EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

Supercharged supercar

Tuned by Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance division, the E55 is the fastest production sedan ever made by the German automaker.

In most respects, the E55 seems like a normal Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan: tight, refined, secure.

But get on the throttle and everything suddenly changes. Very suddenly.

E55 turns aggressive, thrusting forward like a rocket, its supercharged V-8 roaring under the hood. Sixty mph pops up at about 4.5 seconds, just moments before E55 soars into illegal speeds.

This thing is fast. Mercedes calls it the world’s fastest production sedan. No doubt. Acceleration, handling, braking, E55’s performance is in supercar territory alongside exotic European sports cars.

The muscular engine, which TV advertising types have depicted as a raging beast, is stealthily nestled in a fairly normal-looking car. And despite its awesome abilities, E55 drives like a fairly normal car, trundling quietly through traffic, dropping off the kids, toting home groceries.

And looking for a Corvette to race.

What it is

Enhanced by AMG, Mercedes’ performance arm, E55 is a technology-laden muscle car that offers strident performance in a midsize sedan. Beautifully finished, this expensive bauble is built for those who crave power but don’t need attention.

Engine and transmission

Here’s another engine wonderfully transformed through the magic of supercharging. A 5.5-liter V-8 hand-built by AMG is boosted to 469 horsepower and 512 pound-feet of torque, providing it with impressive strength and flexibility.

Power comes on from the bottom with no hesitation and pulls through the gears with seamless energy. The strength feels boundless, making the 2-ton car seem light.

Accelerating up the steep grade on Interstate 17 north of Black Canyon City, E55 hunkered down and pulled.

The German word for supercharger is kompressor, emblazoned on E55’s body and those of other supercharged Mercedes models.

This is the same engine found in the SL55 sports car and S55 luxury sedan. The E-Class car is lighter than either and outperforms both.

The throttle operates electronically, connected to the fuel injection by wires and microprocessors instead of cables or rods. The effect is quick response to pedal input.

The brakes are also electronic, though there’s a disconnected feeling that can be unpleasant, especially at low speeds.

The five-speed automatic transmission shifts aggressively and accurately, calibrated by AMG for performance and durability as it deals with the engine’s mountain of torque.

There’s a manual mode that can be activated either with shifter movement or buttons on the steering wheel, right side for upshifts and left side for downshifts. It works great, with nearly instantaneous response.

Handling and drivability

As us ual with Mercedes, E55 boasts a full complement of electronic features, including specially programmed ESP stability control that constantly monitors power, braking, handling and suspension dynamics; automatic air suspension that senses road conditions and cornering loads; and electronic braking, which monitors brake pressure to each wheel.

All this, along with Mercedes’ tuned suspension, responsive steering and massive four-wheel disc brakes, make the E55 perform like a thoroughbred in all driving conditions.

One gripe about the ride: The E55 has an odd tendency to rock side to side in some maneuvers, not serious but something noticeable and sometimes annoying.

Styling

The E-Class sedan was beautifully transformed for the 2002 model year, making it look less stodgy and more sporty. E55 is lowered slightly over 18-inch AMG wheels shod with high-performance ZR-rated tires and adds attractive lower body moldings and four chrome exhaust tips.

The overall effect is fairly subtle, and most drivers appeared not to notice the German hot rod in their midst. But those in the know seemed suitably impressed.

Interior

The interior is roomy for four, with comfortable and supportive leather seats and a solid feel of quality throughout. Wood and chrome accents are tastefully done, and every power feature is included.

E55 adds a standard four-zone climate control system, allowing each rear-seat passenger to control the heat and cooling, and a 12-speaker sourround-sound audio system.

Safety features include adaptive front air bags, self-tensioning seat belts that sense the severity of an impact, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain air bags.

Pricing

As mentioned, E55 is expensive, exclusive but not quite as bad as it could be, considering the performance.

Base price, which pretty much includes everything, is $76,000. The test car’s only option was $400 for a CD changer, plus $720 shipping.

Oh yeah, there’s also a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax, bringing the total to $78,820.

Bottom line

How the rich go fast without being too showy. E55 demonstrates German automaker’s usual command of quality and refinement, with AMG showing once again how to bring the best out of a Benz.

Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

Vehicle type:

Four-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.

Base price:

$76,000.

Price as tested:

$78,820.

Engine:

5.5-liter supercharged V-8, 469 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, 516 pound-feet of torque at 2,650 rpm.

Transmission:

Five-speed automatic.

Wheelbase:

112.4 inches.

Curb weight:

3,990 pounds.

EPA mileage:

14 city, 21 highway.

Highs:

* Awesome power.

* Handling refinement.

* Interior comfort.

Lows:

* Braking discomfort.

* Side-to-side rock.

* Driver’s-license threat.

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