09/28/06 — '07 E-Class is the right car at the right time

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'07 E-Class is the right car at the right time

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2007)

There’s a reason the E-Class sedan is annually one of Mercedes-Benz’s best selling nameplates.

We discovered the reason during a stressful week of family loss.

The E-Class is the comfort food of automobiles.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class, 2007

A quick 60-mile trip to the airport and an equally furious trip back home was accomplished in the quiet comfort of a 2007 E350. The car was unobtrusive with its steady performance, outstanding braking and point-and-shoot steering.

Conversation was relegated to family matters with our attention riveted to the loss that at some point strikes all families.

In fact, it was not until the next week, after the car and most of the family members were gone, that we realized what a big role the E350 played over those days. It was understated, keeping itself in the background, out of the limelight, as it performed its tasks with an impeccable demeanor.

It seemed to know its place in the scheme of things. It was never boisterous like a big Hemi. It was never uncomfortable like some sports sedans can be. It needed only one quick stop for refueling.

And it was always a gentleman with just the right amount of cool air for back-seat passengers when required and with soothing music through the standard Harmon/Kardon digital surround sound audio system when requested.

It offered at all times and at all speeds a hushed cabin allowing people in each corner to converse in solemn tones without need for raised voices.

The mid-sized E-Class, which outsells all Mercedes products with the exception of the smaller and less-expensive C-Class, was last redesigned for the 2003 model year. But the sedan has been given a face lift inside and out and has more features available as standard equipment for 2007.

Of the available models, we think the best choice is the E350 with its 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an efficient 7-speed automatic transmission. That combination was first offered in the 2006 edition.

The engine makes 268 horsepower and develops 258 pound-feet of torque. That translates into spirited performance measured by a 0-to-60 time of 6.5 seconds with fuel economy gauged at 19 mpg city and 26 highway.

That’s a marvelous combination of performance and mileage at a base price of $51,325.

But in addition to styling and content upgrades, there’s new muscle available for those who desire more attitude at the stoplight. New to the lineup for 2007 is the E550 with the same engine that comes in the base S-Class, a 5.5-liter 382-horsepower V-8 that is capable of press-you-back-in-your-seat time of 5.2 seconds.

Add about nine grand to the base price of the E350 and subtract a couple miles to the gallon and the E550’s excitement can be yours.

The E350 can also be purchased as a station wagon and with all-wheel drive and in either Luxury or Sport versions. The Sport version brings 18-inch wheels in place of the standard 17-inchers, dual exhaust, tuned suspension and white-faced gauges.

Also on the menu are an E320 diesel and a performance monster AMG-tuned E63 with a 507-horsepower V-8 under the hood.

The new E-Class has received some styling tweaks. The front bumper and grille feature a more pronounced V-shape, and the rear bumper has been reworked. Taillights now have a large, clear center section housing the turn signals and backup lights.

The changes give the sedan a more modern look while retaining the general appearance of the car. In other words, unless an ’06 is parked next to an ’07 it would be difficult to distinguish the year. And that is certainly good news for those who plunked down big bucks in 2005 or 2006.

Inside, the sedan has been endowed with a new four-spoke steering wheel with new soft-touch buttons as well as other minor touches.

The level of standard equipment has been raised. A premium stereo system and a sunroof have been moved off the options list. And for the first time, Bluetooth cellphone connectability comes with the E-Class.

The interior is a marvelous work of art. The sculptured cockpit sweeps in and then out through the center console and then back in through the passenger compartment.

Surfaces constructed of soft-touch polyurethane skin sprayed onto the base material offer a luxurious feel and a quality appearance. Our test car came with handsome burl walnut trim.

Controls are generally easy to learn, although someone unfamiliar with the layout of the stereo setup is advised to spend an evening pouring over the owner’s manual.

A few cars — Volvo comes to mind — have earned a reputation for safety features, but most would be hard pressed to equal the number and sophistication of safety features on this German sedan.

The E-Class gets Mercedes’ Pre-Safe system, which can sense and take protective measures before a crash such as tensioning seatbelts, adjusting seats for the best positioning with the airbags and closing the sunroof and side windows.

Eight airbags including front and rear side bags and head curtain bags combined with a roll-over sensor and active head restraints should keep occupants from suffering the full force of a collision.

Other features that have been in the Mercedes’ arsenal for years include antilock brakes with a brake assist system and Electronic Stability Program designed to keep the car moving in the correct direction during skid conditions.

Our test car came with two options including a special paint and a $4,900 premium package that featured DVD navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated front seats, power rear-window sunshade, Keyless Go, Bi-Xenon headlights with active curve illumination and a headlamp washing system.

That brought the bottom line to $56,315.

One of the best mid-sized luxury cars on the market got better — and safer — for 2007. While a starting price of more than 51 grand still seems extravagant to us, Mercedes has made an effort to hold the line by adding more standard features.

This sedan deserves to be on the shopping list.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on September 28, 2006 2:51 PM