New Car Reviews

02-03-2003: 2003 Mercedes-Benz E320

The E-class delivered to us this week is as close to a stripper model as you can get: base engine, base wheels, not even heated seats. The few items pushing the price up five grand to $51,000 were frivolities like the $1500 panorama sunroof (which, don’t get me wrong, is very cool) and metallic paint. But the limited specification only underscores the extent to which the new E-class is a fully realized luxury car. The interior is one thousand times more sumptuous than the previous E’s, and better in many respects than the S-class’s. Dynamic shortcomings plaguing the last car — nervous straight-line behavior, slack steering — have been rigorously addressed for 2003 (and this is without the optional Airmatic DC semi-active suspension). Most compelling, though, is how the 221-hp 3.2-liter V-6 so perfectly matches the car’s attitude, finally confirming my contrarian viewpoint that putting a bigger engine in a Benz only makes it worse. In the E320, there is none of the E500’s overt, lurching aggression, which is frankly more suited to those cars with propeller badges on their hoods. The new E320 is quick where it needs to be (30-70mph), sedate where it doesn’t, and a return to the good old days of 1986’s W124 E-class. It is stout, statesmanlike, and self-assured; in other words, a classic Benz.