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The Mercedes-Benz E430 4MATIC (2000), A new standard in Sport/Luxury/Utility?

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Larry Weitzman

A little over a year ago, I tested what I (and many others) considered the best car I have ever driven, an E class Mercedes with the AMG touch, resulting in a model known as the E 55 AMG. It was created by stuffing a 5.4L V-8 that produced 349 hp and 391 pounds of torque into the engine bay. It received a make over in the suspension department. Eighteen inch wheels and special tires were added and then the interior received a sprucing up (that was more like polishing a gold brick). There were not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe it. I was in love.

That experience in a sedan has yet to be equaled. I talked about the "lesser" E 430 where you might be a second slower 0-60 but you could save $20,000 with such a purchase decision, albeit a more than likely very wise one. It's very hard to justify the extra superfluous performance unless you are a speed freak or demand the ultimate sedan performance in motoring. Is it worth saving the money? You bet, unless you own a money tree.

The 2000 E Class is different from what has preceded it. It looks like the prior second generation E which was introduced in 1996, but it has a new front end. It is sleeker and fresher. Although it retains the familiar looking four headlight design, the fenders and headlights have been repositioned, lowered and set at a steeper rake. The grille is narrower with one less cross member and the bumpers have been integrated into the vertical ala CLK. The effect is a cleaner, smoother more blended appearance that significantly enhances the graceful overall design.

It is a curvaceous and sensual body, yet conservative. There are no sharp ridge lines except for the rear deck lip. Every line is soft, from the ridge lines down the hood to the way the cabin seamlessly merges into the lower body. This E is elegant and sophisticated. It is the best looking of all E's (Class) and a significant competitor to the best car in the world, the 2000 "S" Class.

Under the hood is the familiar 4.3L SOHC 24 valve V-8. When the E was first introduced with a V-8 it was a different generation, 4.2L DOHC 32 valve V-8. The change to the 4.3L was perhaps motivated by economy of scale. The E 320 is power by a 3.2L 18 valve 90 degree V-6 of the same internal dimensions (bore and stroke) as the 4.3L unit. The V-8 is merely a V-6 with two cylinders added or the V-6 is a V-8 with two cylinders removed. It's called modular technology which allows the same internal components to be used in both engines.

This technology is not new, Ford uses it in its Triton V-8's and V-10's and in their Duratec V-6 and SHO V-8. Jeep used it in their inline four and six as far back as 1987. Chevrolet used it in their 5.7L V-8 and 4.3L V-6 and there are more, but you get the idea.

The newer technology 4.3L V-8 uses 24 valves, with two intake, one exhaust valve and dual plug ignition enabling the 4.3L to qualify as a Low Emission Vehicle. The three valve head design allows the E to breathe well while improving the combustion process and heating the catalytic converter much quicker.

Output is similar to the 4.2L V-8 that preceded the 4.3L with the horsepower remaining at a very healthy 275 at 5,750 rpm and 295 pounds of torque at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm. The V-6 puts out 221 hp at 5,500 rpm and 232 pounds of torque at 3,000 to 4,800 rpm. The 4Matic option adds 198 pounds of avoir du pois making the 4.3L unit tip the scales at 3,900 pounds (the V-6 only weighs 11 pounds less).

Consequently performance suffers by about .4 of a second longer 0-60 run over the rear wheel drive only E430. My test car scampered through that speed zone in a very quick average time of 6.84 seconds, which is within a tenth of a second of factory claims. Passing times are lightning quick with 50-70 mph only taking 3.33 seconds and accelerating up a steep grade will only slow that time to an average of 4.64 seconds. This equates to a very high performance, with more power, performance and moxie than about 97 percent of the cars sold in the United States.

Fuel economy is EPA rated at 17/23 mpg city/highway, but expect 19-20 mpg during restrained El Dorado County driving. It is hard to prevent the right foot from causing the sweet sounding V-8 from singing. I averaged about 18 mpg in hard driving and according to the trip computer, 24-25 mpg should be the norm on the highway. With a big 21.1 gallon fuel tank, stops will be few with its 500 mile cruising range.

But with this Mercedes, performance comes in another form and that is all wheel drive. The 4Matic uses a single speed double planetary gear system that allocates the power split 65/35 percent between the rear and the front differential during normal driving to give the car a more traditional Mercedes rear wheel drive feel. But through the use of a sophisticated traction control system and not limited slip differentials, when wheel slippage occurs braking is applied to the offending wheel, making it the wheel with the greatest resistance, so power is automatically and naturally transferred to the wheel with the least resistance which happens to be the wheel with the most traction.

Suspension is the same for both the rear wheel drive and 4Matic car. The front end has a double wishbone set up with gas charged shocks, coil springs, antiroll bar and antidive/lift geometry. The rear has a five link, coil spring set up with gas charged shocks, antiroll bar and the same antilift/dive design.

The ride is sublime. Firm and well controlled, but absorbent of every road irregularity. Ponderosa Road was no match for this refined, state of the art transportation system. The washboard was virtually eliminated and the handling around the two 90 degree bumpy corners was exemplary. The body feels like the Rock of Gibraltar. This thing is solid and tight.

