An Electronic Treasure Trove and More
The Mercedes E550 is a rolling treasure trove of high-tech wizardry. This car has every type of driver aid imaginable. Features that started on the big S-Class have now migrated to the new E models. Some, like the Pre-Safe system and Attention Assist are standard. Pre-Safe prepares the car for a collision, if one seems immanent, and Attention Assist detects when you are drowsy and sounds a warning.
However, most of the techno stuff is offered in optional groupings, like the Driver Assist Package on my test car. It included Distronic Plus cruise control, which works with Pre-Safe, and will apply the brakes (if you don’t) to lessen the impact of a collision. Also in the package was Lane Keep Assist, which gently vibrates the steering wheel if you wander over a line. But the feature I relied upon most was Blind Spot Assist, which flashed a light on my outside mirrors when another driver was hovering where I couldn’t see him.
If all this isn’t enough, buyers can also order high-tech goodies, like Parktronic, which will do your parallel parking for you, and an infrared night vision system that can actually distinguish a pedestrian in your path before your headlights do.
Of course, the E-Class is much more than just a platform for electronic gadgetry. This car has a lot of other great qualities, but then again, it’s not perfect. The styling, for instance, misses the mark. The sculpted arches over the rear wheels are superfluous, and draw the eye away from the clean, upsweeping lines on side of the car. The dash, on the inside, isn’t very pleasing either. It’s angular and austere looking. And while I’m in the griping mode, the backseat could use a little more legroom.
However, on the plus side, the front seats feel great, and with their 14-way adjusters, they will fit just about anybody. Furthermore, they can be heated or cooled. The electronic shifter on the steering wheel is a good idea, freeing up space on the center console. And the COMAND controller for audio, telephone and navigation is more user-friendly, especially for operating the radio.
Mercedes powers the E550 with a 5.5-liter V-8 that pumps out a massive 382 hp. It’s mated to a seven-speed automatic with a manual shift mode. Together, they will rush you up to 60 in a scant 5.2 seconds. Beyond being very quick, the power train impresses by doing its job effortlessly. When I hit the gas, there was no roar, just a steady surge of power.
However, it’s the E550’s driving dynamics that really make it special. Much of the credit goes to Mercedes’ Airmatic suspension with its “Sport” and “Comfort” modes. In normal driving, the comfort mode provides an excellent balance of precise handling and a smooth ride. For spirited driving, the sport mode firms up the suspension a notch so that the E550 feels like it’s more on its toes. The steering is just about perfect, light, yet conveying a good sense of the road. Take the E550 on a twisty two-laner, and it does what you ask of it without breaking a sweat. This car is unflappable.
Mercedes has lowered the price of the 2010 E550. It now starts at $57,175, which is about $4575 less than last year’s model. However, if you delve deeply into the options list, the price rises substantially. My well-equipped test car, which included high-priced options, like the Premium Package and Driver Assistance had a bottom line of $69,625.
High Tech Driver aids
Strong, Silent Engine