| on a charm offensive
New York, Oct. 20: Autumn brings shorter days, Christmas catalogues and a bumper crop of redesigned cars and trucks. The main wave of new models is arriving in showrooms now; among these, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan is one of the most significant cars in the class of 2003.
A new E-Class is always a big deal in the automotive world. For 50 years, this car and its predecessors have defined what a European luxury car should be. The E-Class accounts for nearly a third of Mercedes’ worldwide car sales, and vies with the M-Class sport utility as the company's best seller in the United States. Slotted between the compact C and the large S, the E is the right size, and priced in the right range, for many luxury car buyers.
The previous E, with its seductive, sloe-eyed styling, has been a huge success since it arrived near the end of 1995. So expectations were high for the all-new 2003 car, and indeed it measures up.
The new E-Class is much improved in nearly every way, and will be a formidable rival to German cars like the BMW 5 Series and the Audi A6; to Japanese sedans like the Lexus LS 430; and even, if you please, to American iron like the Cadillac DeVille DTS.
Advances in chassis and interior design stand out; this is without doubt the best-handling, most comfortable E-Class ever made.
I drove three test cars but spent the most time in a pewter E320 with a tan interior and off-white carpets. The base price was $ 47,615, and options raised the window sticker to $51,990. This car had a 3.2-litre V-6, carried over from last year, that produced 221 horsepower.
I also drove an E500, which is powered by a 5-litre, 302-horsepower V-8 and has a base price of $ 55,515.
The new E-Class has an aggressive, forward-canted look; the nose is noticeably lower than the rear end. The roof slopes down toward the trunk from the centre roof pillar (Mercedes calls this as a “coupe roofline”), whereas the roof of the old car was flat from windshield to rear window. The redesigned taillights look similar to those of the high-end S-Class.
The new look has drawn praise, although to my eye the car has lost some of its formal presence. And the oversized taillights, while an improvement, are no longer as distinctive as they seemed on the S-Class three years ago.
There is no quibbling about the interior, which is roomy, attractive and ergonomically effective. Mercedes says it designed the car to accommodate both larger men and smaller women, and indeed the car feels as spacious as the larger S-Class. In a clever bit of space utilisation, the backs of the front seats are indented, giving rear passengers extra knee room. Designers of coach seating for the airlines should take note. The trunk is cavernous, swallowing two supersized wheeled suitcases and several smaller bags.