Mercedes Benz E320 (1999)

 

Loved it!

Mercedes E320The Mercedes E 320 is a magnificent vehicle that we've really liked in the past. It's a fabulous car to drive, with a four-wheel-drive system that is so smooth it's undetectable. The engine, handling and ride are all lovely.

For 1999, Mercedes has successfully overcome one of the two major flaws present in earlier iterations of the E 320; namely, they added all-wheel drive--a huge improvement over the previously hopeless-in-the-snow rear-wheel-drive models. Even with traction control, the E 320 was always a struggle in slippery weather. (Incidentally, the two-wheel-drive version is still available, for those of you who live well away from the Snow Belt.)

The other fatal flaw will be a little bit more difficult for Mercedes to overcome, though they've got their marketing dweebs working on it. Driving a Mercedes immediately classifies you as...how can we put this delicately? A pretentious, self-important prima donna. While testing the E 320, we started to notice that all the other drivers try to cut you off. Why? Because they already hate you. Unfortunately, were it not for the Mercedes Snob Factor, this might be the world's most perfect car.

Styling

The styling makes you look like some kind of mutated cross between a pimp and a geek. It's too bad you can't put the body of something less conspicuous (a Nissan Maxima would be nice) over the E 320-- then you'd be in heaven.

Ergonomics

Visibility is quite good in all directions. Ergonomics are very good, except for a few rather major exceptions. First of all, the heating controls leave something to be desired; Mercedes doesn't seem to appreciate the beauty of simplicity. Also, MB stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to fix the dangerous flaw in the cruise control switch--which is a stalk located right next to the directional switch and can (and was, in our case) easily be engaged by accident. At the very least, they should add a separate on-off switch for the cruise control to cut down on accidental engagements. Or, they can just wait for the owners (or their heirs) to start suing over it. (And we hope you'll enter our numerous Mercedes reviews as evidence.)

We did note two other comparatively minor annoyances:

Minor Problem #1: The driver's door never fully closes when you attempt to push it closed with the typical amount of effort. Now, if you pay $49,900 for a car, that shouldn't happen, should it? (We're sure that "ze enchineers" in Stuttgart would say this happens because the vehicle is so tight that no air can sneak in. Maybe so. But check out your refrigerator door. It closes--and there's no air sneaking out the back door, is there now?)

Minor Problem #B. The radio controls are hopelessly complex. The buttons for the radio are actually a telephone keypad for the built-in phone. Select the radio, and the buttons are used to tune to preselected stations. Select the phone, and the keypad can be used to dial phone numbers. It's cute, but the implementation leaves something to be desired. (Oh, and by the way, don't you dare use that phone while you're driving.)

Overall comments

The E 320 is a superb car. The only things that detract from it are the few ergonomic goofs, the price, and the fact that everybody will know you're a rich snob when you drive one. If you're looking in this vehicle class, you might also want to test-drive the Audi A6. Compared to the A6, the E 320 is larger and therefore more comfortable for passengers. However, the A6, which is also all-wheel drive, costs more than $14,000 less. And, in our humble opinion, it's roughly equivalent in driving pleasure and comfort to the E 320--which we think makes it a better deal.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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