EXPERT REVIEW

Orlando Sentinel's view

A long, late-night drive home is not nearly so troubling with the proper car, and recently that car was the 2004 Mercedes-Benz E500 4Matic. The E-Class is the midsized Mercedes sedan, larger than the C-Class, smaller than the S-Class.

If there’s a serious problem with the E500, it’s that it’s so nicely executed that I can’t imagine why I would spend an extra $22,000 or so for the $86,970 Mercedes S500 4Matic.

Yes, the E500 4Matic isn’t cheap, with a base price exceeding $58,000 and a total price as tested of $65,200.

The S-Class is about a foot longer than the E-Class, but the E seems very much the right size: plenty of room in the back seat, a big trunk and small enough to navigate city traffic. The 4Matic feature is Mercedes’ name for all-wheel-drive, meaning all four wheels are powered, not just the rear wheels, as on non-4Matic Mercedes models.

The 4Matic adds about $2,500 to the price of the regular E500, and it also means that you must forgo the E500’s neat seven-speed automatic transmission for a five-speed automatic. But the extra grip that all-wheel-drive provides, particularly on slick pavement, is worth it.

With no options, the E500 4Matic is exceptionally well-equipped, with leather upholstery, walnut trim, an air-controlled suspension, 17-inch tires and alloy wheels and a 10-speaker stereo with CD player. The safety equipment included is even more extensive: side and side-curtain air bags, an electronic anti-lock braking system with brake assist, electronic stability control, the TeleAid emergency communications system (similar to General Motors’ OnStar) and a security system.

Options included a $950 Harman/Kardon stereo upgrade, a $1,410 appearance package, $1,500 for a sunroof and rear- and side-window blinds, $780 for upgraded front seats, and $490 for a push-button “electronic trunk closer.” The E500 4Matic also gets hit with a $1,300 “gas guzzler” tax, though fuel mileage – 16 miles per gallon in the city, 20 mpg on the highway – isn’t horrible.

On the road, the E500 is quiet and rock-solid. Seats are excellent. Two quibbles: The “speed sensitive” power steering lacks feel, and although the overall weight of about 3,800 pounds isn’t excessive, the car feels much heavier in sharp corner. On a long, late-night drive home, though, not much of that matters.

The E500 4Matic is a car for all seasons.

Base price: $58,050.

Price as tested: $65,200.

EPA rating: 16 mpg city, 20 highway.

Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive luxury sedan with a 5.0-liter, 302-horsepower V-8 with a 5-speed automatic transmission.

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