2005 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D E500 AWD

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2005 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Mitch McCullough

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class delivers a combination of attributes surpassed by few cars or trucks anywhere. This sedan is luxurious, comfortable and fast, yet the cost of operating it, measured by fuel consumption and anticipated maintenance, is reasonable. The E-Class can be both sporty and practical. It employs some of the world's most advanced safety technology. It's relatively roomy inside, but it's also exceptionally maneuverable and not at all bulky, and it can be equipped with weather-busting all-wheel-drive. It expresses status in elegant, understated fashion.

It's no surprise that, still fresh from a thorough redesign, the E-Class has reasserted itself as one of the best-selling Mercedes models in the United States. It's the company's best selling line worldwide.

The E-Class revamp for model year 2003 was complete, including chassis, exterior styling, interior and engines. Mercedes introduced loads of new E-Class technology to go with athletic new looks and much sharper, sportier driving dynamics. The all-new E-Class sedans were more spirited than ever, but every inch a Mercedes-Benz.

For 2004, Mercedes expanded the lineup with two E-Class wagons that seat seven and offer exceptional versatility when hauling cargo and people. All-wheel drive, called 4Matic, was made available for sedans and wagons. And the mighty E55 AMG sports sedan was launched. Boasting 469 horsepower, with an amazing combination of lightning acceleration, handling, braking and luxurious accommodation, the E55 is one of the finest, and fastest, four-door sporting cars Mercedes-Benz has ever built.

The E-Class line expands further in 2005 with the new E320 CDI, powered by a high-tech direct-injection turbodiesel engine. Though popular in Europe, this is Mercedes' first diesel-powered sedan for the United States in eight years. We think it may be the best diesel car ever sold here. With diesel fuel selling for 20 percent less than gasoline in many markets, not to mention the E320 CDI's outstanding performance and 700-mile fill-up range, Mercedes' timing might be spot-on.

The E-Class is one of the most compelling cars in one of the most competitive market segments. The mid-size luxury sedan category includes more than a dozen solid choices and some of the finest cars in the world, including standards such as the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series. The E-Class will go toe-to-toe with any of them, and offers buyers more choices than most. Model Lineup
With so many choices available, choosing the best E-Class car for your needs can be daunting at first. Nine distinct cars, each available with literally dozens of options, comprise the E-Class. Fortunately, it isn't too difficult to narrow the selection to the appropriate model.

There are really only two primary choices: four-door sedan or wagon. From there, it's a matter of choosing the engine, and whether or not you want all-wheel-drive.

Understanding Mercedes' alpha-numeric nomenclature helps, and it's actually not that difficult. The letter or letters at the start designate the car: C for the compact C-Class sedan, E for the mid-size, S for the big luxury sedan. The numbers after the letter designate the engine size, if you imagine a decimal point after the first number. E320, for example, means an E-Class car with a 3.2-liter engine. E500 models come with the more powerful 5.0-liter engine. Somewhat of an exception to this is the super high-performance AMG cars, which get only two numbers. But the process is the same: The E55 AMG has a 5.5-liter engine.

The E320 ($49,220), powered by a 221-horsepower V6, is the least expensive and most popular E-Class. It comes with the standard equipment buyers expect in this class, starting with fully automatic dual-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power front seats with leather seating surfaces, real burl walnut trim, a nine-speaker stereo, power windows with one-touch express operation up and down, auto-dimming mirrors and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Popular performance options include 4Matic full-time variable all-wheel drive ($2,500) and a Sport Package that includes high-performance tires and the Airmatic computer-controlled air suspension.

New for 2005, the E320 CDI ($49,795) is equipped identically to the E320. The distinction is the impressive CDI turbodiesel engine. If you haven't driven this sedan, you don't know about the latest in diesel-powered cars. However, due to late changes in emissions mandates, the CDI is not offered for sale in California or the Northeast. For now, the E320 CDI is a 45-state car.

The E500 ($57,620) has been gaining sales ground on the E320 in recent years. Powered by a 302-horsepower V8, the E500 comes more standard equipment than the E320, including a seven-speed automatic transmission, a four-zone climate control system with separate temperature adjustments for both sides of the cabin, front and rear, and the variable ADC air suspension.

