BMW 535i vs Mercedes E350

The midsize luxury car segment is one of the most hotly contested in the industry. Some premium car brands, like Mercedes & BMW, derive a considerable portion of their revenue from such cars. So their midsize luxury cars have to be really good if they’re going to compete.

Two of the benchmark cars in this segment are the 2012 Mercedes E-Class & 2012 BMW 5-Series. Since anyone can remember, these two cars have been duking it out in the parking lots of hospitals and courthouses across the country. They both offer a proprietary blend of luxury and performance, wrapped in a right-sized package. The likes of which, other automakers have tried to copy since…Oprah was poor.

The 2012 Mercedes E350 has one of the most luxurious cabins in the business. The 2012 BMW 535i has an equally nice interior, and the AWD equipped 2012 BMW 535i xDrive has some serious grip in the wet. But the ‘shift stalk’ on the Mercedes won’t obey a Park command if the car is still rolling. And the BMW is ridiculously complicated to operate. None the less, the 2012 Mercedes E350 & 2012 BMW 535i are the two Bread & Butter models for their respective manufacturers. So let’s see how they stack up…

2012 Mercedes E350

2012 Mercedes-Benz E350

The 2012 Mercedes E350 sits on a ledge below the S-Class, where it collects all of the toys that trickle down from its big brother. Everything is voice-activated. The Sat-Nav, the radio, the telephone. There’s a trick night vision system which turns the speedometer into a pedestrian-detecting black & white image of the road ahead. The 14-way power front seats are heated & cooled, plus you can use both features simultaneously to dry your wet clothes with warm air. The drivers seat has active side bolsters to grip you as you go through a curve. There’s a WiFi hotspot inside the car, along with dual iPad docking stations for passengers in the rear. A power-operated rear sunshade will keep the sun at bay, while the backup camera guides you out of the driveway. The Harmon Kardon surround sound system provides concert quality sound, as the infotainment system steers you around traffic jams.

However if you do get stuck in traffic, the radar guided cruise control will work the gas and the brake for you. Should you drift from your lane without signaling, the Active Lane Keeping system will apply individual wheel brakes to steer you back into your lane. And if you fall asleep from boredom, the Attention Assist system will make a bunch of racket to wake you up, then the PRE-SAFE Brake system will bring your 2012 Mercedes E350 to a stop, if the car thinks that…you’re still asleep.

Of course, this is a Mercedes Benz, so all of that costs extra. And why must Mercedes spell their various features IN ALL CAPS? It’s like the brochure is yelling at me.

Anyway, what you do get for $50k is a wonderful direct injected 3.5 liter V6 that makes 302-hp in the 2012 Mercedes E350, while getting 20 city / 30 hwy / 23 comb. Opt for the AWD equipped 2012 Mercedes E350 4MATIC ($2,500 +/- more), and you’ll get 19 city / 29 hwy / 23 comb. Under normal driving conditions, the 4MATIC system splits the power delivery 30% front – 70% rear, giving the car a more athletic feel. If the road gets dicey, 45% power can be sent to the front wheels, turning your luxury car into a giant snow shoe.

On the road, the 2012 Mercedes E350 feels confident and powerful. With just a blip of throttle, the 7-speed automatic can drop gears like a bad habit, providing you with a grin-inducing 302-hp surge. The cabin is whisper quiet, and the ride is very relaxing. For long distance journeys, the 2012 Mercedes E350 is simply fantastic. Which is a good thing, because the 2012 Mercedes E350 isn’t very good at ‘enthusiastic driving’.

Now don’t get me wrong, the AGILITY CONTROL suspension system (complete with computer-controlled dampers) on the 2012 Mercedes E350 is more than capable of handling curves, while keeping the body level. And the ‘Adaptive braking’ system actually moves the brake pads closer to the disks, giving you more bite if you lift-off the go-pedal quickly. However, the 2012 Mercedes E350 uses an electric power steering system which is completely devoid of road feel. Dart into a curve and the steering weight changes, but you can never tell what the front wheels are doing. The car itself is actually quite capable, but the steering system is absolute garbage.

2012 BMW 535i

2012 BMW 535i

Once the darling of the mid size luxury segment, the 2012 BMW 535i has, well, gotten older. Much like its target customer. Now there’s pudgier sheetmetal, which resembles a bloated e46 BMW 3-Series (1999-2006). The seats are softer, and so is the suspension. Overall, the 2012 BMW 535i is more of an Ultimate Cruising Machine, than an outright sport sedan. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Most of the people who would buy a 2012 BMW 535i are more interested in being coddled, than ripping down a twisty canyon road at breakneck speed. To that end, the 2012 BMW 535i can be had with all manner of luxury options. There’s heated & cooled thrones, with the same active side bolstering as in the Mercedes. Radar cruise control; $2,400. Side & top-view cameras, in case windows aren’t your thing. Keyless entry & ignition. Power open/close trunk lid (lest you break a nail). A head-up display can project things like vehicle speed & directional arrows from the navigation system, right onto the windshield. If you don’t happen care for the view from your windshield, you can get the BMW Apps (part of the $2,000 Tech Pkg, or $250 ala carte) which allow you to, among other things, update your Facebook/Twitter status #GiantCrash.

On the luxury front, you can festoon your 2012 BMW 535i with all sorts of overpriced frivolities. There’s an $800 three-spoke steering wheel, with a fancy wood inlay. Self-closing doors for $600. Bang & Olufsen speakers; $4,500. Black ceramic knobs (iDrive joystick etc) for $650. 18-way thrones covered in Nappa Leather; $1,300. A Merino Leather (whatever that is) package, with fancy door sills and wheels; $5,800. Fancy-er 20-inch wheels; $6,000.

And then we get to the performance options, like computerized shocks; $1,000. The paddle-shift 8-speed Sport transmission; $500 (a 6-speed manual is a no-cost option). 4-wheel steering; $1,750 (the back wheels pivot 2.5 degrees in the opposite direction at speeds under 30 mph, and they turn with the front wheels at speeds over 50 mph). The $2,900 M Sport package adds (among other things) more aggressive suspension programming with Active Roll Stabilization to offset the extra weight of the body.

On the road, the 2012 BMW 535i soaks up bumps, and wallows around turns. But if you press every button marked Sport (you may have to scroll through a few menus to find them), the car becomes more tossable. And it uses a traditional hydraulic steering system, so the car has loads of genuine road feel. All of this makes the 2012 BMW 535i much more engaging to drive than the 2012 Mercedes E350.

The twin-scroll turbo fed 3.0 liter inline-6 adds 300-hp / 300 lb-ft (21/31/24) to the experience. Resulting in a luxury cruiser that has every right to wear it’s BMW badge. It may be fatter, and more comfortable. But some stuff just gets better with, ‘maturity’. Now get back to work. That Kia Rio isn’t going to pay for itself.

Also checkout the general BMW vs Mercedes comparison!