2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Luxury Sedan Test Drive
|Topics: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
October 16, 2009
Not many automobiles have a history dating back more than half a century. Mercedes-Benz offers one: the E-Class sedan, whose initial ancestor came to life way back in 1947. Now entering its ninth generation, the E-Class gets a freshened appearance, coupled with even more technology than its predecessor. Better yet, most of the high-tech goodies are safety-oriented.
Slightly larger inside and out, the E-Class sedan competes against such premium models as the BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M, and Cadillac CTS. Sitting an inch lower to the ground, Sport sedans have squared-off exhaust tips, "twist" rocker panels and a grille with three horizontal bars, above a massive air intake. Luxury-model grilles contain four bars, with a smaller air intake.
Interiors feature an abundant selection of hand-polished burl walnut wood. The sedan's gearshift lever has moved from the floor console to the steering column, operated electronically. Five-level Ambient Lighting, taken from S-Class sedans, aims to reduce eyestrain. E550 Sport sedans have a three-spoke steering wheel with thumb notches (optional for E350 Sport), versus a plain four-spoke wheel for other models. Seats are 14-way power-adjustable.
Heading the list of safety features is newly standard Attention Assist, a drowsiness monitor that tries to alert a dozing driver. Steering-angle sensors consider more than 70 variables, starting with your profile, over the first 20 minutes of driving. An audible warning is accompanied by display of a coffee-cup icon. Standard enhanced Pre-Safe Braking can provide partial or full-power braking in emergencies. Nine airbags are standard, including driver's knee and pelvic bags.
Additional safety items are optional. Radar-based Distronic Plus maintains a pre-set distance from the car ahead, working like an "invisible rubber band," according to Bernhard Glaser, general manager for product management. Night Vision Assist Plus recognizes pedestrians ahead, using twin infrared beams. Adaptive Highbeam Assist automatically provides the best possible illumination, reaching up to 1000 feet ahead. Lane Keeping Assist uses a camera above the windshield to analyze lines in road, delivering three steering-wheel vibrations when the car begins to leave its path. Blind Spot Assist monitors the area 10 feet back and 10 feet to the side.
Today's Mercedes-Benz sedans are lighter on their feet than those from a few years back, while roomy and comfortable for long-distance treks. On reasonably smooth surfaces, occupants of an E550 Luxury sedan can barely discern bumps and other road imperfections. Even when a jolt occurs, it's stifled virtually instantly, transmitting minimal annoyance to the interior.
Mercedes-Benz offers U.S. buyers a choice of two engines, both available in either Luxury or Sport trim level. In E550 sedans, a 5.5-liter V-8 again develops 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, driving a seven-speed automatic transmission. E350 sedans contain a 3.5-liter V-6, still rated at 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet.
Estimated fuel economy is 18/25 miles per gallon (city/highway) for V-6 models, and 16/23 mpg for E550 sedans. Mercedes-Benz's transmission can skip as many as three gear ratios when downshifting, depending on the situation. A Hold function prevents "creep" at stoplights. Instead of coil springs, an Airmatic air suspension is installed on all V-8 sedans.
Transmission downshifts with the V-8 engine are not only impressively smooth, they occur promptly. Gear changes are hardly discernible. Expect assertive, refined acceleration at any speed. On certain surfaces, one Luxury sedan experienced slight steering-wheel vibration; other models felt fine.
Luxury-sedan steering feels too light and slow-responding to suit some drivers, so that sedan doesn't feel wholly comfortable on curves, or even some straight-aways. Shoppers who favor the most confident control might prefer a Sport V-8, which sticks to the pavement with greater tenacity. Steering feels a tad tauter, more in accord with directional changes.
As expected, response is more ordinary in a V-6 model: sufficiently strong, but lacking the V-8's finesse. Still, the V-8 commands a sizable extra cost. In any version, seats keep you firmly in place. Front space is ample all around, though headroom could be a tad higher. The center controller knob isn't easy to make out, but must be studied.
On sale since June '09, the rear-wheel-drive 2010 E350 sedan has a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price of $48,600 (plus $875 destination charge). That's actually $4,600 lower than the equivalent 2009 model. Choosing an E550 raises the tariff to $56,300; plus another $2,500 if you want 4Matic all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive sedans go on sale in September, followed in November by the superstar 518-horsepower E63 AMG sedan. Mercedes-Benz also intends to introduce a BlueTec diesel sedan next spring.
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