New Car Review

1996 Mercedes Benz E420 Sport

by John Heilig

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

    
SPECIFICATIONS

    ENGINE: 4.2-liter V-8 
    HORSEPOWERITORQUE: 275 hp @5500 rpm/295 lbs-ft @3900 Rpm 
    TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic 
    FUEL ECONOMY: 15.8 mpg test 
    WHEELBASE: 111.5 in. 
    OVERALL LENGTH: 189.4 in. 
    OVERALL HEIGHT: 56.7 in. 
    OVERALL WIDTH: 70.8 in. 
    CURB WEIGHT: 3803 lbs 
    FUEL CAPACITY: 21.1 gal.. 
    LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 15.3 cu. ft. 
    TIRES: P235/55HR17 
    INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, exterior 
    temperature readout, digital clock. 
    EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air 
    conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, traction control, 
    power sunroof, electronic stability control, four air bags. 
    STICKER PRICE: $56,600

When Mercedes-Benz introduced the E-class sedans two years ago, the line was somewhat hampered by the lack of an eight-cylinder engine, even though one was promised. Sure, the E320, with a 3.2-liter six cylinder, was a nice car, but for a price of $50,000 you expect at least eight cylinders.

Well, the one minor flaw with the E-class has been solved and the promise kept. It now has a 4.2-liter V-8.and it makes the E420 as complete a car as possible. Now if they could only get the price down to under $20,000....

The E420's engine is rated at 275 horsepower, which is perfect for a car of this size. It drives the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox. Notice--five speeds. This is a gear more than you get in your standard Chevy. The extra gear makes the E420 smoother in shifting. That, in another sense, is the biggest gripe against the car (to be honest, all the gripes are very small). You're driving a Mercedes E-class. You have a lot of power under your right foot. And the shifter is so smooth that whenever you kick your foot to the floor to take off, it takes a while for it to decide which gear it wants to be in, then shifts, and then the fun begins. You don't get a kick in the back as you do with a turbocharged car or even with a Corvette. Yet, it is a good surge of power that is a wonderful feeling.

You feel, once you get going, that the E420 will accelerate forever. The car is equipped with a 160 mph speedometer, but the top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph. Of course, the only place you can drive at a speed like that is Montana, so you don't suffer too much in the "lower 49." I never even tested the top speed, but I would love to have taken this car out on a track like Pocono or Indy.

We used the E420 on an extended trip down to DC to visit our daughter. The trip down was wonderful and comfortable and we had plenty of luggage room. The trunk is listed at 15.3 cubic feet, and it's a useful 15 feet.

While in the Capitol, I had some business to attend to, and I felt quite comfortable driving the Mercedes in that city and wearing a suit. While some parking garages were afraid to keep the car after dark, it was a good vehicle to drive around town. The E420's compact exterior dimensions made it a good vehicle for urban driving. It isn't an Urban Guerilla car like a smaller vehicle with a stick shift, but for civilized urban driving you couldn't ask for more.

Additional comfort came from a dual heating/cooling system that allows the driver and passenger to ride at different temperature levels. For entertainment, there's an AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette and capability for a CD changer. As one wag put it though, for $56 thousand, you should get the changer.

For safety, the E420 has four air bags, two in the dash and two in the doors. It also has traction control and an optional Electronic Stability Program that helps prevent slips and slides by pulsing the brakes at the appropriate comers. In areas where the car can be driven in snow or on ice, ESP is great.

There are abundant storage areas, a dual arm rest with a flat portion at the top and a deeper portion below, a small and a large glove box, compartments in the doors, and a magnificent cupholder that could only have come from the engineers and designers at Mercedes-Benz.

The Mercedes-Benz E420 is a beautiful automobile. It handles well and it finally has the power that the E-class needed when it first arrived. It has anti-lock brakes, traction control and skid control. It is as close to being a complete automobile as anyone makes these days. Except for the quirky key that won't release if you have your foot on the brake, it has few flaws. I only wish it was a little less expensive so that I could afford it.

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