By on August 1, 2006

E550-IMG_4681.jpgThe Mercedes E550 is like one of those gently aging character actors that everyone recognizes but no one can name.  I guess the fact that Mercedes put over a million of E-Class sedans on the road in the past four years may have a little something to do with it.  Either that or the brand’s reacting to Bimmer’s Bangling and their own S-Class blingery by maintaining the E’s arch conservatism.  While understandable, I’m not so sure that the mid-sized Merc's generic good looks and mild-mannered charisma are such a good thing…

It’s a bit of an inconvenient truth, but the E550’s appearance is a bit like “An Inconvenient Truth:” interesting for about the first ten minutes.  The sheetmetal is seamlessly, relentlessly, unabashedly conservative.  As an owner of no less than seven previous E’s, I could only spot only two “refreshing” differences: a crease in the front bumper which vaguely emulates the Cadillac CTS and the GPS and satellite radio warts have been combined into one plastic thingy on the roof.  While there’s nothing particularly wrong about the E-Class demeanor, the model lacks both the glamour and the gravitas it needs to win new converts (i.e. stick it to Lexus).

MY_2007_E-Class-IMG_4701.jpgThe E550’s interior could’ve been lifted from straight from Yale’s law library.  There are some new touches– a handsome wood trim piece on the front of the transmission stalk and a new interior color (Cashmere Brown replaces Sam Stone)– but the cabin’s still as sober as a Mormon elder.  While the new S-Class shows that Mercedes is fully capable of fitting a modern and informative interior, it looks like we’ll have to wait for a full redesign of the E Class before their mid-sized model displays some twenty-first century chic.

That said, you can’t fault the E550’s ergonomics.  While Merc has de-contented the chairs (ditching the drive dynamic option, vertical lumbar adjustment and key activated back-and-forth-ery), the Big E’s seats offer near-eternal rest, along with dangerously narcoleptic “comfort headrests.”   Although I feel more than slightly anal expounding on the charms of the E’s sun visors, they are a shining example of a simple yet effective design that all automakers should adopt.  The dual (quad if you’re as OCD as me) visor approach ensures that you don’t have to continually reposition one shade as the vehicle turns in relation to the sun.  Which reminds me: outward visibility all ‘round is excellent.

E550-IMG_4683.jpgThe E’s gizmo factor is high, but implementation isn’t exactly cutting edge; the button-intensive COMAND system seems quaint compared to Audi’s MMI and BMW’s iDrive (both of which I dislike intensely).  Bluetoothery is now available– for an extra $350.  In compensation, the formerly optional Harmon Kardon sound system delivers terrific stereo imaging and separation.  The premium II package includes a host of other goodies like satellite radio and ventilated seats, all much appreciated, all raising the E550’s price tag well into the 60’s.

Driving the E550 is a relaxing experience that never once threatens any kind of dynamic engagement.  Sure, the car gathers pace with alacrity– as you’d expect from a V8 pumping-out 391 ft.-lbs. of torque @ 2800 – 4800 rpm.  But the E550 adds speed without satisfying stimulus or aural satisfaction.  Yes, it’s fully capable of athletic cornering, but it negotiates bends with plenty of understeer and precious little joie de vivre.  The E’s Airmatic suspension presents the E’s driver with a choice of a floaty-drifty bobble-headed sort of ride or a buttoned down sport(ier) feel.  I left it on the firmest setting and never felt my age. [NB: MB’s no-cost sport package was curiously absent from my ride.]

E550-IMG_4687.jpgThe E550’s new steering system is more direct and communicative than the previous model’s lithium injected helm, but it still needs to be a lot quicker.  The E’s seven-speed transmission feels like a gear too many, but you can’t argue with 1500 RPM at 60mph– at least until you clock the model's 22mpg the EPA highway mileage.  Thankfully, the “new” E has ditched the  SBC brake-by-wire technology and returned to good old hydraulics.  The E550 now stops with all the confidence and power you’d expect from a German sedan.  In fact, the upgraded stoppers are the single most convincing argument for swapping E’s with your dealer (so to speak). 

Mercedes says the refreshed E550 contains over 2000 new parts.  Yes, well, the changes don’t exactly revinvent the E Class or raise its game to the next level.  All of which makes ‘07 Mercedes E550 the automotive equivalent of a political fund raising dinner: the menu sounds great on paper, but the rubber chicken reality leaves something to be desired.  I’m very much looking forward to sampling the more highly focused E63, which should demonstrate the E-Class’ fundamental excellence.  Meanwhile, the E550 is an excellent choice for a luxury buyer who doesn’t mind— indeed, who actively seeks– a luxurious yet isolated driving experiencea. 

[Mercedes provided the car reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.] 

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19 Comments on “Mercedes E550 Review...”


