By on January 21, 2013

My daughter’s favorite flavor of Slurpee is all of them—in the same cup. To her, it’s more exciting to combine all available options than to pick one and roll with it. If you’re the same way, you’ll find the 2013 Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic a very exciting car.

The basic shape of the E-Class could hardly be more staid. While Audis and BMWs are increasingly curvaceous, Mercedes has been going in the opposite direction, with sharper edges and clear corners. Long for the days when sedans were composed of three distinct boxes, and did not pretend to be coupes? Then Mercedes has the car for you. It even has a hood ornament. Sajeev’s favorite shade befits it. Not crazy about the bulge around the rear fender? Well, they’re excising it with the 2014 (which also gains larger, fancier headlamps).

If the top half of the E550 was going for Q-ship invisibility, the bottom half didn’t get the memo. All E550s are now sport models, so they’re fitted with an aggressive, mesh-filled lower front fascia and 18-inch “AMG twin 5-spoke” polished alloy wheels. Add $300 for a barely there decklid spoiler.

The E550’s interior styling is similarly rectilinear. Fine materials and plentiful details help it look expensive, but not luxurious. If you’re a Benz traditionalist, and expect a big analog clock in the main instrument cluster and a cruise control stalk where most cars have the turn signal, then get the 2013. The 2014 E-Class ditches both to go with the flow.

The E-Class sedan’s seat bottoms continue to be unusually firm for a luxury-oriented car. Stuttgart knows what’s good for you. Add $660 for the “Active Multicontour Driver Seat w/Massage.” (Your passenger is SOL.) The lower back massage proved relaxing, if not so much that the standard drowsiness monitor felt the need to illuminate its coffee cup icon. The active side bolsters, on the other hand, would benefit from more sophisticated logic. While the inward movement of the outer side bolster helps keep you in place when throwing the car hard through a curve, they’re just as aggressive when navigating a parking lot. The car’s many brains know its speed and steering wheel angle. They can apply this knowledge here. Yes, you can simply turn the feature off when it’s not needed. But, judging from the features exclusive to luxury cars, the class is all about the car knowing what you want without being told.

With the 2012 E550, Mercedes replaced the previous 382-horsepower, 391-pound-feet-of-torque 5.5-liter V8 with a turbocharged 4.7-liter good for 402 horsepower and 443 pound-feet. All of this torque is theoretically available at just 1,800 rpm, but my gut didn’t detect serious shove until about 3,000. Add in a lazy throttle and taller gearing than should be necessary with seven ratios, and the initial responsiveness of the engine underwhelms. (Though it might have been a minor participant in the sins I attributed to the throttle, boost lag wasn’t obvious.) The E550 can get to 60 in under five unmemorable seconds, but it’s really set up for the autobahn, not the American stop light gran prix.

Mercedes switched to a smaller, turbocharged engine to boost fuel economy, and the EPA numbers did increase from 15 city, 23 highway to 16 and 26, respectively. The trip computer reported about 20 in suburban driving, pretty good for a 4,400-pound, 402-horsepower, all-wheel-drive sedan.

You’d prefer to add a mpg or two and some driving thrills by having all of that torque channeled through only the rear wheels? Too bad, this is no longer an option. All 2013 E550s are 4Matics. Plant your right foot in slow turns, though, and you can still induce some tail-happy shenanigans. Just not for long, as the stability control system quickly and firmly cuts in. On this particular flavor of E-Class no button is provided to dial the system back, much less defeat it.

This being a “sport” E-Class, it has a sport suspension. In casual driving the chassis feels taut (through the seat of your pants, not the numb steering). The ride could even be too firm for those seeking luxury. Push the E550, though, and the motions of its rock-solid body become sloppy, its nose plows, and its stability control system forcefully communicates that you shouldn’t be driving a 402-horsepower, sport-suspended, big-braked sedan this way. Some cars feel better the harder you push them. The E550 is not such a car.

