SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide
The face is familiar, but ever so slightly changed. In a mid- production cycle freshening, Mercedes-Benz's mid-sized E-Class sedans and wagon have a large number of enhancements for the 2000 model year. The front bodywork is subtly lower. Inside, new materials and detail improvements increase comfort and usefulness. Highlighting mechanical changes is the adoption of the "Touch Shift" manual shifting system into all E-Class cars.
The 2000 E-Class lineup is comprised of the E320 sedan and wagon, E430 sedan, and the ultra high-performance flagship E55 sedan. All use engines from Mercedes-Benz's 90-degree vee family, with a 3.2-liter, 221-horsepower V6 in the 320, a 4.3-liter, 275-hp V8 in the 430, and an AMG-tuned 349-hp 5.5-liter V8 in the E55. All E320 and E430 models are now available with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system for enhanced all-weather ability.
Compared to the 3.2-liter inline six in the 1996 E320, the current E320's V6 has much more low and mid-rpm torque, for instant acceleration from common city and highway speeds. Up to 60 mph or so, it feels nearly as strong as the E430's V8. The E430's Autobahn-bred V8 offers refined luxury power, and high- speed cruising ability. And, if that V8 isn't quite enough, there is the E55.
No other automobile combines performance and luxury quite like the E55. It's a land-bound executive jet, and a fine example of the "iron fist in a velvet glove" school of performance that is practically a German exclusive. Although it has the sound and power of an American muscle car from the 1960s, it has the handling ability of a sports car. It is a five-passenger luxury sedan with the performance of a full-on sports car. The E55 is produced in conjunction with the noted German tuning company AMG, which gained fame in the late 1980s with cars like the E-Class- based "Hammer." AMG is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz. Aftermarket "tuner cars" are known for extreme performance, but that can be at the sacrifice of comfort and practicality. Not the E55. It sacrifices nothing. Nor, for that matter, do any of the other E-Class cars.
APPEARANCE: The front styling of the 1996 E-Class inspired the CLK coupe, which has, in turn, influenced the 2000 E-Class in an interesting feedback loop. The difference is not immediately consciously noticeable, but it is real. The front end is just under an inch lower than before. The headlights, grille, front fenders, and hood are all restyled and lowered because of this. There are now four horizontal bars in the grille instead of five. At the rear, new taillights have a more CLK-like look. The result is a sleeker, sportier appearance. Befitting its executive-express nature, the E55 has no flagrant boy-racer graphics or wing. It differs from other E- Class sedans in the AMG-styled front bumper fascia and rocker panels and staggered-size alloy wheels.
COMFORT: "Velvet glove" part one: There is no austerity inside of the E55, or in any other new E-Class car. For all, materials have been upgraded, and the power tilt-and-telescope adjustable steering wheel now has audio system and phone controls. There is a new instrument cluster, which further improves the driving experience. The E55 does have unique power-adjustable, heated sports buckets as standard equipment. The rear seat is roomy and has a full complement of storage spaces and comfort features. If not S-Class first class, it's at least business class in accommodation. My test car had a black and maroon interior color scheme. In the wrong hands that's an invitation to tackiness. Fortunately, the Mercedes and AMG styling teams are not the wrong hands.
SAFETY: All 2000 Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars have a steel- reinforced passenger cabin with front and rear crumple zones, antilock brakes, dual front and front side airbags, and side curtain airbags for head protection. The "BabySmart" system deactivates the front passenger airbag in the presence of a special child seat, and the "ESP" electronic stability control system and "Brake Assist" help the driver to stay in control in emergency situations.
ROADABILITY: "Velvet glove, " part two: Despite the ultra-low profile tires - 245/40 ZR18 front, 275/35 ZR18 rear - and larger stabilizer bars than are found on other E-Class cars, the E55 does not have a harsh, uncomfortable ride. While it is firmer than its brethern, the suspension is comfortably compliant. There is less body roll and tremendous grip, as expected given the tire and suspension upgrades. The E55 is not just a high-speed Autobahn cruiser, it is also excellent on the sort of roads more commonly associated with two-seat sports cars and motorcycles than four- door luxury sedans.
PERFORMANCE: Here's where the iron fist makes itself known. With a maximum of 349 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque from the 5.5-liter V8, the E55 can hold its own against nearly anything on four wheels. When driving, there is always a sense of immense but controlled power from the engine. The muted V8 rumble is not out of place. The E55 is a very high-class hot rod. The five-speed automatic transmission features adaptive logic control for optimum automatic performance and "Touch Shift" manual shifting. The immense amount of torque available at any engine speed means that shifting is rarely necessary.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mercedes-Benz E55 combines luxury and performance like nothing else.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Mercedes Benz E55 Base Price $ 69,800 Price As Tested $ 72,260 Engine Type aluminum alloy single overhead cam 24-valve V8 Engine Size 5.5 liters / 332 cu. in. Horsepower 349 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 391 @ 3000 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with adaptive shift logic and "Touch Shift manual control Wheelbase / Length 111.5 in. / 189.4 in. Curb Weight 3,680 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 10.5 Fuel Capacity 21.1 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 92 octane Tires Michelin Pilot Sport: 245/40 ZR18 front, 275/35 ZR18 rear Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent 5-link Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 23 / 18 0 to 60 mph 5.4 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 13.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.29
OPTIONS AND CHARGES Integrated CD changer $ 865 Destination charge $ 595 Gas guzzler tax $ 1,000