In the twisties of Green Valley, Lotus and Latrobe Road, the 4Matic was in its element. Steering is variable rate rack and pinion power and is perfect in accuracy and feel. Some may be wanting for a little more power assist at low speeds, but Mercedes has got it dialed in just right. The tranny is a super smooth five speed automatic with standard Touch Shift. This allows the driver to select D or drive for fully automatic operation or when in the D position a flick of the lever to the right will manually downshift and a snick to the left will cause the tranny to manually upshift. Leave it centered and its back to full auto.

Touch Shift can be used to make the corners a little more fun by downshifting coming into a corner and having the right gear already on hand when blasting out of the apex. In addition, traction is enhanced by power being transferred to the wheel with the most grip as weight transfer occurs when barnstorming the twisties. Big 17 inch alloys shod with super low profile 235/45 high performance tires certainly enhance the 4Matics tenacious grip. The 4Matic is a pleasure when the road gets crooked and you will appreciate the tight 37.1 foot turning circle when negotiating tight parking in the city.

On the highway, the 4Matic can double as a limo. Nothing is allowed to enter the cabin, no tar strips, dips, bumps or noise. The engine spins at a moderate 2,450 rpm at 70 mph. The ride is perfect.

Brakes are large four wheel discs (ventilated fronts) with full four channel ABS. The pedal imparts a very powerful feel with very short stopping distances that probably eclipse 120 feet from 60 mph. The pedal does require some modulation. As the vehicle slows, the braking assist seems to increase so it requires under normal stops, a slight reduction in pedal pressure for smooth stops.

Inside has received some welcomed improvements over the 1999 model. Mercedes claims that the materials have been improved. The leathers and trim materials from the previous models were so good it's hard to see any difference. The front seats very firm and reasonably comfortable. The more time in the seat, the more the appreciation for its size, shape and padding. The seat binding uses a mildly contrasting color from the actual seat leather color and is a nice touch.

The door paneling is a little softer and deeper as is the new dash padding. There are no less than six air bags on the side, one in the front and rear doors and one in the lower headliner for noggin protection for front and rear seaters.

Tasteful best describes the dash. A large speedo takes center stage with a slightly smaller tach to the right and a grouped fuel and temp gauge to the left. The vertical center stack is bathed in wood and contains the electronic controls for sound system and AC. To the rear is the gear shift, which is surrounded by the window switches, and it is finished off with a padded armrest/storage.

The rear seat room is huge for a vehicle that is only 189.4 inches. Leg room could easily handle Chris Webber and the headroom is copious. The long 111.5 inch wheelbase contributes to the roominess. Who needs a stretched limo when you can have a 4Matic, knowing that when the going gets tough, the 4Matic gets going. Mercedes claims 15.3 cubic feet in the trunk, it looked smaller, but the shape was shallow, tall and wide. Very usable.

A high line all wheel drive doesn't come cheap. Base on the 4Matic V-8 is $55,250 plus $595 for the boat, train and trucker. The test vehicle had three options, a $410 power rear window sunshade, high intensity xenon headlamps with a washing system and heated seats ($1,575) and a glass sunroof bundled with rain sensing windshield wipers for $1.200. There was no standard CD unit which is grouped with two other options such as a built in phone or GPS system which run about two large. The only option I prefer is the xenon headlamps, washing system and heated seats. That brings the total about $57 large. The V-6 4Matic is about $5,000 less.

A rear wheel drive model is $2,800 less. In El Dorado County, the price for the 4Matic will give you the security knowing there will be few road limitations and further enhancing Mercedes-Benz world renown handling.

Niello BMW has a large selection of 4Matics for testing. What a way to get to the slopes or the stadium or anywhere in between.


Price            $47,745 (E320RWD) to about $60,000

3.2L 18V, SOHC V-6      221 hp @ 5,500 rpm
232 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,000-4,800 rpm

4.3L 24V, SOHC V-8      275 hp @ 5,750 rpm
295 lbs-ft of torque @ 3,000-4000 rpm 

Redline            6,000 rpm

Five speed electronically 
controlled automatic, driver 
adaptive with Touch Shift manual 

Longitudinal front engine,
rear wheel drive, all wheel drive (4Matic)

Wheelbase             111.5  inches
Length                189.4  inches
Width                 70.8   inches
Height                56.7   inches
Weight                3,900/3,702 pounds (E430 4Matic/E430 RWD)
Track (f/r)           60.2/59.9  inches
Fuel Capacity         21.1   gallons
Trunk Capacity        15.3   cubic feet
Turning Circle        37.1   feet
Wheels                7.5X17 inches
Tires                 245/45ZR17 high performance (4Matic)   
Brakes (f/r)          12.4/11.4 inch disc (front vented)      
Coefficient of drag   0.29

0-60                  6.84
50-70                 3.33
5-70 uphill           4.64
Top Speed             Electronically limited at about 150 mph
Fuel Economy          EPA rated at 17/23 mpg city/highway.
                        Expect 19-20 mpg in El Dorado County and
                        23-26 mpg on the highway at legal and
                        slightly extra legal speeds