Nearly all the upgraded equipment on the E500 is available as options on the E320, and there are dozens more options offered on all E-Class models, including the high-tech stuff people expect in luxury cars. The extras include radar-controlled Distronic adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set distance from cars ahead; Keyless Go, a credit card-sized transmitter which allows unlocking the doors and starting the car by touching the door handle and the gear selector; Parktronic obstacle warning, which helps with parking and enhances safety by alerting the driver to objects in front of and behind the car. Also available: DVD-based GPS navigation integrated in the in-dash information management system; voice operation for the phone, audio controls and navigation system; ventilated massaging seats; and solar-powered interior ventilation for those hot summer days when the car is parked for long periods. There's even a power trunk closer.

The E320 wagon ($51,470) and E500 4matic wagon ($61,220) are equipped comparably to the respective sedans. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, optional on the E500 sedan, comes standard on all E500 wagons; the system is also available for the E320 wagon. And while there may still be social baggage associated with station wagons, anyone put off by that image is losing out. The E-Class wagons give up almost nothing to the sedans in performance, fuel economy or handling dynamics. They simply add an element of versatility the sedans can't match, and they are quite handsome to boot. A power liftgate and cargo organizer are standard, and the E-Class wagons add something rare among their European counterparts: a folding third seat that increases passenger capacity by two. Useful equipment such as a slide-out load floor, roof racks, bike racks, ski racks and cargo boxes abound on the wagon option list.

The E55 AMG ($80,220) is performance-tuned by Mercedes subsidiary AMG. It's equipped with a supercharged, intercooled V8 producing 469 horsepower, a manually controllable 5-speed automatic transmission, bigger tires, wheels and brakes and an aggressively tuned ADC suspension. This hotrod is distinguished by a unique body package, interior trim and AMG markings inside and out.

No new Mercedes would be complete without safety advances. Every E-Class cars come standard with eight airbags: dual front airbags, side-impact bags both for front and rear, and head-protection curtains that run the length of the cabin on both sides. The airbag management system employs multiple impact sensors designed to more precisely control the timing and rate of deployment. The system accounts for the weight of a front-seat passenger and controls seatbelt pretensioners according to the force of impact. Walkaround
The E-Class is considered by many to be the most successful design among Mercedes' current sedans. The four-headlight theme introduced on the previous-generation E-Class, now the company standard, has been refined in this car. Its front end is lower and is more steeply raked. An E-Class sedan has the look of a coupe. It looks fresh and youthful yet elegant.

The design presents a class-leading 0.27 coefficient of drag, helping minimize wind noise and maximize fuel economy.

With its lower body cladding and huge, 18-inch spoked wheels, the E55 AMG is clearly the raciest and most aggressive-looking E-Class. That said, those body add-ons add slightly more drag, if you can call 0.28 more drag.

The E-Class wagons will never be mistaken for anything but a wagon. Nonetheless, they are impressively sleek, and some critics find the tear-drop taper of the rear roof more aesthetically pleasing than the truck deck on the sedans.

Though it looks sportier, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is slightly larger than the pre-2003 models. It's about an inch longer in wheelbase and overall length and a half-inch taller in overall height than the 2002 model. It's a bit heavier (by 50 to 150 pounds, depending on model), but comes with improved crash protection and more standard equipment. The E-Class is the first Mercedes to use aluminum body components extensively, starting with the hood, front fenders, trunk lid, front crossmember and front subframe. Aluminum is lighter and stronger but more expensive than steel. Aluminum amounts to 10 percent of the body's weight. About 37 percent is high-strength steel, almost twice as much as before, which is stronger but more expensive than regular steel. Interior
The E-Class has all the traditional Mercedes interior cues, updated with some fresh features. It's conservative in some respects, daring in others, and impressively executed throughout.

The dashboard sweeps from each side and blends into the doors and center console. Nicely crafted wood trim is complemented by splashes of chrome. Plastic panels are rich in appearance, thanks to a new soft-touch finishing process. All are sprayed with a polyurethane coating that delivers impressively consistent color.

The instrument cluster uses black script on white gauges with LED lighting, framed by a three-spoke steering wheel. There's a big speedometer in the middle, with a menu-operated display for diagnostics, feature selection, ambient temperature, date and other information in the center. To the left sits a large analog clock, to the right the tachometer. On either end of the cluster are neat bar gauges that resemble thermometers, displaying fuel level and coolant temperature. An indicator with an icon of the car lets the driver know if any of the doors are ajar and, if so, which one, a welcome upgrade from the previous-generation cars.

A cluster of switches between the visors on the headliner controls cabin lighting and the Tele-Aid SOS call button. The panel also includes a switch to operate the sunroof. HomeLink buttons are located on the bottom of the rearview mirror and can be programmed to control garage doors, house lighting, gates, etc. Redundant controls on the steering wheel hub operate the phone, radio and information display.

