The Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars were re-engineered from the ground up for the 2003 model year, and 2004 brings a vast expansion of the model line. Mercedes has redone its worldwide best-selling car with loads of new technology to go with its athletic new looks and much sharper, sportier driving dynamics. It's more like a BMW than ever before, but every inch a Mercedes-Benz.
The E-Class includes the V6-powered E320 sedan and the V8-powered E500 sedan. The E500 comes with a sophisticated new seven-speed automatic transmission. For 2004, Mercedes has introduced the fantastically useful and flexible E-Class wagon, available in E320 and E500 trim.
The new high-performance E55 AMG is the fastest-ever production car from Mercedes, boasting nearly 500 horsepower and a sports suspension. The E55 AMG, with its combination of acceleration, handling, braking and sheer accommodation, is the finest four-door sports car Mercedes-Benz has ever built, a car without cramped spaces, the quirks, the downsides or negatives that so many two-seater, two-door sports cars come with as standard equipment. In this family hauler, you can really haul. Direct competitors include the Audi RS6, the BMW M5, and the Jaguar XJR.
All-wheel drive is available for all 2004 E-Class models, a great feature for winter driving and quite useful in the rain. New appearance packages have been added as well to give the E-Class a sportier look.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes in three variants, the more popular V6-powered E320, the V8-powered E500, with its new 5.0-liter engine, and the supercharged and intercooled 5.4-liter V8 in the E55 AMG high-performance sedan.
The E320 ($47,450) comes with the standard equipment buyers expect in this class, starting with fully automatic dual-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power front seats, real walnut trim, a 10-speaker stereo, power windows with one-touch express operation up and down, auto-dimming mirrors and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
The E500 ($56,270) has been gaining sales ground on the E320 in recent years. For 2004, the V8's engine displacement has increased from 4.3 liters to 5.0 liters, with an increase of 29 horsepower to 302 at 5600 rpm. Besides more power, the E500 adds new standard equipment, including the industry's first seven-speed automatic transmission, a four-zone climate control system with separate temperature adjustments for both sides of the cabin, front and rear, and the new Airmatic Dual Control suspension.
All the options on E500 are also available on the E320, and there are dozens more offered on both cars. Extras include radar-controlled Distronic adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set distance from cars ahead; Keyless Go, a credit card-sized transmitter which allows unlocking the doors and starting the car by touching the door handle and the gear selector; Parktronic obstacle warning helps with parking and enhances safety by alerting the driver to objects in front of and behind the car. Also available: DVD-based GPS navigation, a in-dash information management system; voice operation for the phone, audio controls and navigation system; ventilated massaging seats; and solar-powered interior ventilation for those hot summer days when the car is parked for long periods. There's even a power trunk closer.
As mentioned, E320 and E500 wagons are now available. Equipped with three rows of seats, the wagon has a power liftgate and a cargo organizer as standard, with a slide-out load floor optional. Roof racks, bike racks, ski racks and cargo boxes abound on the wagon option list. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system comes on all E500 wagons and is available on the E320.
The E55 AMG ($78,370) was performance-tuned by subsidiary AMG with a supercharged and intercooled V8 producing 493 horsepower, a manually controllable 5-speed automatic transmission, bigger tires, wheels and brakes, and retuned suspension, with appropriate AMG interior and exterior markings, style and badging throughout.
No new Mercedes would be complete without safety advances. E-Class cars come standard with eight airbags (dual front airbags, side bags for front and rear, and head-protection curtains that run the length of the cabin on both sides). The E-Class employs a new (for 2003) airbag management system with more 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 seat belt pretensioners according to the force of impact.