BMW has been taken to task for softening up the 5-Series, but its 550 still steers and handles significantly better than this one. Much of the motoring press, though, has concluded that the best-handling German mid-sizer is, quite ironically, the one without a rear-drive chassis, and thus with the most nose-heavy weight distribution. How did this happen?

You can still buy a $71,430 car where you must pull the key out of your pocket, stick it in the ignition, and twist. To fix this, add another $650. As tends to be the case with Mercedes lately, you’ll pay even more for one of the other Germans. A similarly-equipped BMW 550 xDrive runs about $3,000 higher. An Audi S6 lists for about $5,000 more after accounting for feature differences with Truedelta’s car price comparison tool. Compared to earlier decades, the German pricing hierarchy has been inverted.

It’s a Mercedes, but it costs less than its archrivals. Its passé three-box body is gilded with AMG bits. Its interior includes some luxurious elements, and some sporty elements, but no distinct character. A “stately” throttle and tall gearing blunt the responsiveness of the powerful boosted V8. The chassis feels sporty, even overly so, until called upon to corner. Perhaps with a psychology like my daughter’s I could make sense of the E550 4Matic. But, with my compulsion for coherence, I can’t.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is not without its strengths. Its body never feels less than rock solid, its sophisticated electronic systems provide exemplary safety and convenience, and its exterior and interior are undeniably those of a premium motor car. Perhaps above all else, as noted by my non-car-person wife, “it is a Mercedes-Benz.” But these strengths are equally present within the more coherent, more fuel-efficient, $4,500 less expensive, plenty quick E350.

Mercedes-Benz provided a car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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50 Comments on “Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic...”


  • avatar

    Way too much money for what you get. The E550 isn’t selling well here. The S550 leased and pre-owned does WAY better.

    People here who want an E go for the E350 4-Matic.

    I guess limiting the E550 to AWD makes sense. You basically have every major option and if you’re really an enthusiast driver you simple upgrade to the E-AMG.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Ok, so my Charger doesn’t have a massage built into the seat. Aside from that, what does this car do for 30k more? Perhaps the automatic country club gate opener works better.

    • 0 avatar

      What does it do for $30K more???
      It simply allows you to drive a Mercedes Benz!

      Aside from the Massage seats with auto-inflating side bolsters, you could spend around $25,000 less on a Chrysler 300 SRT8 or Charger SRT8 and have a faster, more spacious car with RWD and a better technology package as the E-class lacks a touchscreen.

      Mercedes really disappointed me when they segregated the seat controls from the Comand system. They did such a good job in the S550.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, yes…cache. But, lets not kid ourselves: the Charger may have a vastly improved interior, and an overall competitive one, but it wouldn’t compare with the M-B. I’d guess in all forms of refinement either, noise and ride mainly. Solidity is a big component of the above review too, and although the Charger has German roots I’ve not heard anyone mention solidity as one of it’s redeeming qualities (although it certainly has quite a few).

      Now, if none of those things matter especially, then yeah…not worth it.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        The new Charger and 300 especially have been consistently praised for their solidity and quietness on road. They have similar performance and dimensions to the E-class as well as much of the same ammenities. To the only area they wouldn’t compare is price.

        Price alone is what separates them. 30k worth of exclusivity is what you get.

    • 0 avatar

      For one thing, the Charger is underpinned by the previous-gen E-Class platform.

      You really can’t compare a Charger to an E-Class if for no other reason than that they appeal to two different segments…

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        Wrong.

        The LX cars came from the LH. LH platform was originally designed to be FWD, AWD or RWD. Hence the RWD LH mules that were running around in the late 80′s early 90′s.

        LX cars use the MB firewall, floor pan, S class front suspension, E class rear suspension and some other odds and ends all the way.

        The information is out there regarding on what Chrysler did and did not use…or was forced to use by Mercedes. This wasn’t another Crossfire project that was clearly a reskinned Mercedes.