The main audio, telephone and navigation controls are located in a new COMAND module, spread around a 16:9 ratio LCD display screen. The system is a big improvement over Mercedes' previous control center, but still requires some learning to master. A single row of switches operates door locks, flashers and seat heaters.

The center console has a funky pop-up cupholder and a large storage bin (two bins if you don't order the telephone package). There are storage bins in each door, and map pockets on the front seatbacks.

The nine-way adjustable front bucket seats are firm enough for good support when driving fast, but not hard on the back when cruising. They grip bodies of various sizes nicely, and there's more than enough adjustment via Mercedes' patented door-mounted seat controls to accommodate just about everyone. The sport seats have enough bolstering to keep a bronze bust in place. But if you don't dive into corners like Stirling Moss, then you probably don't need them because they make getting in and out a little more difficult.

Our gripes? The outside mirrors are small, no doubt in deference to sharp styling and good aerodynamics, and they limit the driver's field of view. More significant is the cruise control. Mercedes' system is managed with a stalk on the left side of the steering column, above the turn signals. On the new E-Class, the cruise stalk may be even closer to the turn signals than before, and at some point, no matter how long you've driven the car, you are going to hit the cruise control when you intend to turn on the blinker. Mercedes engineers insist that theirs is the most effective cruise-control operation going. We've yet to meet anyone who prefers it. On the other hand, we've met few people who dislike the cruise control to the point that they'd overlook all the strengths of a Mercedes-Benz to avoid having to use it.

Also, the new E-Class features ambient cabin lighting, the latest trend in interior design. These strips of soft, low-level cabin lighting in the headliner remain on during darkness, like a fancy nightlight in the bathroom. It's disconcerting while driving at night, at least initially, because we're used to nothing but the instrument lights. The distraction goes away as you become accustomed, but we're not sure the benefit of being able to see around the cabin outweighs the perceived loss of night vision and focus on the road.

The back seat has all the comforts you'd want. There are separate air vents for both sides, a fan-speed switch and separate temperature adjustments for rear passengers; a 12-volt power point; reading lamps; a wide, fold-down center armrest with cupholders and divided storage. Headrests are provided for all three rear seating positions, and they can be retracted remotely when there's no one riding in back for a greater range of rearward vision.

The trunk is one of the largest in the class. With 15.9 cubic feet of space, it's larger than the S-Class trunk. The trunk floor is as long as it is wide, with load height just above the bumper.

Wagons offer 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats and nearly 69 cubic feet with all the seats folded down. That's nearly as much volume as Mercedes' M-Class SUV, and with its lower load height, the space in the E-Class wagon is much easier to reach. The folding rear seat will accommodate pre-teens without complaint from the passengers, but adults probably won't like it as more than a novelty. Driving Impressions
Our first impression behind the wheel of a Mercedes E-Class is that it's smooth, serene and quiet. There's very little vibration anywhere in the cabin, and almost no wind noise. Even the high-performance E55 AMG is so quiet that the driver forgets just how powerful and fast it is until the throttle is opened up.

Performance from the E320 is somewhat disappointing. Its 3.2-liter V6, which produces 221 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, lacks the responsiveness of the other E-Class engines, including the new E320 CDI diesel. Nonetheless, the E320 cruises well at high speeds and the V6 is smooth and quiet. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Mercedes, and that's more than adequate in the most hectic traffic situations.

New for 2005, the E320 CDI is flat impressive. It's turbocharged inline six-cylinder diesel engine features all the latest high-tech goodies, including CDI, the common-rail direct injection system, which delivers fuel to the engine at an incredible 23,000 psi, compared to 100-250 psi in the typical gasoline engine. Yet the technology matters far less than the results. Forget everything you know about diesel-powered cars built in the 1970s, '80s or '90s. Slow starting? Not anymore. Like all diesels, the E-Class version still needs electric glow-plugs to heat the combustion chambers before starting. Yet during our week-long evaluation, in early spring in the Midwest when mornings are more than cold enough to leave a coating of dew on the landscape, the E320 CDI never started more slowly than a gasoline engine. Indeed, we never saw the glow-plug indicator light. Certainly it might take longer to start in the dead of winter, but we can't imagine that it will require more than a second or two.

