New Car/Review

The Mercedes, It doesn't get any better

by Larry Weitzman

mercedes

I am in love. Yeah sure, I love my wife, my two boys and my two dogs, Casey and Sadie. But I am talking about the love of human and machine here. A special relationship that can develop between an automobile and its driver. And that relationship reaches its highest level when the car is an E 55 AMG (which stands for Aufrecht Melchor Grossaspach).

Mercedes has always been known for producing world class cars. This new E 55 AMG is redefining the term "world class" both in quality and performance.

Mercedes manufacturers five classes of automobiles, the very subcompact A class (not yet in the US), C class, E class, S class and M class. The C class is still in its second generation and is a compact car at 177 inches long. The E class, is also in its second generation, and at 189 inches in length, is the mid size Mercedes. The S class, which will have its groundbreaking third generation on the road in a few weeks, is the large (economy?) size with an overall length of about 203 inches. The M class is Mercedes recent excellent interpretation of what an SUV is suppose to be.

Enough with Mercedes history and model line up, this E 55 AMG is flat out the best automobile I have ever driven. There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to described it.

An E 55 starts life as an "ordinary" E class but prior to finishing all the mechanicals, it is shipped off to AMG located now in Affalterbach, Germany about an hour northeast of Stuttgart. At the AMG skunkworks it receives a transformation. A 5439 cc SOHC V-8 (332 cubic inches) is a shoe horned into the engine bay. It is connected to a V-12 derived 5 speed driver adaptive automatic transmission. AMG adds upgraded suspension components like gas pressurized Bilstein shocks and progressive rate coil springs.

Then AMG bolts on its 18 inch wheels, super low profile tires, huge brakes, its unobtrusive ground effects package and finishes off the interior with special seats and woods. The result is the fastest and one of the most comfortable production sedans in the United States (the BMW M5 is not here yet) that at part throttle, ordinary driving would fool you into thinking your in a limo.

Fast is an understatement. It is possessed with tire melting, neck snapping acceleration that doesn't quit until the rev limiter is encountered at 155 mph in fifth gear. Without such a devise, 173 mph (peak hp rpm in top gear) would be a cinch and maybe more.

There is nothing like cubic inches and Mercedes, in its infinite wisdom, realized that to make an E class go (faster), it needed a bigger engine (I guess the 275 hp E 430 which runs 0-60 in the low sixes and is already considered to have super car performance is just underpowered). The 5.4L SOHC V-8 was created by the stroking of their 315 hp 5.0L V-8 (used in the SL500 and S500) by 8 mm. Each cylinder breaths through three valves, two intake and one exhaust. Its respiratory function must be excellent because the result is 349 hp at 5,500 rpm. And these are not ordinary horses. I am convinced they are all Hanoverians. Torque is a monstrous 391 lb ft at only 3,000 rpm. That's 4 more horsepower and 41 more lb ft than the LS1 Corvette with an engine that is 14 cubic inches smaller.

Low emissions are another benefit of this V-8. Sophisticated head design, a variable intake manifold, twin spark plug ignition and computers make this powerhouse qualify as a low emission vehicle. This E 55 is green and mean.

How quickly does the E 55 obtain warp speed? Acceleration should be measured in nanno seconds. 0-60 averaged 5.27 seconds with one run at 5.05 backed up by a 5.08. Was my stop watch malfunctioning or low battery voltage causing it to run slow? The E 55 passing performance is nearly instantaneous with 50-70 arriving in 3.06 seconds with one pass at 2.87 followed by a 2.94. Passing performance is also gravity defying as going up a steep grade offers little resistance. Up hill 50-70 mph acceleration averaged 3.56 seconds.

These are the quickest elapsed times I have encountered in any automobile test. But its how the AMG accomplishes this level of performance, without brake torquing the transmission or manual shifting. Just step hard on the go pedal (now is that an understatement) and you transform yourself into a passenger on the Space Shuttle. No fuss, no excessive noise. Just incredible smoothness, refinement and the most wonderful melodious sounds from the V-8 as it works though the gears upshifting as the tach hits 6 grand in each successive gear.

Tire liquification is prevented by an electronic stability and traction control system called coincidentally Electronic Stability Program (ESP) which also incorporates Automatic Slip Control (ASR). ASR traction control detects drive wheel slip which individually brakes the culprit wheel or reduces excess engine power until control is regained. ESP has the ability to detect adverse yaw, lateral acceleration and intended direction. The system detects and then corrects through braking and power reductions to prevent understeer (plowing) and oversteer (fishtailing). Amazing. This system can be switched off by a pushbutton on the console.

Even with all this power and performance, the E 55 is rated at 16/23 mpg city/highway. During my test which included half of the miles on the highway, the E 55 returned an amazing 20 mpg (you have no idea how much I was into the seductive throttle). With some restraint (is there a foot straight jacket?) I would estimate 18 mpg in El Dorado County and 23 plus on the highway.