    • 0 avatar
      linard76

      I’ve driven both the Charger and the 300 and have had significant seat time in E classes of all guises and while your Charger is a wonderful car and a fantastic value, the Charger/300 do not have the same “unburstable” feeling that the E class has. The ride of the E class is more refined in its responses to various road surfacesas you’d expect for the price and quantity/quality of noises you hear are better, though not a huge gulf as both the Charger and 300 are quiet and relatively refined.

      We can talk about what is a better value all day with almost any car but at the end of the day, the Charger serves the needs of its owners just as well as the E class does for its owners. This is reflected by how well both are selling.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    It took me 3 weeks to figure out what that coffee cup icon was all about.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      That’s really your own fault, as you asked what it meant after “reading” a review which contained an explanation. I responded to your question on that review with an answer as well.

  • avatar
    Audiofyl

    FWIW, MB has moved from an analog push button for the traction disable to storing it in a menu accessible through the steering wheel buttons and displayed in the instrument cluster. However, as many (most, all?) Benz vehicles of late, it cannot be truly disabled (amg not included). It would let you spin tires as long as the vehicle doesn’t sense any yaw. Unfortunately for your awd model, disabling it really doesn’t do much good unless you want to be a show off on a sheet of ice.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah – I don’t like it when car manufacturers hide traction control – OR when they put it midway between the driver and passenger – as if the passenger needs to get to it.

      Thing is, when you have AWD that doesn’t allow you to disable the front wheels, is it necessary???

      When I wanna get my XJ-L out of deep snow, I turn off traction control and floor the pedal. It’s actually a lot of fun. With AWD, a car pretty much just climbs out at a steady pace. If you can’t disable the front wheels, you also can’t do burnouts.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the info. They still had the button, I think traction only as you imply, in the refreshed-for-2013 GLK350 I drove the previous week. And the owners manual (I actually read it!) still had the button in some illustrations–I guess they forgot to update it.

      Looking at my photos of the pages about deactivating the stability control, they imply this is possible, but don’t actually say how to do it. I do now see a further reference to page 169. Can’t remember if I checked that one.

    • 0 avatar
      Spanish Inquisition

      MB’s traction control happens at three levels:
      1) Full TC: The computer controls throttle input and braking to get the power to the right wheels, and holds the car to the driver’s intended line. Works like a charm in the snow. Creepy, almost.
      2) Hit button, receive e-diff: For those of us with the button, just hit it to turn off TC. It leaves the e-diff functional though, so if you lose grip, you’ll still hear the rear brakes hammering to keep power going to both wheels. For whatever reason, it seems to be incapable of doing the braking progressively. In any case, I’ve done more than one reasonably controlled slide in the snow with this.
      3) Dyno mode: Through a set of hidden menus, you can turn it all off. No TC, no ABS, no e-diff. Not particularly recommended when all those systems just work so well on these Mercedes.

      This is for a rear wheel drive 2008 C-class. I don’t believe the 4MATIC cars behave entirely the same, thanks to the front wheel drive. I somewhat suspect the center diff gets locked or something when you disable the nannies.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    A 550 with a 4.x liter engine? I’m not up on Merc naming conventions, but what’s the point of that? Sort of an admission that their customers like the haute faux? No wonder those V12 badges are such hot items in the aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar
      -Cole-

      The 5.5 (5.4) was the 500. Then, later the same engine was called 550. Then the engine became smaller and lost its natural aspiration, but it’s still called the 550.

      Same thing happened to the 6.3 (6.2)

    • 0 avatar

      I really like the fact that Mercedes-Benz uses a column-mounted gear selector in a lot of its models. It frees up the center console and makes you think you’re driving a Rolls-Royce (which, ironically, is a brand owned by competitor BMW). There’s another car brand that uses an electronic column-mounted gear selector, but I can’t figure out which one it is.

      Oh yeah, it’s Tesla. And they borrowed it from…Mercedes-Benz.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Umm, is that kind of late for this car’s review, seeing that the new one is just around the corner?

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    Probably the best thing I will read all day today. Precious tab.