Unpleasant odors? You'll still get that oily diesel smell when you fill the E320 CDI's tank, but once the filler cap is back on and the car is running, you'll notice no unpleasant fumes inside or out of this E-Class. Excessive engine noise? At idle, during warm-up, you'll hear the rapid tick-tick of diesel noise more loudly than anything coming from the gasoline-powered E320's engine. But once the diesel is warm, there's very little difference in the amount of engine noise reaching the cabin compared to other E-Class models. The diesel engine is also surprisingly smooth, and the extra bit of noise comes with some excellent benefits.

Start with better acceleration. The E320 CDI's 201 horsepower is impressive by diesel standards, but that's not the half. This engine produces a whopping 369 pound-feet of torque, more even than the E500 gasoline V8, and it's the twisting power of torque that generates acceleration. Dip the accelerator pedal on the E320 CDI and it jumps, quickly enough to spin the back tires just by jabbing the gas, if you switch the traction control off. The CDI will leave the gasoline-powered E320 in its dust, up to about 90 mph. Moreover, the CDI engine breathes freely enough that it keeps pulling strong up to the transmission's shift points.

And that gutsy acceleration comes with outstanding fuel economy. According to the EPA, the E320 CDI beats its gasoline-powered counterpart by nearly 10 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, estimated at 27 and 37 mpg respectively. Our test suggests that a 10 mpg edge overall is easily achievable in the real word. With predominantly highway travel, the CDI has a range of 600-700 miles per tank, so owners won't have to tolerate the smell of diesel fuel very often.

European engineers have wondered for decades why American drivers haven't taken to diesel-powered cars in greater numbers. The answer is simple: Compared to Europe, gasoline in the United States has usually been relatively cheap, and the economy advantage of a diesel has never been worth the trade-off. With the E320 CDI, we see no reason to choose the gasoline-powered E320, except perhaps the inconvenience of finding stations that sell diesel. As auto reviewers, we have never been willing to make that statement before. Analysts say $2-a-gallon gasoline is here to stay. With diesel selling for considerably less than gas in most markets, and the mileage advantage of the E320 CDI, the paradigm for the typical American buyer may finally have shifted.

For drivers who put a premium on smooth, exhilarating acceleration, there's nothing like the V8-powered E500. This V8 is sweet from idle to the 6000-rpm redline, and equipped with Mercedes' new seven-speed automatic transmission, the E500 flies. At a stoplight or from 70 mph, there's a deep well of torque underfoot, and plenty of acceleration. From the seat of the pants, the E500 feels like the quickest car going among mid-size luxury sedans, save the special high-performance models. Mercedes engineers say the E500 is even quicker than the original 500E, a limited-production, purpose-built sports sedan developed with Porsche in the early 1990s and still revered by auto enthusiasts today.

The 2005 E55 AMG operates on another plane entirely, with 469 horsepower and gobs of torque available from idle to 5000 rpm, peaking at more than 500 pound-feet. The power comes courtesy an intercooled Lysholm screw-type supercharger and advanced engine control electronics. No matter where or when you stab the throttle, the E55 rockets ahead. Mercedes says it will go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, reaching an electronically controlled top speed of 155 mph in about half a minute. Yee-ha!

The E500's seven-speed automatic transmission improves acceleration, performance and response, but it also enhances fuel efficiency when compared to a more common five-speed automatic. Gear changes are barely noticeable, especially in the higher gears. This transmission allows significantly quicker acceleration for highway passing situations. And it doesn't have to go through every gear: Step on the gas and the transmission will skip down to the appropriate gear, switching from seventh to fifth, for example, and from there directly to third, meaning two downshifts instead of four.

The five-speed automatic in the E320 and E55 AMG shifts quickly up or down in most situations, though it sometimes seems slow to respond in the E320. It doesn't hunt back and forth for the right gear, even in hilly terrain, and it rarely shifts unless the driver changes the angle of the gas pedal, which is good. When the driver prefers, an auto-manual shift mechanism allows a high level of control over gear selection. Toggling the shifter left or right, the transmission shifts quickly up and down at the driver's discretion. The system will hold the selected gear indefinitely just below the 6000-rpm redline, but it won't let you bump the engine off its rev-limiter without shifting up a gear. Should the mood strike, a driver can run through the gears or challenge a curving stretch of road almost as if it was a fully manual transmission. Most of the time, however, we simply put it in Drive.

E-Class cars corner responsively and provide a smooth, if slightly firm, ride. It's the balance we prefer in luxury sedans. The four-link front suspension is similar to that under the expensive S-Class models, and the five-link rear suspension does a superb job of controlling unwanted wheel movement, which is crucial to handling and ride quality. The E320 CDI is available only with ordinary all-season tires, but the other E-Class models are available with bigger, wider wheels and higher-grip performance tires that are better for warmer weather.