  • avatar
    jerry weber

    There is one other problem with the E class. Im 6’4″, after being used to the packaging of front wheel drive cars and my Chrysler 300, it is decidedly snug inside. In the front the doors and center console and instruments seem just a couple inches too close. In the rear, don’t push those front seats back to make more room and have rear passengers. For 50 to 70 large, I guess I expect comfort inn sized dimensions on the inside. The 300 is a genuine 5 passenger car (as are the Avalon, maxima, etc) the mercedes is not, just my perspective.

  • avatar
    vallux06

    Good review. Now (would somebody) test THE BLUETEC DIESEL!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    mbslk350

    I’m glad MB finally came to their senses with the SBC brake-by-wire technology. I often wondered why they stuck with that disaster on the E class. Thankfully, they also left it off my SLK350.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    I am eager to test the diesel myself and plan on getting one as soon as it is 50 state legal. I am hoping that BMW and Audi will also bring their diesels over to the US soon thereafter.

  • avatar
    tom

    Mercedes builds – and always has built – cars for the Autobahn, not the race track.

  • avatar
    Kelly Wechsler

    I have owned several E Class – most recently a 2001 E55 – and I would buy another, BUT the current design reminds me too much of a 2006 Toyota Camry ( from the rear). Also, I agree with Jerry – the interior feels smaller (and cheaper. The current E’s interior is more like the C Class and the old E was more like the S class.

    By the way, My wife’s 1999 Mercury Mountainer has the “quad” sunvisors and they are great. Too bad it took this long for Mecedes to offer it.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    I’ve only ever ridden in an E class once, and I had a hard time figuring out what made it better than a high end accord or camry. I wasn’t driving so maybe that has something to do with it, but other than that, the only real differences I could tell were some wood panelling and nifty, mood inducive, ambient cabin lighting.

    Would be a cool car to get laid in (if you had to get laid in a sedan), but thats basically it.

  • avatar
    chris00seven

    I can’t say how well the E series handles corners when you really get down to business, but I’ve had enough seat time in one to come away with a very favorable impression of how the car handles those long drives. I’ve never been in a more comfortable and refined land yacht. The seven speed will adapt to your driving style and make good use of the 260+ horses. Steering is light but precise. I could drive that car all day (in a straight line) without any fatigue.

  • avatar
    The Flexible Despot

    Gentlemen,
    Vallux06 beat me to the keyboard. I want to read about this new Mercedes E Class diesel, which I think I read gets 37 mph highway, 27 city. If so, that’s impressive.

    My daily driver is a 1995 Mercedes E320. I’m pretty sure it still has alot of miles left on it, but in a few years I might be looking to get a new set of wheels. Would be interested to read how this new diesel is, so I can track what MB does to improve it as it gets longer into its production run. The older MB diesels still have a devoted following, does the new one build on or betray its heritage? That’s what I’d like to hear in any E Class diesel review.

    I’m a little baffled if the criticisms of the E Class are that it is conservatively styled on the exterior and interior and doesn’t handle like the best of them on the track. My impression is that the purpose of the E Class car is to drive very confidently at high speeds on autobahn/interstate highway type roads, and satisfactory on others, in a conservative looking, 4 door, family car. Stealthy, but speedy. And that’s the truth about the E Class.

    My 95 model is great for road trips and highway driving in excess of the posted speed limit, but really nothing special for just bebopping around in city traffic. Old School German car. Nothing flashy.

  • avatar

    My father bought a 2006 E320 CDI common rail diesel about a year ago, and it is fantastic. The smooth ride is what you expect from a Mercedes Benz, and there is more power in the diesel engine than in the 92 Octane type so you would be able to take a gas-drinker E320 at the line every time.
    The only problem is that the car is harder to find than a politician who isn't corrupt. When my father bought his, he had a choice of 3 that had just rolled off the truck that was still sitting in the lot, not even the road debris had been washed off yet. By noon all three were sold. 
    The one thing this car is great for is long-distance highway driving. 40MPG is typical if not expected. 600 miles on a tank is a heck of a deal. 
    I'd love to see what Mercedes is planning on doing with their diesel prowess and how they continue to improve it (my father's former car was a 1974 Mercedes 240D and that gives me constant reminder how much the technology has improved).

  • avatar

    I don't understand the criticism of conservative style. I think that's very appropriate for an MB. However,  while it looks quite good from the front, the rear looks like it's off of some other, more generic car. When you pay that much for a car, it should have artistic integrity.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    Have you looked at the Mercedes CLS 550 and compared it to the E Class for artistic integrity?

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Its bland, which works well in AMG supercharged versions.  Course even the 550 is a sleeper.  

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Give mean E320 diesel station wagon in the dove gray with sunroof, sport suspension, navi and sirius, and I'd be the happiest camper.

    Sorry, but to me MB sedans should be stately, something the CLS and new S don't approach.  The E now carries the banner.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    It’s the world’s best taxicab. Period.

