The Mercedes-Benz E-Class features more powerful engines for 2007, along with subtle styling changes, new interior elements, and a few tweaks for handling and safety.
The E-Class in many ways epitomizes the Mercedes-Benz brand. It's the company's best selling line worldwide and one of the best-selling Mercedes models in the United States.
The E-Class describes a full line of big, roomy sedans that are solid, safe, practical, comfortable, luxurious, and fast. Yet the cost of operating the popular E350, in terms of fuel consumption and maintenance, can be quite reasonable. The E-Class features some of the industry's most advanced safety technology, and it expresses what most people think of when they think of Mercedes: status in elegant, understated fashion.
Since a frame-up overhaul for model year 2003, the E-Class has expanded steadily and now includes six variants (more if you count the all-wheel drive E350 4Matic sedan and wagon and E550 4Matic sedan as separate models). The E-Class has sedans that seat five, wagons that seat seven, power from a V6, two V8s and a turbocharged V6 diesel, optional weather-busting all-wheel drive and screaming super-performance models from supertuner AMG.
For 2007, there are changes in E-Class nomenclature, thanks to new engines. The E500 sedan has become the E550 sedan, the new badge indicating it's powered by the 5.5-liter V8 that first appeared in the 2006 S-Class. The E550's double overhead cam V8 generates 382 horsepower compared to the 302 horsepower from the single overhead cam V8 it replaces, yet with a seven-speed automatic transmission, the E550 achieves the same estimated mileage as its less powerful predecessor. The E550 4Matic sedan retains its five-speed automatic. The E350 benefits from a V6 that was upgraded last year and is offered as a sedan and a wagon.
Meanwhile, there is no better example of how far passenger car diesel technology has advanced than the new E320 Bluetec sedan, which replaces the E320 CDI. The impressive common-rail direct-injection turbodiesel engine comes with a more sophisticated exhaust system that makes it the only diesel-powered passenger car available in the U.S. during the 2007 model year. It's not only more powerful than the outgoing E320 CDI with 210 horsepower and a muscular 388 pound-feet of torque, but it also returns the outgoing CDI's excellent EPA-estimated fuel mileage of 27 city/37 highway mpg.
Also new for 2007 are the E63 AMG sedan and wagon. It's hard to conceive of a faster, sportier team of luxury cars than the outgoing E55 AMGs, but the completely new 507-hp 6.2-liter V8 that replaces the E55's 469-hp supercharged V8 makes the E63s the fastest E-Class models ever built. And though capable of monstrous acceleration (0 to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds) and a top speed of 180 mph (were it not for electronics that limit top speed to 155 mph), the AMGs boast the touches of luxury expected at the upper end of the market.
The Mercedes E-Class is an icon, a benchmark in its class. The mid-life freshening for 2007 helps the E-Class keep pace with such outstanding luxury sedans as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Acura RL.
Before the launch of the gorgeous CLS sedan/coupe, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class was widely considered to be the most successful design among the company's current sedans. For 2007, a slightly increased overall length and wider front and rear tracks does nothing to dispel the car's suave look.
The four-headlight theme introduced on the previous-generation E-Class is now the company standard, but it has been refined further in the mid-life freshening of the 2007 car. Up front, the bumper and radiator grille now have a pronounced V-shape, the spoiler is lower, and, for a striking effect, the twin headlamps sport transparent louvers over their top sections. A finishing touch is the white LEDs used for the parking lights.
The front end's new look for 2007 is carried to the rear along deeper side skirts to a new rear bumper and taillight configuration. Along with the new, more aerodynamically shaped single-strut rearview mirrors, the changes keep the E-Class looking fresh and youthful, yet elegant.
The current E-Class design introduced many innovations not necessarily apparent to the eye. This was the first Mercedes sedan to use aluminum body components extensively, starting with the hood, front fenders, trunk lid, front crossmember and front subframe. Aluminum is lighter and stronger but more expensive than steel. Aluminum amounts to 10 percent of the body's weight. About 37 percent of the total is modern high-strength steel alloys.
