2003 Mercedes-Benz E320 Sedan Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

2003 Mercedes-Benz E320 Sedan

    The 1996 Mercedes-Benz E-Class was a radical step for the 
once-conservative German automaker. It brought sleek, youthful 
styling to the company's core line, and introduced new technologies 
in both manufacturing and the cars themselves. The results possibly 
astounded even Mercedes-Benz. The E-Class was a major sales 
success.
    Even in an uncertain world economy, automotive product cycles 
are not as long as they once were. The predecessor of the '96 E-
Class debuted in 1985, for a decade-long run. The E-Class gets a 
major makeover for the 2003 model year. New bodywork is the 
most apparent change, but there are changes under the skin as well. 
The technology level has increased, with the electronic braking 
system introduced in the company's premium SL roadsters finding 
its first mass-production use in the new E. As before, two models 
are offered. The E320 uses the 3.2-liter V6 engine familiar from 
previous years, while the E500 has the 5.0-liter V8 shared by the 
CL500 coupe and SL500 roadster. 
    I've just spent a week with a new E320. If its styling almost says 
``coupe'', its interior space is definitely sedan, with first-class 
accommodation for four. And, as before, the namesake 3.2-liter, 
221-horsepower V6 provides plenty of refined power with a 
modest appetite for fuel. Performance is enhanced by a more rigid 
unibody structure and revised suspension, combining comfort with 
agility. The newest Mercedes E-Class continues the revolution 
started by the 1996 model, and raises the bar in the heart of the 
luxury class.

APPEARANCE: Neat trick - the new E-Class sedan is marginally 
larger in all dimensions than the previous version, yet it looks much 
smaller. Thank the sleek coupe-like styling for that. The signature 
quad elliptical headlights remain, but the front of the car is tilted 
back more, with a lower, wider grille and sporty flared lower fascia. 
As on the other Mercedes-Benz cars, the shape of the headlights is 
carried back to the fender line, and the grille's top contours form 
the central hood line. The sport look is enhanced by a sculpted 
wedge shape from the side, with higher rear fenders, and slightly 
flared wheel arches and rocker panels. The long, arched passenger 
cabin is familiar, and blends well with the new bodywork. Large 
rounded triangular taillights provide identification at night.

COMFORT: At a glance, the rounded contours of its restyled 
interior makes the new E-Class sedan look a little smaller inside. 
Optical illusion, it's actually quite spacious, and very comfortable 
even in ``base-model'' E320 trim. There are few straight lines on the 
dash or door panels, and careful use of light and medium colors and 
different materials gives luxury ambiance. Light coming through the 
dual panels of the optional ``Panorama'' sunroof imparts an airy 
feeling, and the view, for all passengers (especially rear), is 
fantastic. The standard front seats offer firm long-distance comfort 
and support; ventilated, passive multi-contour, and ``Dynamic 
Drive'' automatically-adjustable seats are also available. The new 
instrument panel has substance to go with its style, with well-placed 
instruments and controls and a new and surprisingly intuitive audio 
panel. Functional storage is found in the locking dual-level glove 
box, new dual-level console box with clamshell-opening top 
compartment for the optional integrated cell phone and standard 
TeleAid buttons, and small, useful spaces around the cabin. If the 
front seat area looks smaller, the rear doesn't, and it isn't. There is 
first-class room for two, with storage and amenities. Four-zone 
climate control, optional in the E320 and standard in the E500, 
gives both rear passengers control over their own interior climate. 
There is plenty of trunk space, too.

SAFETY: The 2003 Mercedes E-Class has a stronger chassis 
structure with larger front crumple zones, adaptive airbags, a 
rollover sensor that can deploy side windowbags, and ``Tele Aid'' 
telematics to summon help in the event of a severe accident.

ROADABILITY: The revised 2003 E-Class chassis is even more 
rigid than that of earlier models, and use of lightweight materials 
had actually decreased the weight of the E320. The hood, front 
fenders, trunk lid, and subframes are aluminum, and there is 
increased use of high-strength steel as well. The new front 
suspension is similar in design to that of the premium-luxury S-
Class, while the five-link rear suspension now uses aluminum 
components. Suspension tuning is Euro-luxury, supple enough for 
comfort on any surface, yet firm enough for control at speed on 
demanding roads. A sophisticated computer-controlled air 
suspension with rear-time adjustable spring and damping rates is 
standard on the E500 and optional on the E320. Sounds 
fascinating, although the standard E320 suspension is very good. 
Electronic brake control, also inherited from the S-Class, is 
standard in all E-Class sedans. Unlike a hydraulic system, pressure 
to each wheel's brake can be regulated separately, for optimum 
braking power. It also allows easier integration of antilock, stability 
control, and traction control systems for increased safety. Stopping 
power is first-rate.

PERFORMANCE: The 2003 E320's 3.2-liter V6 engine is 
unchanged from last year, and there is absolutely no problem with 
that. With 221 horsepower at 5700 rpm and, more importantly for 
easy, efficient driving, 232 lb-ft of torque between 3000 and 4800 
rpm, it's an ideal luxury car engine, smooth and refined with 
immediately-available power at all engine and road speeds. Like 
other current Mercedes-Benz engines, it is largely made of 
aluminum alloy for light weight, and has single overhead cam heads 
with three valves and dual spark plugs per cylinder for efficient 
combustion and low emissions. Electronic throttle control includes 
adaptive circuitry that changes throttle sensitivity depending on 
how the car is driven - aggressive sport-type driving results in faster 
throttle response, while a more sedate driving style will give slower, 
smoother response. Adaptive logic is also featured in the five-speed 
automatic transmission's electronic control circuitry, which 
responds both to driving style and road conditions in order to select 
the optimum shift strategy. Full manual control is easily-available in 
``TouchShift'' mode.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class combines 
style, comfort, and performance.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Mercedes-Benz E320 Sedan

Base Price			$ 46,950
Price As Tested		        $ 52,790
Engine Type			90-degree 18-valve single overhead
                                 cam aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size			3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower			221 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			232 @ 3000-4800 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
                                 automatic with adaptive shift logic
 and ``TouchShift'' manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		112.4 in. / 190.3 in.
Curb Weight			3635 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        17.8
Fuel Capacity			20.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				P225/55 HR16 Michelin MXV4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, anti-lock,
                                 brake assist, and stability control 
standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent upper and lower control
                                  arms with coil springs /
                                 independent five-link
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph				7.1  sec (mfg)
Coefficient of Drag (cd)		0.27

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Brilliant Silver paint				$   655
Motorola V60 phone				$ 1,595
Panorama sunroof				$ 1,500
4-zone climate control				$   550
E5 Value Added Package - includes:
  heated steering wheel and front seats	        $   875
Destination and delivery			$   665

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