The Airmatic Dual Control suspension comes standard on the E500 and with the optional Sport package for the E320. Airmatic, or ADC, replaces conventional steel coil springs with air springs. This computer-managed system adjusts the air pressure to the spring at each wheel, based on road conditions or driving style, to slightly soften or firm the ride and to add or decrease body roll (lean) in corners. In combination with electronically adjusted shock absorbers, the air suspension can automatically improve ride quality or handling or optimize the balance of the two, depending on where the car is traveling and whether the driver is cruising or driving quickly. The system works automatically, without switching suspension settings between sport and comfort.

The Mercedes E-Class has quicker steering than some cars in its class, and its variable-power steering system works well. There's more boost for easy turning at low speeds, and less for more progressive steering response and feedback at higher speeds. The light steering makes maneuvering through crowded parking lots easier and more pleasant. Overall, the current E320 is far more pleasant to drive than the previous generation. This E-Class feels more agile and responds more precisely, in the fashion of a BMW. The E55 AMG supersedan has different suspension calibrations and different ABS and ESP settings in its software, deliberately changed to allow the driver to push the car to higher limits before electronic intervention occurs.

The E-Class cars have excellent brakes from a performance and safety standpoint. All feature Sensotronic Brake Control, commonly called brake-by-wire. The connection between the brake pedal and reservoir of brake fluid is electronic, not mechanical. The advantage? The electronic system can apply brake force to each wheel independently, helping to keep the car traveling straight and true during panic stops, even on bumpy, uneven roads. It will also keep the brakes on full in an emergency situation, as measured by sensors, even if a driver inadvertently eases off the brake pedal. And if it's raining, the system periodically, lightly, applies the brakes to sweep them dry. The E-Class models have progressively larger brake rotors, depending on the engine's power and corresponding speed potential. The brakes on the E320 are excellent in terms of performance. This car stops straight, true, and short, with no drama whatsoever, and will do so repeatedly with virtually no brake fade. Still, the brake-by-wire has its quirks. Several testers found them difficult to modulate in everyday driving, making smooth braking around town a challenge. The brake system is smart and will learn your driving style, so they should improve as you learn them and they learn you. Summary
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has always been a benchmark among luxury cars. It's a fine car in a competitive class, with a combination of safety, luxury, practicality, sportiness, status, and cost of operation that's difficult match.

For 2005, the E-Class offers a wide range of choices, from a frugal, excellent-performing diesel engine to well-behaved, utilitarian station wagons to the ultra high-performance E55 AMG. All-wheel-drive is available with a choice of engines in both sedans and wagons. And the E500 has an industry-leading seven-speed automatic transmission.

Our choice in this model line is the screaming E55 AMG, as long as someone else picks up the $80,000 tab. For our money, we'd buy the $55,045 E500 for its responsiveness and overall balance; the 5.0-liter engine really wakes this car up. The new E320 CDI diesel is the most frugal and, given the times, perhaps the best choice; we'd choose the diesel hands down over the similarly priced, gasoline-powered E320.

J.P. Vettraino and Jim McCraw contributed to this report from Detroit.

Model as tested
Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI sedan ($49,795)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Sindelfingen, Germany
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Pewter metallic paint with charcoal leather seat inserts ($600); power glass sunroof ($1260); heated front seats ($680); Premium sound system with CD changer ($970)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Mercedes-Benz E320 ($49,220); E320 CDI ($49,795); E500 ($57,620); E320 wagon ($51,470); E500 wagon 4MATIC ($61,220); E55 AMG ($80,220)
Safety equipment (standard)
antilock brakes (ABS); Electronic Stability Program (ESP), traction control; seatbelt pretensioners; dual-stage front airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags, front and rear curtain-style head-protection airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.2-liter dohc 24-valve turbodiesel inline-6
five-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual operation

Specifications as Tested
automatic dual-zone climate control, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, power windows with express up and down, auto-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 10-way power driver and passenger seats with leather inserts and three-position memory, cruise control, walnut trim, nine-speaker stereo, Tele-aid emergency communication system

Engine & Transmission
3.2-liter dohc 24-valve turbodiesel inline-6
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
201 @ 4200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
11.6-in vented discs with four-piston floating calipers/11.8-in vented discs with two-piston fixed calipers; ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent with upper and lower control arms, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rear
independent five link with coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers and stabilizer bar

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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