  • avatar
    glwillia

    The W124 E420 (my car) is about as quick and about as fuel-efficient as the I6-powered E320, but the engine is much more reliable (no headgasket issues, simpler wiring harness to replace).

    The W210 E430 was better than the E320, mostly because the 90-degree M112 V6 was thrashy and unrefined.

    The W211 V8 had the failure-prone Airmatic suspension.

    The W212.. see above. Yup, can’t understand the appeal of a V8-powered E-class unless it’s a bona-fide AMG or W124 500E. Also, I’m still pissed about the deletion of the analog clock and the swapping of the cruise-control and turn signal/wiper stalks

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Great car! I really liked the length of this review, some of them here are getting really long and I lose interest halfway through, but not this one.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    At the risk of getting lynched, I think the E-Class looks a lot better than the 4-door coupe CLS, and the new restyle is not an improvement. Yes, it’s square, but that shape actually makes the inside more comfortable.

    The character of the 550 seems to be a downside, but I’d rather one of these than the BMW or the Audi (neither of whom manage to look very good).

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    “Oh Lord, won’t ya’ lease* me, a Mercedeeeez-Benz, my FICO is trashed, but I need room for 4 foreclosed friends.”

    *I can try and scrimp as much as $699/month for it, since I will be sleeping in it, weather dependent.”

    Big, fat, ugly & harsh.

    This is a chubby chaser’s dream come true. It even puts an out-of-the-gate 70k plus tax on his ass.

    It’s Mercedes-Benz by the pound, finally (Mercedes does U.S. VW Passat, if even much more expensively). And at this weight class & size, it could be a contender for those craving or required to have that tri-star ornament.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      You should drive one. Compared to both the new 5 and the A6, it actually feels quite svelte. And the E350 wagon is one of the best cars sold ion the US as of today. Obviously :) The real Chubby Chaser is the S550. That thing weighs tons, and seems actively designed to feel even heavier.

      Based on reviews (and weight numbers), I’d still get the new Lexus GS in this class of sedans. Never driven one, but the simple fact that one can get (perceived) Lexus reliability in a car that is dynamically in the same class as the Germans would seal the deal for me. But, in reality, as long as the others don’t sell a wagon, and MB does…..

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I had an E350 as a rental end of last year. It was “OK”. I doubt more hp and AWD would have improved it. It was very quiet, but also a bit of a boat. Which is pretty much how MBs have always been compared to BMWs, so that is OK. I thought the ergonomics were a mess, which I also thought of my ’88 300TE, so no change there. I would imagine the average person renting one with no previous MB experience would never figure out how to do much of anything in the car. I was very surprised at how CRAMPED it felt. In the first row it felt no more spacious than my 328i.

    Sad part is my last night at the hotel with the e350, some @sshat backed into it and seriously re-arranged the back end. First time I ever returned a rental with any sort of damage in 18 years of renting cars for work. LDW for the win!

    As a rental upgrade, I actually prefer the current Passat. Or a CTS.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    Nice review Michael. We do not sell a lot of E550′s, the last one I sold was to a gentleman who was having trouble ingressing/egressing from his Caymen. It is a great car but the CLS is only slightly more expensive but is much more popular and attractive. We do sell a large amount of E350′s and not just for the lease special. It is a very competent vehicle that does just about everything well. It is solid, safe, comfortable, economical yet when goosed can move with alacrity. It is exactly what our customers expect of a Benz.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Alacrity.

      Noun:
      Brisk and cheerful readiness.

      As used in a sentence: “Beeyotch, stomp on the go pedal and feel the alacrity of that 5.5 liters in yo ass!”

      p.s. – Are you sure that customer had a Porsche Caymen? If so, that’s a rare find (maybe exclusively, as in singularly so). ‘Twas probably a Cayman….minor quibble, I know…

  • avatar
    piffpaff

    I think that “caymen” is just plural for cayman; the guy had more than one.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    If I wanted a true luxury sporty-oriented sedan I’d have to go with a CTS-V or 300SRT-8.