From the aerodynamic perspective, the E-Class is one of the slipperiest sedans extant. Its 0.27 coefficient of drag, identical to the 2006 model, is a benchmark for sedans and helps minimize wind noise and maximize fuel economy.
The E-Class wagon, this year available only in E350 and E63 AMG versions, will never be mistaken for anything but a wagon. Nonetheless, it is impressively sleek, and some critics find the tear-drop taper of the rear roof more aesthetically pleasing than the trunk deck on the sedans. The exterior revisions on the sedan apply to the wagon. The wagon has been fitted with a larger center brake light. The wagon's added cargo-passenger flexibility is welcome. If the E350 wagon is too stodgy for your taste, there's always the new E63 AMG wagon.
The E63 AMG sedan and wagon look meaner than the other E-Class cars. With their lower body cladding and 18-inch wheels, the E63s look racy and aggressive. As is often the case, the body add-ons add slightly more drag, if you can call a super slippery 0.28 Cd more drag. The aerodynamic aids are for downforce, to improve grip in fast corners.
We really enjoy the Mercedes E-Class interior. Like its exterior styling, we consider the E-Class cabin to be some of the marque's best design work, with a successful mix of attributes. The E-Class sedan delivers plenty of passenger space, yet it maintains some level of intimacy. It's luxurious, yet functional, and loaded with features without being excessive. The E-Class has all the traditional Mercedes interior cues, starting with its standard dark stained burl walnut trim. The cabin is conservative in some respects, daring in others, and impressively executed throughout.
New for 2007 is a more elegant look, distinguished by sweeping curves, soft surfaces and effective use of chrome trim. A handsome four-spoke steering wheel with elliptical thumb-operated buttons is new, along with revised controls for the automatic climate system and additional interior color choices.
The dashboard sweeps from each side and blends into the doors and center console. The wood trim is complemented by splashes of chrome. Plastic panels are generally rich in appearance and have a soft-touch finish. All are sprayed with a polyurethane coating that delivers impressively consistent color.
The instrument cluster uses black script on white gauges with LED lighting. There's a big speedometer in the middle, with a menu-operated display for diagnostics, feature selection, ambient temperature, date and other information in its center. To the left sits a large analog clock, to the right the tachometer. On either end of the cluster are neat bar gauges that resemble thermometers, displaying fuel level and coolant temperature.
A cluster of switches between the visors on the headliner controls cabin lighting and the Tele-Aid SOS call button. The panel also includes a switch to operate the sunroof. HomeLink buttons are located on the bottom of the rearview mirror and can be programmed to control garage doors, house lighting, gates, etc. Redundant controls on the steering wheel hub operate the phone, radio and information display.
A single row of switches at the bottom of the center stack operates door locks, flashers and seat heaters. The main audio, telephone and navigation controls are located in a Comand module, spread around a 16:9 ratio LCD display screen. The system is a big improvement over Mercedes' previous control center, and while it still requires some learning, it probably takes less time to master than the menu/joystick system in many E-Class competitors.
The new CD changer is located behind a flip-up switch panel in the center of the dash panel, which, at the touch of a button, opens for access to the changer. It can play audio CDs and MP3s, and an auxiliary input plug in the glove box allows personal audio devices to be played through the 12-speaker sound system. An optional kit connects the Apple iPod to the audio system and provides information in the center display while allowing control via the multi-function steering wheel. Mercedes is learning that people who drive cars carry stuff with them, at least Americans do. This E-Class has less storage space than some of its competitors, but acres more than any Mercedes did five years ago. The center console has a funky pop-up cupholder and a large storage bin (two bins if you don't order the telephone package). Storage bins are also located in each door along with map pockets on the front seatbacks.
