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Expert Reviews 3 of 3
By Jim Mateja
March 8, 1992
Spend $60,000 on a car and not get a glove box? Think hard. When have you ever put your gloves in the box in the dash? Besides, it`s more important to use the location to house an air bag to save the passenger than it is to store a pair of
mittens. Who needs it? To criticize a car because you don`t have a place to store your hand warmers would be unconscionable. With all the problems in the world, handing over $60,000 and having the salesman not hand you back a glove box in return
is one of life`s little displeasures, far down the list behind the recession, national debt, Japanese trade imbalance, famine, disease, pestilence and the Cubs` signing Ryne Sandberg. Spend $60,000 on a car and not get a cupholder? Pox on
Mercedes-Benz, what`s left of the Berlin Wall and sauerkraut! We test drove the 1992 midsize Mercedes-Benz 400E sedan and found an air bag where the glove box usually sits. No box. No problem. But no cupholder? ``Mercedes is intent
on safety, and a cupholder doesn`t contribute one wit to the safety of the driver or his passengers,`` an official confided to us. ``Besides, what if during the drive a cup of hot coffee should spill? You could cause an accident.`` That`s why
there`s an air bag in the dash and anti-lock brakes on all the wheels, we replied in what became a losing argument. So what do you get for 60 big ones? You get what Mercedes calls its new midsize luxury car powered by a 268- horsepower,
4.2-liter, 32-valve V-8 that propels you quickly from the light, ahead of all those drivers in unsophisticated clunkers who are pulling cups from their holders so they can sip the hot brew on the way to work. The price you pay for the ability to
zip while others sip is $1,300, the amount of the federal gas-guzzler tax you must pay because the 400E is only rated at 16 miles per gallon city and 21 m.p.g. highway. That falls short of the 22.5 m.p.g. in combined city/highway mileage needed to avoid
the tax. Of course, if you have $60,000 burning a hole in your Blass blazer, what`s another $1,300? Remember, you still have an air bag in the steering column and the dash where the glove box used to be, plus a powerful set of ABS brakes to bring
you back down from 60 to 0 almost as fast as you got there. The 400E is designed to fill the gap between the 6-cylinder 300E and the larger and even more powerful S-Class sedans, which start at $10,000 to $70,000 more than your 400E and carry up
to $3,200 more in guzzler taxes. In one respect, you could say buying a 400Eis a way to economize. The 400E differs from the 300E in that the 400E has alloy wheels with eight large vent holes and a 400E nameplate on the deck lid. At least those
are the outward differences. Inside, the suspension is beefed up, steering is a bit more responsive and brakes are larger. In other words, you don`t see, smell or taste many o
f the advantages of the car, such as the ``crumple zone`` design that channels impact forces away from the passenger compartment in collisions. What you get is a conservative-looking luxury sedan with the familiar Mercedes grille. The seats are
large and comfortable, with ample side support to keep you in place when you set out to determine whether there really is 268-h.p. in that V-8. What you don`t get, other than the glove box, is a lot of room in the back seat. The taller the
front-seat occupants, the less the leg room in back. Base price is $55,800. The $1,300 guzzler tax and 10 percent luxury tax on the amount over $30,000 will put you on the $60,000 fringe. Options and sales tax will help you cross the fringe with
ease. In terms of standard equipment, you get automatic transmission, power Brakes and steering, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power seats, power windows, power central locking, cruise control, AM-FM stereo with
cassette, headlamp washers and wipers, first-aid kit, heated outside rear-view mirrors, outside temperature indicator, steel-belted radials, tinted glass and electrically heated rear window, visor vanity mirrors and burl walnut interior trim.
Options include traction control ($2,565) to let you start on wet, snowy or icy roads with the same sure-footedness as you can stop on that pavement with ABS (but if you get carried away with traction control`s ability to limit wheel slippage on ice or
snow, a warning light in the dash signals you to let off the accelerator). There`s also a trunk-mounted compact disc changer ($1,200), heated seats($540, but you`ll appreciate them when you sit on leather in December, January and February), and an
integrated cellular phone ($910). Our test vehicle came with the phone. The clarity was better than the horn we have at the office. However, Mercedes stuffed the phone and assorted cords in the center console armrest, where there is precious
little room for the device-especially when you`re done talking and you have to fit the receiver back in its clip without tangling it up in the cord. A smaller phone or a console design change is sorely needed. 1992 Mercedes 400E Wheelbase: 110.2 inches Length: 187.2 inches Engine: 4.2 liter, 286 h.p., 32 valve V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Strong point: ABS and dual driver/passenger side airbags standard. The 4.2 liter V-8 is most responsive. Weak point: No glove box, no cupholder, no room for the phone cord in the center console, $2,565 price for traction control too hefty, $55,800 base
price too hefty versus U.S. and Japanese competition.