REVIEW DATE: 23 Jun 2006
The Mighty Mercedes E500 Is All The Car Most Will Ever Need And Revitalises Mercedes' Reputation. Andy Enright Reports
Let's get straight to the point. The Mercedes E500 is a magnificent thing. With a 388bhp V8 engine under the bonnet and boasting a state of the art chassis, it would be a genuine turn up for the books if it were in any way disappointing. Certain things we can take as read: that it will be quick, beautifully styled, achingly desirable and so on, but what comes as a surprise is quite how well it all gels together as a serious driving machine.
Let's face it, despite its other admirable qualities, the Mercedes E-Class has never really cut it as a sports saloon. Yes there have been very quick models in the past, but none of them could hold a candle to the E-Class' nemesis, the BMW 5 Series, when it came to generating driving satisfaction. Build quality, resale value, outright power, yes, but in the subtle areas that separate a good sports saloon from a great one - steering, handling, braking, transmissions, consistency of effort across all the major controls - BMW was always that increment better. That's no longer the case. The latest E-Class has junked all that, confining it to the sort of barroom wisdom that holds that Fords and Skodas are rubbish, that Porsches are driven by red-braced yuppies and that nothing gets from A to B quicker than a Bedford Astramax van.
The Mercedes E500 is available as a saloon or an estate in three trim levels, Elegance, Avantgarde or Sport and there really is little to choose between the first two, the Avantgarde offering a slightly lower ride height and correspondingly sportier feel, the Elegance being more of an executive wafter in appeal. The Sport is the variant that tries to recreate some of what the BMW 5-Series has got, making greater play of the car's dynamic attributes. The E500 is a good-looking car, the big alloy wheels and monster tailpipes giving some hint as to its potency, but it's still a massive 126bhp shy of being the most powerful model in the E-Class line up, that honour being reserved for the E63 AMG.
"The E500 doesn't just beat its established rivals. It sends them back to the drawing board."
Mercedes took extensive measures to improve the quality of this E-Class, introducing more advanced technology across a number of its systems but it's not immediately apparent that the current model is such a heavily revised vehicle. True Merc anoraks may spot the front bumper, v-shaped grille and revised headlights but that's about it externally. Inside, it's more of the same with a revised steering wheel and climate control panel being about the size of it.
Under the skin, it's a different story. Handling and steering have been improved and the adaptive braking system has been borrowed from the S-Class. This hydraulic dual-circuit braking set-up provides better safety and comfort features. Safety is a standout E-Class feature and the latest models feature the PRE-SAFE system which primes the seatbelt and airbag if it thinks the car is about to be involved in a collision. The NECK-PRO head restraints move forward within milliseconds of a rear shunt, protecting the driver and front passenger from whiplash injuries. Flashing brake lights are also featured, illuminating during particularly heavy braking.
Drop into the driver's seat and you'll be greeted by buttons, hundreds of the things, slathered all over the centre console, on the front of the steering wheel, on the fronts of the seats, by the doors, up on the head lining. Inveterate fiddlers will have found their nirvana. Almost everything seems to be adjustable, heated, ventilated, tweakable and tunable. The test car we drove was fitted with seats that could not only roast your backside but also waft it with cool air and massage your lower back to keep your spine supple. The side wings of the seat could even be inflated to generate a sort of Teutonic death grip.
You may need them too. Like most Mercedes models, the automatic gearbox and stiff throttle pedal of the E500 defaults the driver to a casual cruising mode, but this gives little indication as to the potential of the E500. Rumble up behind a dawdler, spot a clear section of road ahead and plant the throttle and an extraordinary transformation occurs. Instantaneously. The gearbox drops a couple of gears, the engine gives a deep bark and this seemingly sybaritic barge takes wing and just flies. The speedometer starts cranking out some scarcely believable figures and a very stRange thing happens. The faster you go, the happier the E500 feels. It's almost as if it's shrinking around you until it feels no larger than a Focus-sized hatch. This is a trick only the best cars can pull off and is a result of a superb chassis.
The performance figures speak for themselves. With an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, the E500 will be fast enough for all but the most committed autobahn stormer, although Mercedes sources claim that without the electronic nanny, the E500 will best the 170mph barrier, so good is the car's aerodynamic efficiency. 60mph from rest will detain you for just 5.3 seconds whilst the overall fuel consumption figure of 24mpg is, in the light of these figures, pretty remarkable. Another key reason why the E500 feels so quick is the 530Nm of torque that the car generates.
Aluminium body panels are used to keep weight down. The bonnet, front wings, boot lid and some strengthening gussets are all made from aluminium and contribute to a weight loss of some 20kg for the E500. This has been helped by using varying thicknesses in many of the body panels without sacrificing torsional rigidity, which has also been increased.
Mercedes have tried for some time to replicate the class domination they've enjoyed with their S Class in other model Ranges. It looks like they'll accomplish that mission with the latest revised E Class, and the E500 contributes notably to that cause.
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