The 10-way adjustable front bucket seats are firm enough for good support when driving fast, but not hard on the back when cruising. They grip bodies of various sizes nicely, and there's more than enough adjustment via Mercedes' patented door-mounted seat controls to accommodate just about everyone. The sport seats have enough bolstering to keep a bronze bust in place. But if you don't dive into corners like Stirling Moss, you probably don't need them. They make getting in and out a little more difficult. We especially enjoy the Active Ven
All of the 2007 Mercedes E-Class cars are enjoyable to drive. Smooth, serene and quiet are the dominant impressions at the wheel of any E-Class, unless you have the accelerator floored. There's very little vibration anywhere in the cabin, and almost no wind noise.
Improvements to the geometry of the front suspension for 2007 give the E-Class a crisper, quicker turn-in while cornering, perceptibly increasing the sporty nature of the car's handling. All of the E-Class cars corner responsively and provide a smooth, if slightly firm, ride, a balance we like in luxury sedans. The four-link front suspension is similar to that under the expensive S-Class models, and the five-link rear suspension does a superb job of controlling unwanted wheel movement, which is crucial to handling and ride quality.
The Sport models are tuned for those who like to feel in closer touch to the pavement, as it's fitted with shorter springs for a slightly lower ride height, stiffer shocks and low-profile performance tires on 18-inch wheels.
The available Airmatic Dual Control suspension replaces the standard steel coil springs with air springs. This computer-managed system adjusts the air pressure to the spring at each wheel, based on road conditions or driving style, to slightly soften or firm the ride and to add or decrease body roll (lean) in corners. In combination with electronically adjusted shock absorbers, the air suspension can automatically improve ride quality or handling or optimize the balance of the two, depending on where the car is traveling and whether the driver is cruising or driving quickly. The system works automatically, without switching suspension settings between sport and comfort.
The variable-power steering system was improved for 2007 with a 10-percent quicker ratio for more precise control of front wheel direction. The system provides more boost for easy turning at low speeds and less for more progressive steering response and feedback at higher speeds. With 2.6 turns lock-to-lock compared to the previous system's 3.3 turns, we found the new steering makes maneuvering through crowded parking lots easier and more pleasant, and far more responsive in the corners.
One of our gripes with the 2006 models was the braking system. All of the E-Class cars came with Sensotronic Brake Control, commonly called brake-by-wire, because the connection between the brake pedal and reservoir of brake fluid is electronic, not mechanical. Although we found them to be excellent in terms of performance, with stops straight, true and short, repeatedly, with virtually no brake fade, we didn't care for the way they engaged, which we felt was too abrupt, especially in commuter crawl mode. They do, however, have their advantages. The electronic system can apply brake force to each wheel independently, helping to keep the car traveling straight and true during panic stops, even on bumpy, uneven roads. It will also keep the brakes on full in an emergency situation, as measured by sensors, even if a driver inadvertently eases off the brake pedal. And if it's raining, the system periodically, lightly, applies the brakes to sweep them dry. Still, the brake-by-wire had its quirks. Several testers found them difficult to modulate in everyday driving, making smooth braking around town a challenge. In short, we didn't really like them.
For 2007, the Sensotronic control has been removed from the brake system, which is essentially unchanged except for the now ultra-smooth grasp of the binders, even at slow speeds. Each E-Class model has progressively larger brake rotors and more complex piston designs to complement the engine's power and corresponding speed potential.
The E-Class wagons give up almost nothing to the sedans in performance, fuel economy or handling dynamics.
The E350 comes with a 3.5-liter engine introduced for 2006, which was the first Mercedes V6 with dual overhead cams and four valves per cyl
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class offers a wide range of choices, but all have the attributes that have made them a benchmark among luxury cars. Every model delivers a combination of safety, luxury, practicality, performance, status, and cost of operation that's difficult to match. This remains an iconic car in a market segment crowded with good cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles, with J.P. Vettraino and Jim McCraw in Detroit, and Greg Brown in Las Vegas.
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