First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Sedan

An all-new E-class goes on sale this summer.
The E-class may no longer be the biggest-selling Mercedes in the USA, but this model, which traces its lineage back to the Pontoon sedans of the 1950s, remains the heart of the brand's now greatly expanded lineup. This year sees the rollout of an all-new model (the W212 chassis, for students of the three-pointed star), with the six-cylinder E350 and V-8 E550 in early July. The E-class range fills out with a new coupe (in the same two variants), which replaces the CLK and appears a couple of weeks ahead of the sedans; the AMG-tuned E63, which will debut at the New York auto show in April before heading to dealers in November; the all-wheel-drive 4Matic variants, which will appear in September; the new E320 Bluetec, a 50-state diesel that arrives early next year; and the last member of the family to arrive, the E350 wagon, which will be unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show this fall and which will begin plying the streets of America's best suburbs sometime in 2010.

No direct-injection V-6 for America. Blame our gasoline.
In the United States, the 2010 E350 sedan uses the same 3.5-liter V-6 as the 2009 car, with 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but the rest of the world gets a new 3.5-liter engine with direct injection and 288 hp. Unfortunately, that engine is not able to use our low-quality gasoline. For our first drive of the new E, we instead sampled the V-8 model, which also uses a carryover engine, a 5.5-liter SOHC unit that makes 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque in U.S. tune. Both the E350 and the E550 are paired exclusively to the same seven-speed automatic transmission that serves in today's E.

Brown is the new black in automotive exteriors.
Design-wise, the E-class follows a bit in the footsteps of last year's new C-class, with more straight lines and creases than we've seen on a Benz in a long time. The 2010 model is the third generation of the E-class to use a four-headlight front end, and it, too, has been squared off considerably. Despite the increased squareness, the car achieves a very impressive drag coefficient of .25 Cd. Inside, there's a mix of elements from both the S-class (the row of climate control buttons, the horizontal trim strip and dash vents) and the C-class (the Comand controller, the center console). While the Sport trim level has a horizontal stitching pattern on the seats, the Luxury version uses vertical pleats that are supposed to recall Mercedes interiors from the 1960s and '70s; they do, particularly in the tan-and-black interior, but an even bigger flashback to the Me Decade is the brown exterior color that Mercedes is highlighting - the weird part is that it actually looks good. Maybe it's because we haven't seen brown cars in so long, or maybe it just suits recessionary times.

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