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2001 Mercedes-Benz E320 Review


by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

The mid-sized E-Class is the most popular line in the Mercedes-Benz catalog. It is comprehensively varied, with three sedans - the E320, with a 3.2-liter V6, the 4.3-liter V8 E430, and the 5.5-liter V8 E55 performance sedan - and the E320 wagon. E320 and E430 models are available with the "4MATIC" all-wheel drive system, for increased traction in all conditions.

The E55 has performance to rival that of many sports cars, and the E430 is no slouch on the Autobahn, either. But, given the realities of traffic and traffic laws in the U.S., the E320 is an uncompromisingly rational choice for a luxury car. As I discovered during a week with one, it offers a very Continental blend of comfort and sportiness, with the fuel economy normally associated with a smaller middle-class family sedan.

APPEARANCE: The 2001 E-Class doesn't look overtly different from the 1996 version, but there have been significant changes since its introduction. The hood and front fenders were lowered in 2000, to take advantage of the lower height of the V6 engine introduced in 1998. The grille and trademark quad oval headlights were changed slightly to give the car more similarity to the CLK coupes - which, interestingly, were influenced by the E-Class's original styling. The taillights were also changed subtly at that time, and auxiliary turn signals added to the outside mirrors. But the basic design hasn't changed, and its conservative but contemporary style wears well. The optional "Sport Package" includes new front and rear bumper fascias -- "aprons" in Mercedes-speak -- and fluted side sills that give a regular E-Class sedan the look of the high-performance E55.

COMFORT: As outside, the E-Class interior received major changes last year, which continue for 2001. Like most European luxury cars, it is elegant in an understated manner, and very comfortable. It's at the large end of the mid-size class, so there is plenty of room. All of the expected amenities of a premium luxury automobile are found inside. And there are pleasant extras, like the standard dual-level console box, with an air-conditioned lower section to keep a cell phone or small grocery items cool. The short, sloped top of the instrument panel reduces glare, and the firmly-padded, supportive seats reduce fatigue. The driver is further aided by a steering wheel power-adjustable for tilt and reach, with auxiliary control buttons for audio, cell phone, and trip computer systems. Both front seats are power-adjustable by means of simple iconic switches, and have three-position memory. As is the contemporary custom, the rear seat is contoured for two, with space for a central passenger. Floor heat and console air conditioning vents ensure comfort. The central armrest has cupholders and a first-aid kit. The optional CD changer is in the trunk; what appears to be a single CD player in the center of the instrument panel is where the CDROM for the COMAND navigation system. The COMAND interface in the E-Class is simpler and more intuitive than the original interface introduce in the S-Class a couple of years ago, and it has all of the useful features expected in a navigation system.

SAFETY: Most of the modern safety features found in all cars today are Mercedes-Benz innovations, including safety-cage construction with deformable crush zones, driver and passenger front air bags, and anti-lock brakes. Naturally, those are found in all 2001 Mercedes-Benz models, as are curtain side airbags, the Brake Assist system, traction control, the ESP electronic stability control system, and the Tele Aid emergency communications system.

ROADABILITY: Although it is primarily a luxury car, the E320 is a contemporary Mercedes-Benz luxury car. So it combines quiet comfort and very good roadholding in a civilized manner. Occupants are insulated from road shocks, but the driver is not isolated from control inputs and feedback. The fully-independent suspension is compliant enough for long-distance comfort, but controlled enough for spirited driving.

PERFORMANCE: The E320 doesn't have the power and speed of the V8-powered E430 or E55, but it just may be the best of the class for American real-world conditions. We can't cruise at 120mph on the Autobahn, and US traffic places a premium on low-speed acceleration. With 221 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 232 lb-ft of torque between 3000 and 4600 rpm, the E320's namesake 3.2-liter V6 moves the car plenty quickly. Low and midrange torque is far better than the old inline six, and feels almost as strong as the V8- powered E430. Like all current Mercedes-Benz engines, the E320's has three valves and twin spark plugs per cylinder, an unusual design chosen for its relatively economical operation and good fuel economy. The transmission is an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic with the "Touch Shift" manual shift mode. Adaptive shift logic usually chooses the correct gear for any driving style and condition, but the Touch Shift is good for bring out the E320's sports side on an interesting road.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2001 Mercedes-Benz E320 has a rational yet emotionally-satisfying combination of luxury and performance.

2001 Mercedes-Benz E320

Base Price              $ 47,850
Price As Tested         $ 59,665
Engine Type             single overhead cam 18-valve 90-
                         degree V6
Engine Size             3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower              221 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          232 @ 3000-4600 rpm
Transmission            5-speed automatic with "Touch Shift" 
                          manual control
Wheelbase / Length      111.5 in. / 189.4 in.
Curb Weight             3,491 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   15.8
Fuel Capacity           21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded premium, 91 octane
Tires                   P235/45 WR17 Continental Conti 
                          Sport Contact (sport package)
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / solid disc, antilock and 
                          Brake Assist standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent double wishbone / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph               7.1 sec (mfg) 
Coefficient of Drag (cd)  0.29

Aspen Green paint                           $   625
COMAND System                               $ 2,035
Heated front seats                          $   620
E3 Value Package - includes: rain sensor, glass
 sunroof, Bose(r) premium sound system      $ 1,610
K2a integrated TIMEPORT phone with voice control,
 CD changer                                 $ 2,190
E3 Sport Package includes: Aerodynamic lower
 bodywork, projection beam foglamps,  5-spoke
 alloy wheels                               $ 4,090