Accelerating from a stop or accelerating from 55 mph by nailing the throttle which causes the tranny to grab second gear and holding it until 6,000 rpm (about 70 mph in second gear) has never been more satisfying and fun. Even part throttle acceleration is wonderful. The transmission is imperceptibly smooth when shifting and with its driver adaptive shifting patterns it knows instinctively what gear is required and when to shift. Awesome.

At more reasonable throttle applications, the E 55 becomes an "ordinary" luxury car. Instead of doing the twisties at break neck speed, rocketing from corner to corner, you could just as easily be transporting a corporate executive with a ride and demeanor that is silky smooth and ultra quiet.

Handling and ride are a function of suspension, weight distribution and balance. The E 55 has state of the art fully independent set up with double wishbone up front and a 5 arm multilink in the rear. Special sport tuned gas pressurized Bilstein shocks are at each corner with solid stabilizer bars at both ends. Weight distribution is 52%/48% front/rear.

There's more. The E 55 is shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 245/40ZRX18 in the front and 275/35ZRX18 in the rear. The wheels are 8X18 in the front and 9X18 in the rear. All this adds up to a motor vehicle that can go around corners with precision and speed without ruffing any feathers. Green Valley and Bass Lake Road offered little challenge at legal speeds. Steering is rack and pinion with speed sensitive power assist. It is natural feeling with no dead spots and perfect feedback.

Even with the E 55 low profile tires, coarse and washboard road surfaces like Ponderosa Road had no effect on the E 55's occupants. The body is tighter than Scrooge McDuck. Bumpy corners could not upset or break a tire loose. On the highway, the ride is sublimely supple and quiet. There is no finer ride. Use of the cruise control is almost mandatory, as 80 or 90 mph feels no different than 50 mph, its that smooth, quiet and confident.

Braking is another treat. With huge four wheel ventilated discs with dual piston calibers and full ABS, the E 55 stops significantly quicker than its starts. Pedal feel and modulation are excellent.

Inside the E 55 is an elegant interior. Most everything is done in beautiful leather, the seats, steering wheel and door panelling. Black Birdseye maple adorns the dash and center console. The front seats are firm but well contoured and extremely comfortable. Both seats have power assist with a three position memory and the steering wheel is electrically adjustable.

The dash is simple and purposeful. The binnacle in front of the driver contains a large 160 mph speedo with a slightly smaller tach to the right and temp/fuel gauge to the left of the Speedo. Beneath the speedo is an electronic odometer with a digital outside thermometer and clock. The sweeping center console integrates vertically into the center of the dash. Stacked beneath the central HVAC vents is the dual zone electronic AC controls and the sound system with the optional ($1,595) CD changer and portable phone. Needless to say the HVAC system is powerful and unobtrusive. The sound system would put to shame many home audiophile systems.

The rear seating is very comfortable with superb comfort for two and reasonable for three for shorter periods. The legroom is surprising good considering the short overall length of the E 55.

Just about everything in inside this Mercedes exudes quality. The woods, the door panelling, the steering wheel, seats, dash, cupholders (and the way they operate). However, the sunvisors look and feel a little cheap in light of everything else. Everything is standard except the remote CD. Even the lighting is xenon high intensity which lights up the road like daylight, with a very defined pattern.

OK, how much? Base price is a lofty $69,100. Add the CD ($1,595), destination of $595 and gas guzzler tax of $1,000 and the total escalates to $72,290. That's a significant amount of money for an automobile, but the finest never comes cheap.

High demand makes this E 55 hard to find, but the E 430 will get you to 60 in about 6.2 seconds (Mercedes test) for about $20,000 less. Is that one second (quicker to 60) worth $20,000? That could be a tough question for ultimate horse power freaks who absolutely require the epitome of performance, handling, braking and luxury. But for the other 99.99 percent of the population of drivers, an E 430 or an E 320 would make them ecstatic with driving pleasure.

Van Housen Mercedes Benz in Sacramento has a selection of E class machines available for demonstration. Go pamper yourself.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                   $70,695

Engine                                  5.4L SOHC V-8, 3 valve heads  349 hp @ 5,500 rpm
                                        391 lb ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm

Transmission
Electronically controlled
driver adaptive 5 speed
automatic

Configuration
longitudinally mounted
front engine, rear wheel 
drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase                               111.5  inches
Length                                  189.4  inches
Width                                   70.8   inches
Height                                  56.9   inches
Curb weight                             3,746  pounds
Fuel capacity                           21.1   gallons
Trunk capacity                          15.0   cubic feet
Turning circle                          37.2   feet
Coefficient of drag                     0.29

Performance (incredible)
                                        0-60       5.27   seconds
                                        50-70      3.06   seconds
                                        50-70 (up hill)    3.56   seconds

Top Speed (without limiter)             Faster than a Cessna 182 Skylane
Fuel Economy     
EPA 16/23 city/highway.  
My estimate is 18 mpg in El Dorado County and 23 mpg plus on the  highway

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