After a face-lift and a raft of new features last year, Mercedes most popular model line in North America sees little change for 2001.
The E-Class returns as a four-door sedan and a station wagon, both available with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. The E-Class sedan splits the difference in size and price between the bottom-rung C-Class sedan and top-shelf S-Class sedan.
Among rivals are the Acura RL, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti Q45, Lexus LS 430 and Cadillac Seville the heart of the luxury sedan market.
One of last years new standard features was the COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system, which controls a satellite-based navigation system, the sound system and optional telephone via voice commands, buttons on the steering wheel or controls around a dashboard display screen. This year, buyers can add InfoServices, which provides custom news, stock quotes, sports scores, weather and other services through the Internet.
With an overall length of 189 inches, the E-Class sedan is about the same as the archrival BMW 5 Series and about 8 inches shorter than the Lexus LS 430. Last years face-lift included a new hood, front fenders, integrated front and rear bumpers, and reshaped side and rear aprons.
Mercedes describes this leather-lined sedan as a five-passenger car, but there really is room for only two adults in the rear seat. A wide driveshaft tunnel makes the middle-rear seat suited for short trips only. The 15.3-cubic-foot trunk has a wide, flat floor and useful side wells for stashing small items.
Standard equipment includes TeleAid, which operates on its own cellular system to summon emergency help (automatically if an airbag deploys), call Mercedes roadside assistance and track a stolen vehicle.
Under the Hood
Three engines are offered in the E-Class range. E320 models use a 3.2-liter V-6 with 221 horsepower, and E430 models get a 4.3-liter V-8 with 275 hp. The E55 AMG, a high-performance, limited-production version of the E-Class sedan, has a 5.5-liter V-8 with 349 hp. All models come with a five-speed automatic transmission that has a manual-shift mode.
Mercedes permanently engaged four-wheel-drive system, called 4MATIC, is available on the E320 and E430.
Three different kinds of airbags are standard: curtain-type airbags that protect the heads of occupants, side-impact airbags mounted in all four doors and federally required front airbags, which deploy at one of two levels based on impact speed and crash severity.
Antilock brakes, traction control and stability control also are standard.