2001 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

By December 13, 2000
2001 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz will be 100 years old in 2001. If you had to pick one model that symbolizes the marque’s image, the E430 would be it. Although there is a tradition of sporty and blazing fast cars, the E-Class is the best seller. And it says “Mercedes” in the way most people understand. It’s big, square but sleek, smooth, silent and powerful. It’s built like a tank with a light touch, and comes out elegant. It’s a masculine car that women feel at home in. And in areas such as engine design and management, chassis, drivetrain, aerodynamics, safety and computer technology, Mercedes-Benz leads the automotive engineering world.

Model Lineup

There are three E-Class models: E320 sedan ($47,850) and wagon ($48,650) come with a smooth and highly sophisticated 3.2-liter, 221-horsepower V6.

E430 sedan ($53,200) is equipped with the standard highly sophisticated 4.3-liter, 275-horsepower V8. And the E55 AMG ($70,300) boasts a whopping 349 horsepower from its hand-built 5.5-liter V8.

E320 4MATIC ($50,700) and E430 4MATIC ($56,050) models come with an all-wheel-drive system, which uses a 35/65 torque split in the dry and electronic apportionment when one or more wheels slip.

Walkaround

There’s nothing you see walking around the 2001 E430 that you haven’t seen many times before. It no longer grabs your attention. It’s a Mercedes sedan. Here’s how Mercedes describes it: “The sculpted and contoured front air dam, side skirts, and rear valence wrap the E-Class body in sleek aggressiveness, and the Halogen front fog lamps add a distinctive finishing touch.” We’ll buy that.

Under the hood there’s a 21st century engine, with electronic management of fuel and spark for efficiency only imagined in days of yore, such as 25 mpg on the highway-with Autobahn performance. There are two spark plugs per cylinder, with 100,000-mile service intervals.

More tangible innovations standard on the E-class include:

Brake Assist, which reads your mind during a panic stop and applies full braking force faster than your foot can or will;

ESP, which corrects a slide before a driver might even detect it, by applying brakes to the appropriate wheel;

ASR traction control, which applies the brake to a wheel spinning under acceleration, and cuts spark to the engine if necessary;

No less than eight airbags. Besides two front airbags and a side-impact airbag for each door, there are curtain airbags which drop out of the headliner on each side, measuring 72 inches long by 14 tall by 2 thick.

As for the optional all-wheel-drive, Mercedes’ 4MATIC (a different system than with the M-Class) begins with a 35/65 front-to-rear power distribution, and applies braking to any wheel that’s slipping. An E-class can pull away without slipping even if three wheels are on ice or snow. If it’s all four wheels, the ASR traction control will juggle the spark and braking until the car inches away.

4MATIC’s electronic sophistication allows it to be mechanically simple and more effective by exploiting mechanical forces that other systems resist. Mercedes engineers believe it’s the future of all-wheel-drive.

A special option for $1050 is Parktronic, which uses sound waves to locate obstacles near the front or rear bumpers. A warning beep increases in speed until contact. It’s useful in parking, of course; but more importantly, it would see an object behind the car that might be under your line of sight, such as a child.

The sideview mirrors are heated, and the left-side and rearview mirror dim automatically. The right-side mirror tilts down when the car is in reverse, for better rearward visibility. The huge and famous single-sweep windshield wiper has a heated washer nozzle so it won’t freeze. The remote locking SmartKey system has built-in electronic protection against transmitter cloning; the windows and sunroof open by remote as well.

Then there’s the Command System with its screen on the console, which when you fire the Benz up, displays: “Warning Do not become distracted from traffic by use of Command!” as if that would make any difference. The system uses a GPS to locate the car and navigate you with voice commands. The message center can display not only navigational instructions, but more information than you might ever feel a need for, including the number of miles to next maintenance service based on actual driving conditions and oil quality. The optional cellular telephone can also be operated from the Command panel.

