Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
Perhaps the only good thing about recessions is the favorable impact they have on prices. Take the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for example. Last year's car was already impressive, but the '10 model cruises onto dealer lots with a new look and some nifty new technology. But these upgrades don't result in a steeper price tag. Quite the opposite, in fact — the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Sedan gets a new recession-era price that starts $5,000 lower than that of last year's model.
Mercedes-Benz vehicles have historically tended to be among the costliest in their respective segments. This discount changes the game; the E550 is now less expensive than comparably equipped versions of its two most notable competitors, the Audi A6 and the BMW 550i. The A6 has the best-looking cabin in the class, and is the ideal choice for those who place a premium on visual, tactile opulence. The 5 Series is the enthusiast's pick, succeeding as the segment's most spectacular athlete. However, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 takes the prize for being the best all-rounder, offering overall levels of luxury and performance that will likely suit the average buyer in the executive-sedan category. With this price reduction, it qualifies as the most compelling deal in the segment as well.
In typical Mercedes fashion, the E550 is motivated by a remarkable power plant; under its hood is a V8 brimming with 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. At 4,079 pounds, the sedan's heft is not insubstantial; nonetheless, the car accelerates like a ball shot from a cannon. The sedan feels quicker than most when driven around town, and track testing confirms this: The E550 rockets from zero to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, walloping times logged by luxury sedans like the Jaguar XF-Series and the BMW 5 Series.
It goes fast and it handles well, too. The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 hugs the road with steely grace and unflappable confidence, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more superb boulevard cruiser. Keep in mind, though, that while taut and responsive, its ride and handling are tuned to give luxury an edge over performance. If it's a full-blooded sport sedan you're after, you'd be better served by the BMW 550i.
Despite being an overachiever in most respects, our test car achieved braking numbers that are midpack at best. Its stopping distance from 60 is 126 feet; a recently tested 5 Series pulled off this maneuver in just 111 feet. Though the car's steering is precise and its manners in transitions are impeccable, its numbers on the slalom were merely solid, not outstanding. Our sedan was shod with low-profile all-season tires; we suspect that its performance both in braking and slalom testing would have been more impressive with more appropriate rubber.
Mileage is better than the E550's brutal acceleration suggests. EPA ratings place the 2010 E550 at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. We averaged 19 mpg in mixed driving, with the E550 swallowing premium fuel.
Rather like a Swiss army knife, the E550's front seats are up for any number of challenges. They are pleasantly firm and supportive, and a bevy of settings (adjustable via easy-to-access door-mounted buttons) endow them with the ability to cradle drivers of most sizes in comfort. Standard multilevel heating takes on winter weather, while optional ventilation keeps thighs cool and refreshed under blazing summer sun. Exceptional as these seats are, though, they run a very close second to the supremely pleasant chairs available in the 5 Series when it comes to overall comfort.
The rear seats are also amenable, offering decent support and ample legroom. Headroom is abundant; even a 6-footer can sit in back without fear of flattening his coif on the headliner.
The accommodating spirit felt in the car's front seats carries through to its suspension. The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 features an adaptable suspension that offers two settings: Comfort and Sport. The Comfort setting lives up to its name, striking obscenities such as bumps and potholes from the driving lexicon. However, this setting may be a bit too softly sprung for some tastes, and was rarely used by our editors. More engaging is the Sport setting, which maintains an open dialogue with the road. This setting is tauter and firmer, obviously, but we never found it jarring.
Mercedes-Benz buyers expect all the clamor of a ghost town once they get behind the wheel, and the E550 lives up to the brand's well-deserved reputation, keeping both wind and road noise at bay.
Interestingly, the COMAND system used in the E550 is more intuitive than the one found in the more expensive S-Class line. As in the S-Class, a well-weighted stainless-steel knob on the center console controls most of the action, but the two cars differ in that there are more buttons and knobs placed on the E550's center stack. The E550's audio system's tuning and volume control, for example, may be controlled from the center stack; this placement feels more natural and user-friendly than the center-console placement seen in the S-Class. Overall, the E550's COMAND setup is remarkably easy to use.
There's no shortage of technological wizardry in the E550. Most notable is Attention Assist, which comes standard on all 2010 E-Class models. This feature detects driver drowsiness using more than 70 parameters, including factors such as linear/lateral acceleration and steering wheel movements. If the system determines that you're driving while dangerously drowsy, it issues visual and auditory warnings. We put this feature to the test by mimicking the driving patterns of a sleep-deprived driver in a deserted parking lot, and found that the system works as advertised.
Safety technology like Attention Assist is one reason why the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 triumphs not just as a luxury sedan, but as a family hauler; the car's spacious cabin and generous trunk are two others. There's enough legroom in back to accommodate rear-facing child seats with little bother, and the sedan's large trunk eagerly gulps down golf clubs and standard-size suitcases.
Design/Fit and Finish
Perhaps the most controversial thing about the E550 is its sheet metal. For 2010, it's more linear and less rounded than before, and etched with new character lines. Some editors find the sedan's new look sharp and refined, but others deem it stodgy and geriatric.
The 1970s was a good decade for Mercedes-Benz, one that saw the birth of cars whose interiors bore a boxy elegance that resonates to this very day. A similar retro aesthetic abounds in the E550's cabin. Its angular lines and rich beige-and-brown color scheme call to mind the best of the decade that brought us pet rocks and mood rings.
Build quality is impeccable, and materials quality is mostly first-rate. There's a fair amount of plastic in evidence, but it's nicely grained and soft to the touch. The cabin's leather looks and feels remarkably supple. Pleasant as the E550's interior is, though, there are cars in this segment — such as the Audi A6 and the Jaguar XF — that offer a more universally deluxe cabin experience.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 is an ideal match for buyers who place a premium on refinement and superb craftsmanship. The sedan boasts outstanding safety technology, offering features such as Attention Assist that will be of interest to families, seniors and anyone interested in keeping their time behind the wheel incident-free. Perhaps its most compelling attribute, though, is its relatively low price. In this respect, the E550 will appeal to all luxury-sedan shoppers seeking to maximize value.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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