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Car Review: 2003 Mercedes-Benz E500

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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

CLICK4 TV Commercial and Additional Photos

CLICK4 Video New E Class Unveiling At Brussels Auto Show,
Plus E Class History(10:55)



MODEL: Mercedes-Benz E500
ENGINE: 5.0-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 302 hp @ 5,600 rpm/339 lb-ft @ 2,700-4,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 112.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 190.3 x 71.3 x 57.0 in.

Every now and then a car comes along that is close to ideal. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Mercedes-Benz E500 sedan, those near-ideal cars are usually luxury cars and usually come with a stiff price tag. But we can still dream.

First, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is all new for 2003, and the E500 is an addition to the line, replacing the former E430. So we have a new design with a new, more powerful engine.

The 5.0-liter V8 in the E500 develops 302 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque. There was more than enough power for any application, and even a power-hog like myself could be satisfied. In fact, there was almost too much power, as we found ourselves in excess of posted speed limits too many times and had to rely on cruise control to keep at a reasonable speed.

A word about that cruise control, called Distronic in Mercedes-speak. A $2,950 option, Distronic acts like a normal cruise control when the traffic is light, keeping the car at the set speed. One feature I liked was that the speed is displayed digitally so that you know where you are set, and don't have to guess. Granted, some of the guesses are accurate enough, but it's nice to know just where you are.

But Distronic has a more important function when there's traffic. If a car cuts in front of you, of if you approach a car going at a slower speed, Distronic emits a radar signal that maintains a constant distance between your car and the car in front. So rather than having cruise control be a hindrance that can actually run you into the car in front, Distronic applies intelligence to keep you a safe distance behind. If you pull out into another lane where there's no traffic, you return to you set speed.

One other expensive piece of optional equipment was the Motorola V60 phone system. Inside the armrest is a carriage that accepts the Motorola V60 phone, just the one I have. It converts the phone to hands-free operation. You can dial using the touch pad on the sound system if you want, or if you have programmed voice dialing, you can use that. And you speak through a microphone located somewhere near you and hear through the sound system. It's a $1,595 option, and again I'm not sure if it's worth it, but it was nice.

Other options that added more than $10,000 to the $54,850 base price were a wood-leather steering wheel ($500), panorama sunroof that operated over the front and rear seats ($1,500), the harmon kardon sound system ($700), bi-xenon headlamps and a washing package ($1,150), and a heated steering wheel and front seats ($875). Destination and delivery were $665 and the gas guzzler tax was $1000 for a bottom line of $65,785.

The new E-Class has some features that have been "loaned" to other Mercedes-Benz models, particularly the CLK coupe. One I liked was the instrument panel. I prefer white-on-black instruments, and think that some cars have displays that look like video games. The E500 has a neat display with round instruments for speedometer and tachometer and "thermometer" vertical gauges for water temperature and fuel level. It's all extremely tasteful.

Being a Mercedes-Benz, the E500 offers an excellent ride to go along with all the power. It also has four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, dual air bags, front and rear side airbags, head protection curtains (airbags) with a roll-over sensor, leather upholstery and burl walnut trim and an excellent HVAC system. It employs a new electronic braking system that provides faster response in all situations.

The styling of the E-Class for 2003 is slightly more aerodynamic than the previous edition, but still offers the unique double-oval headlamps.

I would love to have kept the E500 for a couple of years longer than my allotted week, but my friends at Mercedes-Benz wanted it back. I'll probably never be able to afford one, but would highly recommend it to anyone who can.

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate