2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Swift, safe, smooth and practical.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is an icon, a benchmark in its class. In many ways it epitomizes the brand. It's the company's best-selling line worldwide, and one of the best-selling Mercedes models in the United States.
The E-Class represents the middle range among Mercedes-Benz sedans: larger than the entry-level C-Class, but more trim and practical than the imposing S-Class. Nonetheless, today's E-Class is as big as an S-Class was in the 1970s. The E-Class sedans are big, roomy cars that are solid, safe, practical, comfortable, luxurious, and fast. The E-Class features some of the industry's most advanced safety technology, and it expresses what most people think of when they think of Mercedes: status in an elegant, understated fashion.
Yet the cost of operating the popular Mercedes E350, in terms of fuel consumption and maintenance, can be quite reasonable. And there is no better example of how far passenger car diesel technology has advanced than the Mercedes E320 Bluetec. With its advanced common-rail direct-injection turbodiesel engine, the E320 Bluetec accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, while delivering EPA-estimated fuel mileage of 23/32 city/highway mpg, and producing minimal exhaust emissions. The Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec was named World Green Car at the 2007 New York International Auto Show, and NewCarTestDrive.com chose it as one of its Best Commuter Cars that same year.
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz E-Class includes six models (nine, if you count the all-wheel-drive variants separately). Buyers can choose a sedan or wagon. They can choose among two V8s, a V6, and a turbocharged V6 diesel, and between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
For 2007, the Mercedes E-Class was freshened with more powerful engines, along with subtle styling changes, new interior elements, and a few tweaks for handling and safety. These changes helped the E-Class keep pace with such outstanding luxury competitors as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Acura RL.
Also new for 2007 were the super-high-performance E63 AMG sedan and wagon, powered by a 507-hp 6.2-liter V8 that made the E63s the fastest E-Class models ever built. And though capable of monstrous acceleration (0 to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds) and a top speed of 180 mph (were it not for electronics that limit top speed to 155 mph), these latest AMGs retain the touches of luxury expected at the upper end of the market.
For 2008, there are few changes to the E-Class lineup except for a new AMG Sport Package for the Mercedes E350 and Mercedes E550.
The 2008 Mercedes E-Class lineup can seem daunting and complex, yet there is only one primary choice: four-door sedan or wagon. From there, it's a matter of choosing the engine and whether you want 4Matic all-wheel drive.
The E350 models are powered by a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine. The E350 sedan ($51,200) comes with a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the all-wheel-drive 4Matic ($52,700) has a five-speed automatic. E350 sedans are available in Sport or Luxury trim, for the same price either way. The E320 Bluetec ($52,200) is equipped identically to the E350 Luxury version, but features a 210-horsepower 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6.
The E350 4Matic wagon ($55,950) is equipped comparably to the Luxury sedan. A power liftgate and cargo organizer are standard, along with a folding third seat that increases passenger capacity to seven.
Standard features on the E350 include a glass sunroof, six-disc CD changer, harman/kardon Logic 7 premium audio with nine speakers and surround-sound, fully automatic dual-zone climate control, 10-way power front seats with memory, real burl walnut trim, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows with one-touch express up and down, auto-dimming mirrors, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Luxury trim comes with 17-inch wheels, comfort suspension, green-tinted glass and burl walnut wood interior accents. Sport trim includes 18-inch twin-spoke wheels, sport rear bumper, dual exhaust pipes, lowered sport suspension, blue-tinted glass, black bird's eye maple wood trim, white gauges, and a matte chrome gearshift surround.
Options include the Premium 1 package ($2,410) with DVD navigation, Sirius satellite radio, power rear window sunshade and heated and active-ventilated front seats. Premium II ($4,320) adds headlamp washers, a bi-xenon active light system, cornering fog lamps, and Keyless Go to that list. Also optional: leather upholstery ($1,550), a panorama sunroof for sedans ($1,010), electronic trunk closer ($530), split/folding rear seats ($350), wood/leather steering wheel ($550), iPod integration kit ($425), and Parktronic obstacle warning ($1,120). Radar-controlled Distronic adaptive cruise control is no longer available on these models.
New for 2008 is the AMG Sport Package ($2,000), which adds deeper front and rear aprons, unique 18-inch AMG wheels, and an AMG leather-covered steering wheel with manual shift paddles to E350s with Sport trim.
The E550 ($59,700) and E550 4Matic ($61,200) sedans are powered by a 382-hp 5.5-liter V8, and offer more standard equipment than the E350. Leather upholstery, a four-zone climate control system, and Airmatic variable air suspension come standard. Options are similar to those offered on the E350, including the Premium I ($2,860) and Premium II ($4,770) packages, as well as the AMG Sport Package.
The E63 AMG sedan ($85,300) and wagon ($86,050) come with the 507-hp 6.2-liter V8, a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, massive 18-inch tires and wheels, performance brakes, a lowered chassis, and a more aggressively tuned Airmatic suspension. They're distinguished by unique body touches and interior trim, deeply sculpted sports seats, and AMG markings. Distronic cruise control ($2,200) is still available on these models. The AMG wagon does not come with a third-row seat, but one can be ordered ($1,010). Otherwise, options are similar to those on the other E-Class models.
Safety features that come standard on all models include eight airbags: dual front airbags, side-impact airbags for front and rear passengers, and head-protection curtains that run the length of the cabin on both sides. The airbag management system employs multiple impact sensors designed to more precisely control the timing and rate of deployment. The system accounts for the weight of a front-seat passenger and controls seatbelt pretensioners according to the force of impact. Active safety featur.
Before the launch of the gorgeous CLS sedan/coupe, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class was widely considered to be the most successful design among the company's current sedans. The slight increase in overall length and wider front and rear tracks introduced on the 2007 models did nothing to dispel the car's suave look.
The four-headlight theme was refined for 2008, with transparent louvers over their top sections, a striking effect, and white LEDs used for the parking lights. The front bumper and radiator grille were given a pronounced V-shape, and the spoiler stretched lower.
The front end's new look was carried to the rear along deeper side skirts to a new rear bumper and taillight configuration. New mirrors provided a better view with even less wind resistance. These changes have kept the E-Class looking fresh and youthful, yet elegant.
No further appearance changes have been made for 2008.
The current E-Class introduced many innovations not necessarily apparent to the eye. This was the first Mercedes sedan to use aluminum body components extensively, starting with the hood, front fenders, trunk lid, front crossmember and front subframe. Aluminum is lighter and potentially stronger but more expensive than steel. Aluminum amounts to 10 percent of the body's weight. About 37 percent of the total is modern high-strength steel alloys.
From the aerodynamic perspective, the E-Class is one of the slipperiest sedans extant. Its 0.27 coefficient of drag is a benchmark for sedans and helps minimize wind noise and maximize fuel economy.
The E-Class wagon, available only in E350 and E63 AMG versions, will never be mistaken for anything but a wagon. Nonetheless, it is impressively sleek, and some critics find the tear-drop taper of the rear roof more aesthetically pleasing than the trunk deck on the sedans. Certainly, the wagon's added cargo-passenger flexibility is welcome. If the E350 wagon is too stodgy for your taste, there's always the E63 AMG version.
The E63 AMG sedan and wagon look meaner than the other E-Class cars. With their lower body cladding and 18-inch wheels, the E63s look racy and aggressive. As is often the case, the body add-ons add slightly more drag, if you can call a super slippery 0.28 Cd more drag. The aerodynamic aids are for downforce, to improve grip in fast corners.
We really enjoy the Mercedes E-Class interior. Like its exterior styling, we consider the E-Class cabin to be some of the marque's best design work, with a successful mix of attributes. The E-Class sedan delivers plenty of passenger space, yet it maintains some level of intimacy. It's luxurious, yet functional, and loaded with features without being excessive. The E-Class has all the traditional Mercedes interior cues, starting with its standard dark stained burl walnut trim. The cabin is conservative in some respects, daring in others, and impressively executed throughout.
The freshened styling introduced for 2007 gave the car a more elegant look, distinguished by sweeping curves, soft surfaces and effective use of chrome trim. A handsome four-spoke steering wheel with elliptical thumb-operated buttons was new as well, along with revised controls for the automatic climate system and additional interior color choices.
The dashboard sweeps from each side and blends into the doors and center console. The wood trim is complemented by splashes of chrome. Plastic panels are generally rich in appearance and have a soft-touch finish. All are sprayed with a polyurethane coating that delivers impressively consistent color.
The instrument cluster uses black script on white gauges with LED lighting. There's a big speedometer in the middle, with a menu-operated display for diagnostics, feature selection, ambient temperature, date and other information in its center. To the left sits a large analog clock, to the right the tachometer. On either end of the cluster are neat bar gauges that resemble thermometers, displaying fuel level and coolant temperature.
A cluster of switches between the visors on the headliner controls cabin lighting and the Tele-Aid SOS call button. The panel also includes a switch to operate the sunroof. HomeLink buttons are located on the bottom of the rearview mirror and can be programmed to control garage doors, house lighting, gates, etc. Redundant controls on the steering wheel hub operate the phone, radio and information display.
A single row of switches at the bottom of the center stack operates door locks, flashers and seat heaters. The main audio, telephone and navigation controls are located in a Comand module, spread around a 16:9 ratio LCD display screen. The system is a big improvement over Mercedes' previous control center, and while it still requires some learning, it probably takes less time to master than the menu/joystick system in many E-Class competitors.
The CD changer is located behind a flip-up switch panel in the center of the dash, which, at the touch of a button, opens for access. The changer can play audio CDs and MP3s, and an auxiliary input plug in the glove box allows personal audio devices to be played through the 12-speaker sound system. An optional kit connects an Apple iPod to the audio system and provides information in the center display while allowing control via the multi-function steering wheel.
Mercedes re-learning that people who drive cars carry stuff with them. This E-Class has less storage space than some of its competitors, but acres more than any Mercedes did five years ago. The center console has a funky pop-up cupholder and a large storage bin (two bins if you don't order the telephone package). Storage bins are also located in each door along with map pockets on the front seatbacks.
The 10-way adjustable front bucket seats are firm enough for good support when driving fast, but not hard on the back when cruising. They grip bodies of various sizes nicely, and there's more than enough adjustment via Mercedes' patented door-mounted seat controls to accommodate just about everyone. The sport seats have enough bolstering to keep a bronze bust in place. But if you don't dive into corners like Stirling Moss, you probably don't need them. They make getting in and out a little more difficult. We especially enjoy the op.
All of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars are enjoyable to drive. Smooth, serene and quiet are the dominant impressions at the wheel of any E-Class, unless you have the accelerator floored. There's very little vibration anywhere in the cabin, and almost no wind noise.
Improvements to the geometry of the front suspension for 2007 has given the E-Class a crisper, quicker turn-in while cornering, perceptibly increasing the sporty nature of the car's handling. All of the E-Class cars corner responsively and provide a smooth, if slightly firm, ride, a balance we like in luxury sedans. The four-link front suspension is similar to that under the expensive S-Class models, and the five-link rear suspension does a superb job of controlling unwanted wheel movement, which is crucial to handling and ride quality.
The variable-power steering system was improved for 2007 with a 10-percent quicker ratio for more precise control of front wheel direction. The system provides more boost for easy turning at low speeds and less for more progressive steering response and feedback at higher speeds. With 2.6 turns lock-to-lock compared to the previous system's 3.3 turns, we found the new steering makes maneuvering through crowded parking lots easier and more pleasant, and it's far more responsive in the corners.
The Sport models are tuned for those who like to feel in closer touch to the pavement, as they are fitted with shorter springs for a slightly lower ride height, stiffer shocks, and low-profile performance tires on 18-inch wheels.
On V8 models, the Airmatic Dual Control suspension replaces the standard steel coil springs with air springs. This computer-managed system adjusts the air pressure to the spring at each wheel, based on road conditions or driving style, to slightly soften or firm the ride and to add or decrease body roll (lean) in corners. In combination with electronically adjusted shock absorbers, the air suspension can automatically improve ride quality or handling or optimize the balance of the two, depending on where the car is traveling and whether the driver is cruising or driving quickly. The system works automatically, without switching suspension settings between sport and comfort.
The previously touchy brake system was simplified for 2007, and now provides an ultra-smooth grasp, even at slow speeds. Each E-Class model has progressively larger brake rotors and more complex piston designs to complement the engine's power and corresponding speed potential. The E-Class wagons give up almost nothing to the sedans in performance, fuel economy or handling dynamics.
The E350 comes with a 3.5-liter engine, the first Mercedes V6 with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. The 3.5-liter V6 generates 268 horsepower, and it mates well with the high-tech seven-speed automatic transmission that comes standard. The E350 is as responsive as any V6-powered car we've driven. This engine also features fully variable valve timing, so it delivers an impressive amount of torque from idle all the way to redline. The E350 responds immediately, no matter how fast it's already traveling when the driver dips the gas pedal. The 3.5-liter engine is also appreciably smooth, particularly at high rpm. And thanks to the seven-speed automatic, it delivers decent fuel mileage.
The E320 Bluetec diesel gets vastly superior fuel economy, with EPA ratings of 23 city/32 highway mpg. With predominantly highway travel, this gives it a range over 600 miles per tankfull. The Bluetec is designed to run on the ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel introduced into the U.S. starting October 2006. Mercedes' first V6 diesel, the Bluetec features all the latest high-tech goodies, including turbocharging, a variable nozzle turbine, four valves per cylinder, exhaust gas recirculation and a third generation of CDI, the common-rail direct-injection system that delivers fuel to the engine at an incredible 23,000 psi (compared to 1.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class offers a wide range of choices, but all have the attributes that have made them a benchmark among luxury cars. Every model delivers a combination of safety, luxury, practicality, performance, status, and cost of operation that's difficult to match. The redesigned E-Class introduced for model year 2007 improved on this car. This remains an iconic car in a market segment crowded with good cars.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles, with J.P. Vettraino and Jim McCraw in Detroit, and Greg Brown in Las Vegas.
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec ($52,200); E350 ($51,200); E350 4Matic ($52,700); E350 4Matic wagon ($55,950); E550 ($59,700); E550 4Matic ($61,200); E63 AMG ($85,300); E63 AMG wagon ($86,050).
Options As Tested
Sport Package (N/C); Premium II ($4,770) includes Hands-Free Communication System, DVD COMAND Navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio, power rear window shade, Headlight Washing System, Bi-Xenon Active Light System, cornering fog lights, Keyless Go, Active-Ventilated front seats; Parktronic ($1,120); wood/leather steering wheel ($550); electronic trunk closer ($530).
Mercedes-Benz E550 sedan ($59,700).
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