The E-Class has long been a staple of Mercedes-Benz lineup. Although the current car traces its lineage back to 1953 when the Pontoon model was introduced, the term "E-Class" essentially debuted along with the new-for-1986 300E (prior to that, the "E" in various Benz models stood for "Einspritzung," German for "fuel injection").
That somber sedan, propelled by either a gasoline or turbodiesel inline six, quickly developed a reputation for athletic performance and impeccable solidity. Initially, buyers could choose between a sedan and wagon, later on a coupe and convertible were added to the mix. Eventually, a V8 version of the sedan came on line in an attempt to fend off the onslaught of premium-quality and aggressively priced Lexus and Infiniti models. Catering to all needs and wants, an all-wheel-drive version, called the "4Matic," became available, as did the "wolf-in-sheep's-clothing" 500E sedan.
In 1994, Mercedes moved the letters to the front of the numbers to indicate the model series; hence the 300E became the E320. The next generation of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class debuted for 1996 with its eyes wide open. The big, oval headlights took some getting used to, but evidently, luxury car buyers quickly warmed up to the new E, as it was the top-selling car for the company. Once again, six, eight and turbodiesel versions were offered, though the oil burner was discontinued for 2000. Fortunately, the fully redesigned 2003 E-Class sedan didn't stray too far from the previous iteration. Exterior styling isn't dramatically different; the headlamps, though, are sleeker and blend into the body more elegantly than in the past. Overall, the car gives off a sportier image than the sedate outgoing model without losing its elegant demeanor.
For 2004, the E-Class wagons got a fresh start as well, picking up the sleeker bodywork and all of the engineering refinements. Noting increased consumer interest in luxury wagons, Mercedes is offering both V6 and V8 versions this time around. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is available as well, and those living in cold climates, should take note that they can now get it on the sedan as well. For 2005 the diesel Benz returned in the E320 CDI model. CDI stands for Common-rail Direct Injection, and this turbodiesel six is notable for its strong performance, excellent fuel mileage and exceptionally quiet and refined operation.
For 2006, the E320 is replaced with the E350, which features a larger V6 with 20-percent more horsepower. One thing that hasn't changed is the high price of admission, as the 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans and wagons remain some of the most expensive midsize luxury cars on the market. That said, these are also some of the most capable, most luxurious and safest cars on the road. If you have plenty of money and you're shopping for a luxury car, your local Mercedes-Benz dealership would be a good place to start.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is available in both sedan and wagon form in one of three trim levels -- E350, E320 CDI and E500. The E350 and E500 can be had in either body style; the E320 CDI is a sedan only. Standard features on the E350 and E320 CDI include leather upholstery, wood interior trim, 10-way power seats and dual-zone climate control. E500 models add 17-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension, four-zone climate control and an upgraded Bose sound system. A number of high-tech options are available, including the Keyless Go system, self-adjusting active ventilated seats and adaptive cruise control.
In addition to expected features like stability control and head- and torso-protecting side airbags, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class boasts electronic braking. This system provides a more precise interface between the brakes and other active safety systems. Stopping distances are convincingly short, but the brakes can't match the progressive feel of conventional setups. In government crash tests, the E-Class earned four stars (out of five) for frontal impacts and a perfect five stars for side impacts. In IIHS frontal offset crash testing, the midsize Benz was named a "Best Pick" in its class.