New Car/Review

1998 MERCEDES E320 AWD SEDAN

by Tom Hagin

mercedes

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 48,250
Price As Tested                                    $ 50,960
Engine Type               SOHC 18-valve 3.2 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 195 cid/3199 cc
Horsepower                                   221 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               232 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  111.5"/70.8"/189.4"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3678 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  21.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                         All-seasons 215/55R16H
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-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                            20/26/24
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 89 mph
Top speed                                           130 mph
     * Sequential fuel injection

What a resurgence Mercedes-Benz has enjoyed over the last couple of years! Its best-selling model, the E-Class has become the car "rational" people own, those seeking timeless durability and muted luxury.

The new E-Class is still its best-seller, and comes as the Diesel- powered E300, the powerful E430, and the E320 in sedan or wagon. Our tester this week is an E320 sedan, with optional all-wheel drive.

OUTSIDE - Mercedes dramatically changed the styling of the E-Class back in 1996 with the addition of double oval headlamps and a flush, understated grille. Some critics have stated that the company's radical departure from "tradition" has produced a car that has a front end that doesn't match the tail: the nose is sweeping and elegant, the fenders are bulging and muscular but the tail has been accused of being blunt and bland. The view over the hood is sweeping, and the familiar three-pointed star is set squarely in the center of the hood. And even though the rearmost pillar connecting the body to the roof is wide, there is virtually no blind spot to mar the view to the rear. Alloy wheels and all-season tires are standard.

INSIDE - Other manufacturers can learn from Mercedes. The front seats are well bolstered and so comfortable that extended trips seem half as long. Supple leather covers the interior, and burled walnut accents the instrument panel. There is enough room for three adults in the back seat, and there is a three-point seat belt and a headrest for the center rear passenger. The power seats adjust 10 ways and the steering column tilts and telescopes, so finding a comfortable driving position is easy for any size driver. Some drivers, however, may find their right shin brushes the knee bolster under the dash. Lots of storage bins and cubbies are welcomed, and a console in the rear armrest pulls out to reveal a pair of cupholders and a cleverly-integrated first aid kit. BabySmart is a system that deactivates the passenger-side airbag so any small child can be transported in the front seat if the system is used in conjunction with the optional Mercedes child seat.

ON THE ROAD - Under the hood of the E320 this year is a 3.2 liter V6 engine with three valves per cylinder, single overhead camshafts on each head and two spark plugs per cylinder. The company says it's less expensive to build than the old engine, especially so since it shares many components with the more powerful E430's 4.3 liter V8. The V6 produces 221 horsepower, four more than the old engine, and 232 pound- feet of torque, which peaks 750 rpms lower than before. And while those power figures haven't increased much, a slight rise in fuel mileage and its cleaner burning nature made it an easy choice to use. It is now mated to a five-speed automatic, and in the case of our test vehicle, a full-time all-wheel drive system. This system is unique because is uses a single-range transfer case and a lightweight and simple four-wheel traction control system for maximum grip on wet or slippery roads.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The E320 rides on fully independent suspension front and rear, with the front using a double wishbone design and the rear using a multi-link setup. Gas-charged shocks, coil springs and thick stabilizer bars are fitted front and rear, and the whole system is designed to reduce the effects of "diving" and "squatting" during braking and acceleration. The car glides quietly over dips and rough patches in the road, and even a full load leaves the ride smooth and agile. The variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted with good on-center feel, with only extra-brisk cross winds being able to knock it slightly off track. Disc brakes are at all four corners, and a sophisticated four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) are standard. It also uses Brake Assist, a system that detects panic stops and quickly applies maximum braking force faster than the driver can.

SAFETY - All-wheel-drive, dual dashboard airbags, side-impact airbags, ABS, BabySmart and Brake Assist are standard on our test car.

OPTIONS - Value-Added package (glass moonroof, premium sound system): $1,350; heated front seats: $595; rain sensor wipers: $170; destination charge $595.

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