  • avatar
    proteused

    The E-Class’ conservativeness is just the point. We have the sporty Bimmer, the Benz is playing the conservative option for those who don’t wish to stand out. That’s the whole point. As much as I used to like Mercs, I’m afraid they’ve lost their way. They used to be functional & designed by engineers, not stylists. Now the doors of a Merc will support a 200-pound man. I get the point, but how about making them dependable like they used to be. A good car is only good when its actually doing its primary function – running. The strongest doors in the world don’t mean a thing on a car if it’s parked in the shop. Benzes are pieces of trash. Their profit margin must be off the chart because they charge ever more for an ever substandard pile of junk… w/a 3-pointed star. Fortunately, their biggest market, America, isn’t too discerning. They’ll make themselves like the styling and tolerate the abysmal repair record for image. While I prefer the idea and look of a Benz over a Lexus, I’d rather have an Audi instead. Audi is what Mercedes used to be.

  • avatar
    jwhmd

    Don’t own an e550 so this isn’t personal. For those who want bigger, cough up 100K and buy the bigger s550. For those who hate conservative buy a green ugly as crap Prius. Oh btw, the prius will also accomodate the cheap skates looking for gas mileage. For goodness sake it has 380 hp!!! Seriously, mercedes is classically conservative which traditional mercedes buyers have wanted. Look at the sl which until recently kept the same body for 15 plus years, as did the s class of the late 70s-early 90s. 

  • avatar
    westcott

    I really am pleased with my MB in Iridium Silver Metallic and the sport black Birdseye Maple – leather interior. I have logged 4000 miles and have been extremely impressed with every aspect of the vehicle. Sure, I have some qualms with the voice control limitations (can you say firmware update MB?) and its inability to work with the navigation system, but, one quickly forgets these short comings every time one walks up to the car and enters without ever reaching in one’s pocket for the keys. The seats are the most comfortable of all the competitor vehicles I test drove and makes pushing the start button while holding your foot on the brake seem so natural. The Jaguar came the closest in ride quality. The Jaguar also felt more sure footed. I am hoping a set of Goodyear Asymetricals will level the playing field in this area. The classic design belies its .27 drag coefficient and its 51/49 weight balance is remarkable for such a large four door front engine luxury sedan. Once inside, it is one of the quietest rides I test drove, even at speed (Lexus was good too). The audio system is extremely well engineered and sounds awesome. The four zone climate control works flawlessly. The folding rear seats make good use of space and make hauling large items a cinch.I have not bought an iPod yet but I am looking forward to transferring my CD collection to the car. I also have not tried the BluTooth phone integration. An irritation that it requires additional hardware seems like a very “nickel and dime” approach. The biXenon lighting system is a true marvel, in town and in the blackness of the country side. Visibility is probably the best of all the cars I test drove. Rear seating room is not S class good but is still much better than or equal to all the cars I test drove. Maybe my age is showing but the 550i was just to racy for normal everyday driving and I did not care to feel every crack in the road that the BMW delivered. The AMG package really transforms the look of the car and handling is markedly improved over the standard coil spring configuration. The all leather interior was only rivaled by the Jaguar. BMW really could take some styling cues from the XF on the interior and exterior. The handling is remarkable considering the every day ride quality and the considerable weight of this vehicle. I finally pushed the car further than ever and I was pleasantly surprised. So was the gentleman behind me in his 2008 Corvette. The traction control system stepped in more that I would have liked but was no where near as imposing as on the BMW. The transmisison in the MB was far superior to any other vehicle I drove (SMG needs some serious attention). I would credit it for the added acceleration performace the MB seems to squeeze out of the 333cid engine. It seems the seven speed auto also takes full advantage of the 390ft/lbs of torque by keeping it on hand at all times. Gas mileage (computer reported 25mpg at 70mph) is truly incredible for a car this large – heavy and capable of 0-60mph of 4.8 seconds and a 1/4 mile in 13.4 sec at 106mph. Too bad it is speed limited to 130mph (U.S.A.). I would gladly pay more for a set of Z rated tires to see what this baby could really do on the top end. It was a tough choice between the two finalists, MB and Jaguar but safety,reliability, and resale value were also considerations and helped me make my final decision. Yes, the Jaguar is more stylish but after being stopped at every other gas station for a peek from onlookers, I am certain that I made the right decision for my lifestyle.

    P.S. I agree with jwhmd. The classic 4 round headlight design may be the last we see of it. Mercedes seems to think that the new E class should look like a Cadillac. Not my idea of good looking or what comes to mind when I think of classic Mercedes Benz.

  • avatar

    Update:

    Had a pinched tire and ruined the sidewall. The Continental ProContact was nowhere to be found in the state of Texas. I replace both rear tires with the Goodyear Asymetricals. I can not believe the difference. They are quiter, smoother, and braking in the rain is much quicker. One would swear one was on dry pavement. They handle and brake that well in the rain. Top it all off, they were readily available and cheaper. They got top marks in TireRack’s testing. Very satisfied. Highly recommend.


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