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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

New Car/Review

1997 MERCEDES-BENZ E420

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 49,900
     Price As Tested                                    $ 53,510
     Engine Type                            4.2 Liter V8 w/SPFI*
     Engine Size                                 265 cid/4196 cc
     Horsepower                                   275 @ 5700 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               295 @ 3900 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.5"/70.8"/189/4"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3787 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  21.1 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                    P215/55R16H
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.29

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/25/23          
     0-60 MPH                                        6.7 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       15.8 seconds @ 95 mph
     Top speed                                           131 mph

     * Sequential port fuel injection

Since they appeared in '85, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars have been that company's worldwide sales leader. When it was redesigned for the 1996 model year, it demonstrated the credo of Mercedes-Benz, where tradition and heritage guides the company, but technology prevails.

There are three E-Class models to choose from: the E300 Diesel, the E320 six-cylinder and the V8-powered E420, all of which have many upgrades this year, with very little or no added cost.

OUTSIDE - The E-Class now features a more dynamic appearance, with aerodynamics playing a major role in its design. The rather formal front-end treatment used on the previous "E" cars has given way to a new nose, with oval headlamps, a raked-back grille, a smoother windscreen and roof shape mated to even-smoother rear glass. All this contributes to a low .29 coefficient of drag, which not only increases mileage, but dramatically lowers internal wind noise. E420 models wear light alloy wheels and wide 215/55R16 all-season tires as standard equipment.

INSIDE - Getting comfortable in the new E-Class is easy. Both front bucket seats have been shaped for more support, use 10-way power adjustments, and a three-position memory for tailoring just the right driving position. Ergonomics played an important role in the development of the E-Class, with power seat adjustments that resemble the seat itself located on the door panel. Controls and switches are very logically placed, and its dual-zone automatic climate control system constantly "sniffs" the air inside the cabin to detect any annoying contaminants, where it reverts to its recirculation mode. Those in the rear will find plenty of leg and head room, making long-distance journeys as comfortable in back as up front. The standard convenience list is long with the E420. The seats are covered in leather, a high-power, CD-ready AM/FM cassette stereo is included, and a special theft-deterrent system prevents a thief from copying the key, or the remote entry's infrared code, which unlocks the doors.

ON THE ROAD - The E420 version uses an aluminum 4.2 liter V8 engine, with 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Advanced engine-control systems help deliver this high power efficiently. An electronically- controlled variable-length intake system optimizes low-end and mid-range torque, without sacrificing high-end power. High-tech gadgetry includes electronic fuel injection and a distributorless ignition, along with a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, and oil-cooled pistons, all aimed at prolonging the engine's lifespan. The engine is carried on a unique subframe assembly designed to break away and slide beneath the car in the event of severe frontal impacts. The standard gearbox is a new electronic five-speed automatic transmission, also controlled by the engine management system. It provides unnoticeable gear changes, until heavy acceleration, where shifting is firmer and more direct.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Mercedes engineers borrowed ideas from the uplevel S-Class sedan to create the underpinnings of the E-Class. The front suspension uses a new control-arm setup that helps keep the front wheels better oriented with the pavement. The shock absorbers are now softer, but the coil springs firmer, which enhances ride quality and handling. New variable-rate rack-and-pinion steering gives better response and road feel, while the four-wheel disc braking system with anti-lock (ABS) offers excellent stopping power with very little fading. Its Acceleration Slip Regulator (ASR) system senses wheelspin on slippery surfaces and cuts engine power to compensate. And new this year is the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which activates if the car is slipping sideways, and applies pressure to one side of the braking system to maintain stability.

SAFETY - Two airbags in the instrument panel, and two more in the front door panels, along with side-impact protection, ABS, ASR and ESP.

OPTIONS - A power glass sunroof costs $1070; the CD changer adds $815, while heated seats and headlamp washers are a $750 option.

CONCLUSION - From the uplevel E420, to the more affordable E320 Diesel, the E-Class offers a high level of quality, comfort and safety.

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