First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Sedan

Two other warning systems new to the E-class are already widely seen elsewhere: lane departure warning and blind spot assist. The former vibrates the steering wheel when the car drifts over the line without using the turn signals. It's less obnoxious than most lane departure systems - there's no beeping, nor does the system brake a wheel to pull the car back into line. Furthermore, it's smart enough not to give the warning if the car is accelerating or braking (it assumes you're merging onto or exiting a freeway). And if you've got enough steering dialed in, it won't nag you for cutting the inside of a corner. Still, we find such systems to be of little value, except perhaps for the truly clueless and the cell-phone addicted. The 2010 E-class also gets a blind spot warning system, with a warning light in the side mirrors, which can be somewhat more useful. For the times when it's not, it, like all the E-class driver assistance systems, can be switched off.

We were happy to see improvements in the car's carryover technologies as well. The E adopts from the C-class the Comand turn-and-push multifunction controller (for navigation, audio, et cetera), and the system's logic is, for the most part, easy to follow. The aforementioned Distronic active cruise control will automatically slow the car all the way to a stop, making it more useful in lower-speed, high-traffic driving.

The sportiest E-class ever.
The Airmatic adjustable suspension, which is standard on the E550, now has only two settings, comfort and sport. Frankly, we don't miss the previous model's hardcore ultra-firm option. We didn't find much of a difference between the two settings - in either comfort or sport, the new E-class has a firm, well-controlled ride. Nonetheless, bad pavement - what little we could find on our drive in and around Madrid - was well masked. The steering again uses electrohydraulic assist, but is significantly retuned. Whereas the previous car was somewhat relaxed in its responses to the helm, the new E is far more alert to even small steering inputs. A slightly increased effort level, which is also more consistent than before, keeps the steering from seeming nervous. And the fat steering wheel rim is great to grip. The chassis tuning is very well done overall.

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