The list of state-of-the-art features goes on for so long that it can be hard to escape Mercedes’ big-brother-like electronic protective wing. A dedicated cellular link called Tele Aid provides 24-hour contact for emergency aid, general information or roadside assistance-each with a separate button on the dash. Automatic Collision Notification engages the emergency function (SOS) if an air bag deploys. Automatic Alarm Notification alerts Mercedes-Benz to contact you if the antitheft alarm is set off. Tele Aid also includes stolen vehicle tracking, and remote keyless unlocking service, should you lock the keys in the car. The first year’s annual fee of $225 is included in the base price.

Interior Features

You look out over the hood and can’t see the fenders because they slope away so artfully, lending to the excellent 0.29 Cd aerodynamics. All you see is the big tri-star hood ornament, which may impress you with your own stature.

The leather interior in our E430 was a two-tone tan that stated dignity, dignity, dignity. As would be expected, the rear seat offers enormous comfort, legroom and ease of entry. The E-Class is one car that is truly about passengers.

Much effort has gone into making the cabin climate comfortable. There are dual temperature and airflow controls, an electrostatic dust filter and activated charcoal filter with smog sensor, and rear-cabin air vents. In cold weather, the climate control can recirculate warm air through the interior for up to 30 minutes while the car is parked, drawing on very small amount of coolant.

There are bunches of interior lights, from visor vanities to maplights to door handles, and all the pockets, compartments and cupholders you might imagine finding in a luxury sedan. Of course there’s the burl walnut trim on doors, dash, console and shift gate, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, velour floor carpeting and floor mats.

More standard equipment includes 10-way power front seats and head restraints, a power tilt and telescoping steering column, a multifunction steering wheel, memory seating including mirrors and steering wheel position, an integrated garage door opener, and eight-speaker Bose sound system with optional CD changer.

If the leather says dignity and the cabin says comfort, the switchgear says confusion. An owner may or may not take the time to study the manual and master the controls through memorization and practice. Meanwhile, not much is intuitive. The sound and command systems include about 30 buttons the size of a Chiclet or smaller, and (to us) the only immediately identifiable one was the PWR button. The abbreviations or icons on many of the buttons are so small you have to take your concentration off the road to read them.

It’s your call to decide if we’re simply more stupid than most of Mercedes’ intended buyers. But it might be a philosophical design debate. Should a control panel be designed for owners, or infrequent users? It would be interesting to test new E-Class owners on the function of those buttons.

Driving Impressions

Not surprisingly, you can be surprised by the speedometer-the car is so smooth and powerful you’ll be going 80 mph before you know it, and not realize it when you are. That’s good, of course; even better is the fact that the best acceleration begins at legal limits. This dignified sedan feels most impressive after it’s already in outlaw territory. The 2.82 final drive ratio means the engine is barely loping at 65 mph. The E430 deserves to be on the Autobahn.

The torque chart prompts a double-take. Could the engine actually produce its maximum torque over a 1400-rpm range? No wonder acceleration is rheostat-like. Combine that with a five-speed transmission that shifts imperceptibly, and you feel as if you’re sort of quietly and effortlessly slung along in this car.

Over the last half-dozen years Mercedes has greatly refined the handling of its sedans. The E430 is quite nimble, and light in its response. It handles smaller than it is, yet overall it feels bigger than it is. That’s no mean feat, and takes masterful engineering. The rack-and-pinion steering is speed-sensitive, and includes a hydraulic damper.

The suspension is slanted toward the soft side so it swallows things like expansion strips, but it never feels too soft. The quality of the ride is consistent with the quality of the rest of the car. This isn’t a car meant to be tossed through the curves, but the potential is there, which is where the E55 AMG comes from. And the E430 offers a Sport Package, which includes five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels bearing low-profile W-rated tires.

The automatic transmission features Touch Shift, which allows the driver to play, by shifting the manually with a nudge of the lever to the left or right. There’s also a Winter mode, which starts the car moving in second gear (including a special second reverse gear) to help improve takeoff on slippery surfaces.

The transmission’s upshifts under acceleration are imperceptible, but it is possible to confuse the “driver adaptive control,” that computer that shifts according to your style. Your style may need to change from moment to moment, and you can change your mind more quickly than the transmission. If, for example, you accelerate and then have to back off for a sudden new event, at lower speeds, the transmission will actually lurch trying to keep up with what it mistakenly thinks is your plan. The Mercedes engineer would say, “Ah yes, but you should drive more smoothly.” Tell it to the traffic.

