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2005 Mercedes-Benz E500 Sedan Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz

Does the 2005 Mercedes-Benz E500 sedan have an identity crisis or a dual personality? One one hand, it's a luxurious upper-mid level executive luxury sedan with all of the considerable heritage of a Mercedes-Benz; on the other, it's a rip-snorting, V8-powered muscle car with handling and brakes to complement its' engine's 302 horsepower, and a new seven-speed transmission to make the best use of that power. After due consideration, and a week in the driver's seat, my feeling is that it has neither an identity crisis nor a split personality. Although it is too luxuriously-appointed to be a traditional luxury sedan, and far too comfortable to be a standard sports sedan, it is exceptionally well-integrated and civilized. It's refined, not brash. To anthropomorphize, becoming acquainted with the E500 is like discovering that the genteel and apparently mild-mannered gentleman in the airplane seat next to yours is in fact a champion race driver, or perhaps a hypersonic test pilot. Appearances can be deceiving.

The E500 stands at the top of the regular E-Class sedan lineup, which also includes the V6-powered E320 and new-for-`05 E320CDI turbodiesel. All share most styling cues, although the gasoline-powered sedans may be had with the ``AMG Sport Package,'' which adds the lower body panels, larger wheels, and ultra-low profile tires of the limited-production E55 AMG. And, yes, for those with a need for (extreme) speed and the budget to match, there is the E55 AMG, supercharged to 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque.

I'm sure the E55 is a worthy successor to a Mercedes-Benz heritage of supercharging that goes back to the all-conquering ``Silver Arrow'' Grand Prix cars of the 1930s, but the E500 is plenty sporty, and fast and luxurious. in its own right. ``Value'' is not a word typically associated with the over-$50,000 luxury car segment, but it does apply here. Like all high-performance German Autobahn cruisers, its ultimate abilities are far beyond American speed limits and traffic. That means that here, there is a tremendous amount of reserve, and the car can happily loaf along smoothly and quietly at highway speeds. Or, on more interesting roads, it can keep a sports car pace in unruffled comfort. Think of it as a triathlete in a European designer suit.

APPEARANCE: Mercedes-Benz styling has been getting progressively more informal over the years, and the evolution of the core E-Class illustrates this. From the mid-1950s through the mid-1990s, Mercedes-Benz sedans were squarish, blocky, and formal - fitting transportation for conservative money. But the world was changing, with new competition and younger buyers, and the 1996 E-Class was a radical departure in styling, with softer, more rounded lines. But, suddenly, it looked as angular and severe as its immediate predecessors when the current generation debuted two years ago. A more swept-back nose, thinner A- and D-pillars in the passenger cabin greenhouse, a longer and more sloping rear window, and a decided wedge shape with the rear fender line much higher than the front gives it a look more like a performance coupe than a formal sedan. It looks smaller than its predecessor, even though it is slightly larger in nearly all dimensions. Some styling cues familiar from the previous E-Class - such as the quad oval headlights, which give shape to the top of the front fenders, and of course the three-pointed star hood ornament - continue. The traditional Mercedes-Benz sedan grille gets ever lower and wider, converging with that of the company's coupes. At the rear, huge wraparound taillights ensure style and visibility.

COMFORT: Executive boardroom, electronically speed-limited to 130 mph. The E500's interior speaks gently of upper-class luxury, with an elegant design and first-rate materials. But its rounded, flowing style is not the knife-edged Teutonic asceticism of years gone by, it's a uniquely Mercedes-Benz take on contemporary design. Room has increased since the last generation, which wasn't exactly cramped. Ten-way power front seats are standard, with simple iconic switches - a Mercedes-Benz innovation many years ago - for adjustment. A similarly self-explanatory switch controls the power mirrors. If greater comfort is desired, ``Dynamic Drive'' seats with self-adjusting air bladders that provide extra support in cornering are available, as are ventilated seats. Rear seat room is at least business class if not the first class of the larger S-Class, with very good room and comfort. A huge trunk adds convenience. The driver benefits from a well-designed instrument panel, and the ``Comand'' telematics/system control system interface has been simplified to be almost intuitive. Everything expected to be power-operated is, and both a regular tilt-and-slide sunroof and the all-glass ``Panorama Roof'' are available.

SAFETY: The 2005 Mercedes E-Class has a strong chassis structure with large front and rear crumple zones, adaptive airbags, a rollover sensor that can deploy side windowbags, and ``Tele Aid'' telematics to summon help in the event of a severe accident. ESP stability control, traction control, and antilock brakes with Brake Assist are all standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: All E-Class models share a new chassis structure that is both more rigid than that of the previous generation and lighter, thanks to the use of lightweight materials. The hood, front fenders, trunk lid, and suspension subframes are aluminum, as are numerous suspension pieces. There is increased structural use of high-strength steel as well. The design and construction helps the ride comfort and handling of all E-Class models, but the E500 and E55AMG have a special trick as standard equipment - Airmatic DC (Dual Control) semi-active air suspension, derived from that used in the premium S-Class. The air springs and shock absorbers use electronic sensors and and computer-controlled actuation to match suspension response to road conditions, driving style, and cornering force. There are four manually-selectable modes: ``Comfortable'' is just that, a little soft, but well-controlled in the manner of a European luxury car. ``Sport 1'' is a touch firmer. ``Sport 2'' was my default setting, firm for good cornering behavior but supple enough for the sport-luxury comfort appropriate to the E500's V8 power. There is also an automatic ride-height adjustment mode, meant for use with chains in the winter or on severely bad roads, where extra suspension travel is necessary.

PERFORMANCE: The E500's namesake three-valve-per-cylinder, single overhead cam, aluminum alloy 5.0-liter V8 puts out 302 horsepower at 5600 rpm, and more importantly, makes its maximum of 339 lb-ft of torque from 2700 through 4250 rpm. Can you say ``strong midrange?'' It packs quite a kick, and both response and fuel economy are assisted by a seven-speed automatic transmission. Having seven, instead of the more common four or five gear ratios allows lower low gears for better acceleration, higher high gears for more economical high-speed cruising, and keeps the engine operating at its most efficient speeds more of the time. It feels seriously underemployed at any US-legal speed, but if instant acceleration is necessary for accident or frustration avoidance on the highway, it's there. With four-piston floating front brake calipers grabbing large vented discs, and single-piston floating rear calipers on solid rotors at the rear, the E500's deceleration is as impressive as its acceleration.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mercedes-Benz E500 combines luxury and performance is a fine manner.

2005 Mercedes-Benz E500 Sedan

Base Price			$ 56,900
Price As Tested			$ 60,140
Engine Type			single overhead cam 24-valve
				 aluminum alloy V8
Engine Size			5.0 liters / 303 cu. in.
Horsepower			302 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			339 @ 2700-4250 rpm
Transmission			7-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		112.4 in. / 189.7 in.
Curb Weight			3812 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.6
Fuel Capacity			21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				245/45 HR17 Michelin Pilot HX mxm4 m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc with 4-piston floating 
				 vented disc with single-piston
				   floating calipers
				ABS, Brake Assist, EBS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent 4-link /
				 independent 5-link;
				 computer-controlled air springs and
				 4-stage variable damping
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 25 / 19
0 to 60 mph				5.9  sec

Entertainment Package		$   970
Sunroof Package			$ 1,550
Destination charge		$   720