Mercedes Gives E-Class More V-8 Power
In its on-going horsepower battle with archrivals BMW and Audi, Mercedes has upped the ante with a 5.5-liter, V-8 in its mid-size E-Class sedan. This engine generates a hefty 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. The E550, as it now known, is available as a sedan with rear-wheel drive, and as a wagon with all-wheel drive. In the sedan version, like the one I drove, it will fly up to 60 in under six seconds. In normal operation around town, it is very docile. But stomp on the gas, and it will pin you to the back of your seat.
Mercedes teams the big V-8 with its seven-speed automatic transmission. This gearbox has a manual mode so that the driver can change gears whenever he or she chooses. Furthermore, it is so sophisticated that if you hold the shifter to the left for one full second, it will find the optimum down-shift for you—a likewise move to the right returns you to the automatic mode.
Complementing this fine power train is an equally fine suspension. Mercedes equips the E550 with the AirMatic setup, similar to the one it uses in its big S-Class sedans. Rubber bellows of compressed air replace steel springs, and electronically-controlled shock absorbers “read’ the road and adjust stiffness accordingly. Furthermore, the driver can adjust the shocks to three levels of firmness by pressing a switch on the console. The upshot of all this is that the E550 can be driven as a compliant luxury car, or as sport sedan, your choice.
In the ‘comfort” mode, AirMatic smoothes out all the bumps in the road, yet still feels well-controlled on a circular off-ramp from the freeway. In the firmest mode, the ride is a little choppier, but body-roll is reduced, and the E550 is ready to take corners aggressively. The middle setting seems to provide a happy medium.
In other respects, the E550 is similar to last year’s car. Mercedes freshened the look slightly with minor alterations to things, like the head and taillights, but they are hardly noticeable. The same can be said for the interior. To my eye, it looks about the same as last year’s car, which is to say, elegant. Finely sculpted Walnut trim wraps around the dash and into the doors. More Walnut graces the console and the shifter. Perforated leather seats, with 10-way adjusters up front, coddle passengers. Gathered leather inserts on the doors add an upscale touch.
The instrument panel features three easy to read gauges, however the screen on the center dash is mounted low and requires you to take your eyes off the road to view. Additionally, the optional navigational system is really chintzy with the amount of detail it shows in urban areas.
As you might expect, the E550 comes equipped with high-end luxury features, like a Harmon-Kardon surround–sound system, but perhaps more impressive are the safety features, like Mercedes’ excellent anti-skid program and their innovative PRE-SAFE system. With PRE-SAFE, if a collision appears imminent, this system will tighten seatbelts, close sunroof and windows and move the seats to their safest upright position to maximize airbag effectiveness. This could be a lifesaver.
My test car came with two options worthy of note, Keyless Go and the Panorama Sunroof. Keyless Go provides the convenience of being able to unlock the car and start the engine, just by keeping the key fob in your pocket. The Panorama Sunroof really opens up the interior of the car. It features two glass sections, front and rear, with sunshades. At the press of a button the sunshades roll up into a center bar, and the front glass tilts and slides like a conventional sunroof.
The Mercedes E550 is a terrific car, and although it features a more powerful engine, it is priced only slightly higher than last year’s model at $59,775.
Excellent Drive Train
Versatile Diving Dynamics
High-Tech Safety Features
Base Price $59,775
Engine 5.5-ltr, DOHC, V-8
Transmission 7-sp auto
Brakes disc, ABS
Gas Mileage 15-23 MPG
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