There are no LED gimmicks in the E550, and a quick look around the Benz's cabin will remind you that the traditional German concept of luxury comes from engineering excellence and attention to mechanical detail - not pillowy softness. For example, the perfectly machined door latches are practically works of art, yet your right elbow will become bruised by the rock-hard wood center console. In addition, the E550's infotainment system looks and feels like an old Tandy computer compared with the others' colorful and interactive screens.
On the road, though, the Mercedes feels as if it weighs six tons, isolating you so completely from the harsh unpleasantries of planet earth that you imagine every airspace under the dash, in the doors, and in the roof must be filled with sound- and shock-absorbing maple syrup. The E550's controls have a fluidity of motion and dampened responses that no other car here can match. By comparison, the Lexus and the Jaguar feel like they're made of harsh, unyielding Styrofoam. The Mercedes' upright, conservative shape delivers the best view out, the most comfortable back seats, and the most usable trunk. And yet when you floor the accelerator, the E550 leans back on its haunches and explodes forward like a muscle car. Its 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 is the largest and most powerful of our quartet, producing significantly more low-end torque than any of the other V-8s. It's brutally fast off the line, but it's the unrelenting acceleration at highway speeds (and double them) that serves as a clear reminder that the E-class is very much engineered to run flat-out on the autobahn.
The only engine that sounds better than the E550's is the XF's. At 4.2 liters, it's the smallest and least powerful, yet it's forced to cart around a heavy car. It's also quite soft at low rpm, which means that the transmission needs to downshift frequently to keep up with traffic, but that's a good thing, acoustically. Jaguar's engineers have muted much of the V-8's volume without diluting any of its fury. It may be the slowest of the four in a straight line, but it sounds wonderful while trying to keep up, and thanks to agile moves in the corners, it's easily the fastest on back roads.