    Now, if I wanted a true luxury sedan; E-class with the diesel all the way. To me that’s the perfect Mercedes; Mercedes aren’t suppose to be fast sporty cars, and I wouldn’t want one as such.

  • avatar
    jeffsnavely

    The current W212 E-class is a joke to me. When I drove the new E350 a few years ago I couldn’t believe how sloppy it felt compared to my daily-driver 2000 W210 E320 wagon or the W211 E500 wagon I had for a year.
    The W212 reminded me of an old American car — sloppy lifeless steering, sloppy body control & handling, etc. Just a step down from both previous models. The W210 (for all it’s reliability faults) has traditional German character in spades with great steering, handling, power and overall solid feel. The W211 also had this in a more modern slightly diluted way but was a fun drive.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I’ve said essentially what you just did several times before (that the current E class is a worse car in practically all ways than its predecessor, and so was the prior one worse than its predecessor), but was ridiculed by a few MB owners or MB salesmen.

      Maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong, but maybe I am more right than wrong, and your current opinion based on everyday ownership of an E class gives me more bona fides.

  • avatar
    kevnsd

    When I bought my ’07 E350 Sport I looked at both the E550 and E63 AMG. The E63 was easily the best of the three but the price was just to much. While the E350 was a bit slower than the E550 I preferred the the lighter more balanced feeling of the 350 on the road. Handling significantly improved when I replaced the Continental Contacts with Michelin Pilot Super Sports. I run Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3s in the winter and even these snow tires outperform the Contis for me. I think I’ve got a good one… the car has had only one small problem since new… passenger seat airbag sensor was replaced under warranty in year two. Planning on keeping the car for at least 10 years if all continues to go well.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinx

      kevnsd: “Planning on keeping the car for at least 10 years if all continues to go well.”

      My sister has a 2004 E320 Wagon which still feels as good and solid as new. The only unscheduled work she had done were a faulty Navigation DVD player (replaced under extended warranty) and then a couple of months ago, a check-engine warning that turned out to be a faulty temp. sensor ($240 parts and labor at a local independent MB shop).

      I borrowed it to schlep the family over to Tahoe for the MLK weekend, and this nine year old car was supremely comfortable, stable and rock-solid. So, getting 10 years out of your car should be easily possible.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    I think Lexus did the right thing dropping the V8 GS…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      LOLWAT. Disagree.

      • 0 avatar
        tankton

        Well, the lsat GS V8 was heavily neutered, vs the identical drivetrain it took out of the LS460. Only 340HP (even the AWD LS makes 360HP) out of some 380HP was made available, likely so it wouldn’t overly embarrass the GS hybrid – which was supposed to be the top model.

        Lexus just wanted to kill off the V8 GS, in any way possible. They found a way, and went after it.

        Unlike MB & BMW, Lexus has a serious amount of emissions credits, from its own and Toyota branded hybrids, so Lexus could easily get away with a real GS V8. But they won’t even bother trying.

  • avatar
    300zx_guy

    hooray for the deletion of the clock from the gauge cluster in the 2014. Always seemed to me an odd place to put the clock, and a waste of space that could be used for more useful gauges. It’s also decidedly old fashioned, does any other mfr put the clock there anymore?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m sorry but this just does not look like 70 grand worth of car. That’s A8 money people. At the end of the day, you spent 70 grand to drive the “medium” MB, as most people see it. They’ll never notice the 550 or the big wheels, or your little spoiler.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The only people that notice A8s are other Audi drivers. I’m at the Audi dealer more than I’d like to be, and I’ve yet to see an A8 with a sticker much under $90K anyway. The idea of someone asking to order a stripped, V6 A8 in order to get out for $73K is pretty hilarious to imagine though.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinx

      Most MB owners (at least E-class and above) don’t really give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of their car.

      I do agree the spoiler thing is a bit hilarious, but again for the same reason. E-class MB’s aren’t bought out of a desire for conspicuous consumption.


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