Summary

Not surprisingly, you can be surprised by the speedometer-the car is so smooth and powerful you’ll be going 80 mph before you know it, and not realize it when you are. That’s good, of course; even better is the fact that the best acceleration begins at legal limits. This dignified sedan feels most impressive after it’s already in outlaw territory. The 2.82 final drive ratio means the engine is barely loping at 65 mph. The E430 deserves to be on the Autobahn.

The torque chart prompts a double-take. Could the engine actually produce its maximum torque over a 1400-rpm range? No wonder acceleration is rheostat-like. Combine that with a five-speed transmission that shifts imperceptibly, and you feel as if you’re sort of quietly and effortlessly slung along in this car.

Over the last half-dozen years Mercedes has greatly refined the handling of its sedans. The E430 is quite nimble, and light in its response. It handles smaller than it is, yet overall it feels bigger than it is. That’s no mean feat, and takes masterful engineering. The rack-and-pinion steering is speed-sensitive, and includes a hydraulic damper.

The suspension is slanted toward the soft side so it swallows things like expansion strips, but it never feels too soft. The quality of the ride is consistent with the quality of the rest of the car. This isn’t a car meant to be tossed through the curves, but the potential is there, which is where the E55 AMG comes from. And the E430 offers a Sport Package, which includes five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels bearing low-profile W-rated tires.

The automatic transmission features Touch Shift, which allows the driver to play, by shifting the manually with a nudge of the lever to the left or right. There’s also a Winter mode, which starts the car moving in second gear (including a special second reverse gear) to help improve takeoff on slippery surfaces.

The transmission’s upshifts under acceleration are imperceptible, but it is possible to confuse the “driver adaptive control,” that computer that shifts according to your style. Your style may need to change from moment to moment, and you can change your mind more quickly than the transmission. If, for example, you accelerate and then have to back off for a sudden new event, at lower speeds, the transmission will actually lurch trying to keep up with what it mistakenly thinks is your plan. The Mercedes engineer would say, “Ah yes, but you should drive more smoothly.” Tell it to the traffic.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:E320 ($47,850); E430 ($53,200); E55 AMG ($70,300)
Engines:3.2-liter SOHC V6; 4.3-liter SOHC V8; 5.5-liter SOHC V8
Transmissions:5-speed automatic with manual shift function
Safety equipment (standard):ABS, ESP, ASR, ETS, BabySmart, 10 airbags
Safety equipment (optional):N/A
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Bremen, Germany
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):E430 ($53,200)
Standard equipment:automatic air conditioning w dual controls; active charcoal, electrostatic air filtration system; anti-theft alarm; front and rear center armrests; cruise control; electric rear window defrost w timer; power central locking including decklid and fuel-filler door; premium leather upholstery inc. door trim panels; keyless remote; first aid kit; fog lights; universal garage door opener; analog and electronic message center with outside temperature display; courtesy lights; floor mats; dual heated power mirrors w/memory; automatic dimming rearview mirror; AM/FM/cassette w/weatherband and 8 speakers; 10-way power seats w/3-position memory; power tilt/telescopic steering column w/memory; leather-wrapped steering wheel; TeleAid cellular link; SmartKey; traction control; electronic stability program; burl walnut trim; aluminum alloy wheels; windows with power express up/down; variable wipers with heated washers
Options as tested (MSPR):N/A
Destination charge:N/A
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$53845
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:4.3-liter SOHC 24v V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):275 @ 5750
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):295 @ 3000-4400
Transmission:5-speed automatic with manual shift function
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:18/25 mpg
Wheelbase:111.5 in.
Length/width/height:189.4/70.8/56.7 in.
Track, f/r:60.2/59.9 in.
Turning circle:37.2 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:37.6/37.6/41.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.2/37.2/36.1 in.
Cargo volume:15.3 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:Independent double-wishbone
Suspension, r:five-arm multlink
Ground clearance:N/A
Curb weigth:3624 lbs.
Tires:P235/45WR17
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc w ABS
Fuel capacity:21.8 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of December 13, 2000.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-FOR-MERCEDES - www.mbusa.com