surprising average of 23 miles per gallon. Sport Mode was a bit lower, but still impressive nonetheless. The E350’s electronically assisted steering was spot on while driving at faster speeds, but felt a bit over eager at lower speeds. Highway driving was spectacular. The rutted asphalt along the New Jersey Turnpike felt positively flat while riding in the E350. Wind noise, even at extra-legal speeds, was almost imperceptible.

Finish Line

The Mercedes Benz E350 is the kind of car that sucks you in from the second you lay eyes on it. From its expertly sculpted exterior to its impressive array of tech and safety features, Mercedes has crafted a truly teched-out vehicle. Although we had some issues with Comand’s voice recognition system and the steering felt a little over aggressive at low speed, the E350 is one sports sedan that is well worth the investment.

Daniel P. Howley
LAPTOP Senior Writer
A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.