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E - CONOMICS

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Published on Thu, Oct 16, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

E - CONOMICS

By JOHN GRAFMAN

As we have noticed around Southern California lately the economy isn’t what it used to be. Lets face it, if the economy was doing well would we have recalled the Governor. Probably not. What lies ahead for this state is also subject for controversy, as there are many positive as well as negative indicators.

At some point those who were planning to make a purchase of a new car can hold out only so long. A sense of direction in their own financial future would make their car buying decision a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to help resolve this matter. Fortunately, the Mercedes Benz product line covers so much territory there now seems to be a car fit for every occasion or pocketbook. The E Class bridges the chasm between the C and the S Class extremely well. No need to pity the hard hit S Class owners, those poor soles having to down size can still manage to keep their chin up around the country club in the Powerful E 500. Tightening the budget doesn’t have to be painful. At about twenty thousand less than the S Class, the E 500 manages to be the near equal of its big brother in some respects, and it has a distinct and some would argue a more charismatic personality than the base S Class sedan. For those who peer into their future and see the glass as half full will find the E Class as solid physical evidence of their hard work and good fortune. The base model (E320) is populating as fast as rabbits around here in Orange County, possibly even faster. The E500 is a step up but shy of the over the top E 55 AMG model best suited to overachieving extrovert types.

The E500 occupies the position squarely in the middle of the Mercedes sedan line. Most automotive companies would have an ear-to-ear grin on their faces to have such a wonderful car represent the middle of their pack. The real question, is this car an average middle of the road vehicle or something more? A field test of the eyeball appeal of the Benz sent me off to the lofty, refined palates of Beverly Hills, California. This is one of those great places that not only have people with income to spare but aren’t ashamed to display it with fine automotive works of art. While driving around trying to notice if anyone was giving the Mercedes a second glance or not I came across one of the benefits of this design. The view both driver and occupants have in the E Class is superb. Visibility is excellent with large expanses of glass and a low cowl height. The feeling is like going from a 36-inch television to a 60-inch plasma screen. Surprisingly, I didn’t find anyone taking extra special notice of this vehicle on Rodeo or on Melrose. The fact is the E is not a bold statement such as the SL or as stately as the S. In defense the well-designed body shares many Mercedes lines and attributes, particularly in the front. The wheels are a perfect blend of strength and sculptural motion. Unlike wheels of yore, these have an open spoke design for better brake ventilation. Audi who has been considered by many to have all the aces in wheel styling has to concede some to the Benz effort.

Interior design shares many attributes from the S Class. The cabin is a model of refinement. The retracting faceplate of the six-disc changer, sheltered beneath a wood panel in front of the gear shifter, is a perfect example. Years of evolution have found the changer migrating from the trunk, to the glove box and now finally to a position the driver can access while driving. Not to mention the whole opening and closing mechanism is a marvel to just watch in operation. The real fun, though, is listening to this killer stereo. The optional Harman Kardon logic 7 with 420 watts of power also compensates for ambient driving noise. Full and rich reproduction in various sound fields along with steering wheel controls, an aftermarket system would seem unnecessary even for the hardcore audiophiles. Some of the added features such as the illumination on the speedo once the Cruise Control is engaged could have been accomplished by other means but with far less dramatic effect. Features like that differentiate the E from lesser cars and make the driving experience a touch special even when doing nothing more than holding a steady fifty miles per hour on some sluggishly moving, traffic infested L.A. freeway.

There are other niceties such as the driver operated rear headrest-retracting switch that increases outward visibility and thereby creates a safer driving experience. I found that I could get very used to the environment created by the leather and woodwork inside. This model also came with a split fold down rear seat that only amplifies the already lengthy trunk space. The trunk well isn’t as deep as some would expect in this car. But in the trade off between depth and length, I think most people would prefer the layout just as Mercedes engineers and designer created it. It is interesting how they have redesigned the E Class with the trunk height seemingly shorter compared with the prior model. I think a slightly higher deck lid would actually give the trunk additional depth and possibly instill the body with a more masculine flare. One of the only annoyances inside was the lack of illumination on the headlight settings. In using the switch at night, it would be helpful to see what you are doing. When it comes to the powerplant, downsizing just wouldn’t seem right. The big eight cylinder is as smooth as they come. Every twitch of the throttle is responded to both immediately and in proper portion. Judicious use of the throttle should be considered in that this sedan can get up and move quickly albeit in a controlled fashion. That gas pedal does have a direct connection to ones’ wallet as the hungry eight needs to be fed regularly if you want to play hard with it.

All the power this car has means little if it wasn’t for a great transmission. The lethargic Touch Shift tranny of the C Class is fortunately no reflection on that of the E Class. Shifting while in the auto mode is done at what seems to be the perfect time at nearly every shift. It seems the car almost can forecast the road up ahead and what the drivers’ needs will be with the latest shift programming. For those who wish to take matters into their own hands, I found the manual capabilities of the shifter to be without hesitation and presented an additional sense of involvement in the art of driving. The manually actuated suspension settings and ride height adopted from the S-Class enhance the driver involvement. An effective new four-link front suspension is joined by new Airmatic Dual Control suspension with adaptive damping and two different spring rates (two air chambers) provides a perfect blend of comfort and sport. This system utilizes four automated programs for firmness and two additional choices over the normal setting that the driver can initiate. This suspension also controls the vehicles ride height as well. Although I didn’t overly notice the firmness differences in the suspension during much of my drive, I could sense a bit more control as the car is pushed harder. If the envelope were indeed being pushed, the firmer setting would give the added control that would be appreciated.

So times are tough, but as the adage goes when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The E500 can move out from the pack in a blink when asked to do so. It maintains composure and it has a damn nice interior. Those poor bastards who have to down size from the top of the line marks won’t be too bad off. The rest of us who are headed upwards have just found paydirt!

More on Mercedes-Benz products can be found at www.mbusa.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: $ 54,850 (base) $ 58,620 (as tested) Engine type: 90-degree V6 90-degree V8 Engine material Aluminum Valvetrain Chain-driven single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, three valves per cylinder Horsepower: 302 @ 5,600 Torque: 339 @ 2,700-4,250 Drive configuration: Front engine/rear-wheel drive Transmission type: Five-speed electronically controlled automatic with Touch Shift and driver-adaptive shift logic Suspension: Front - Upper and lower control arms, coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers, stabilizer bar Airmatic DC: computer-controlled air springs and four-stage variable damping Rear - Five-link, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar Airmatic DC: computer-controlled air springs and four-stage variable damping Four-wheel independent (Airmatic Dual Control air suspension standard on E500 and optional on E320) Wheels and tires: Front: 8.5 x 17-in., 5 double-spoke Sport Pkg.: 8.0 x 17-in. 5-spoke Std.: 245/45R-17 (Sport Pkg.: Same size, summer tread) Brakes: Front: 13” x 1.3” Vented, with four-piston fixed calipers Rear: 11.8” x 0.9” Vented, with twin-piston fixed calipers Electronic, power assisted 4-wheel vented discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock, Brake Assist, electronic brake proportioning Overall length: 190.3 Overall width: 71.3 Overall height: 57.0 Curb weight (lbs.): 3,815 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 16/23 mpg 0-60 mph: 5.8 (mnf. claim)

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