Mercedes E550 Review

mercedes e550 review
The 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).

The 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.

The 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.]

The 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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  • Westcott Westcott on Dec 13, 2008

    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.

  • Westcott Westcott on May 28, 2009

    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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