First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Sedan

The new E-class has switched to the currently en vogue electronic PRND stalk shifter, freeing up console space for two huge cupholders. Upshifts and downshifts are accomplished via buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes. The seven-speed automatic also has a sport/comfort button (separate from that for the Airmatic suspension), which changes transmission shift points but not throttle responsiveness. The V-8 is exactly the same engine as in the outgoing car, but subjectively at least, the response to a suddenly floored gas pedal feels less explosive than before (even though the factory claims a 5.3-second 0-to-62-mph time). EPA fuel economy numbers are not yet available, but given the carryover engine and transmission, they aren't likely to change dramatically from the 15/23 mpg rating of the 2009 E550.

At the E-class introduction, Mercedes played up the car's long heritage. And while the styling gives some nod to the past, the car's dynamics have changed. The relaxed, slightly floaty motions and responses that have characterized the E-class for years are gone. This new Mercedes is a sharper, sportier machine, much closer to a current Audi or BMW than to previous E-class cars. That, together with the unrivalled array of active safety equipment, should help the E-class expand beyond its traditional owner base and attract new buyers who might previously have written off the E-class as a ride for an aging burgermeister.

2010 Mercedes-Benz E550
Base price: $64,000 (estimated)

Powertrain: 5.5-liter SOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800-4800 rpm
Drive: Rear-wheel

L x W x H: 191.7 x 73.0 x 57.0 in
Wheelbase: 113.1 in
Cargo capacity: 19.1 cu ft
Curb weight: 4034 lbs
EPA fuel economy: N/A

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