2003 Mercedes-Benz E320

2003 Mercedes-Benz E320

An expensive car that's actually a bargain

I never thought I'd type into my computer the price "$46,950," and refer to it as a bargain. However, to quote an obscure philosopher I once knew, "Hear me now and believe me later." The 2003 Mercedes-Benz E320 is a steal at this price. While this amount could get you two Toyota Camrys or Honda Accords, there's nothing like getting an all-new Mercedes-Benz model packed with technological features and luxury amenities for $1,500 less than last year's model.

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The E-Class has long been the cornerstone of the Mercedes sedan range and accounts for about a quarter of the brand's worldwide passenger vehicle sales. The previous-generation E-Class, introduced in the United States in 1995 as a 1996 model, set a new design trend with its distinctive elliptical headlights. The 2003 version is unmistakably an E-Class, but offers bolder, sleeker lines that hint at the car's greater athleticism. The headlights are tilted back even more sharply, and the entire car exudes a fresh, sporty design theme. The new E-Class is just slighter larger than its predecessor, yet Mercedes says its engineers have rethought every inch of the car to make it even safer, more fun to drive and of course, more luxurious. And, we'd have to agree.

Two new E-Class sedans are available in the U.S. for 2003; the E320 with its 3.2-liter V-6 that produces 221 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft of torque, and the E500 that's powered by a new 302 horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 that replaces the former 4.3-liter V-8 in the E430. Both engines are teamed with an adaptive five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, which allows quick and convenient manual shifting if desired. While the E500 is a wonderful car, it's the E320 and the amazing amount of standard equipment that's packed into the new package that caught our attention.

One thing Mercedes did not do was make the new E-Class much heavier, a testament to the advanced manufacturing techniques and extensive use of aluminum components such as hood, front fenders, trunk lid, front subframe and crossmembers. At the same time, these new techniques and a nearly doubling of high-strength steel usage has served to make the E-Class body structure even stronger than before.

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The full array of Mercedes safety technology comes standard on the E320, including ABS anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, straight-line traction control and ESP stability control. New safety technology includes the electronic braking system from the Mercedes SL roadsters that provides faster, more sure-footed braking, especially in emergencies. In addition, the E320 comes standard with eight airbags including two in front, one sidebag for each of the four outboard seating positions and a side curtain windowbag for each side.

The optional E320 Sport Package lends a bolder appearance and improved performance with the S-class' Airmatic DC suspension, bi-xenon headlights with headlamp washers, blue tinted glass, LED brake lights, sculpted side skirts, sporty front bumper and rear apron, and 17-inch wheels and 245/45R17 tires.

The interior is more luxurious than before, with a new sweeping dashboard, elegant wood and chrome trim elements, and a full array of power amenities. The E320 comes equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, and features like a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows with one-touch up/down operation and auto-dimming mirrors. A new, power flip-down panel in the center console houses switches for many vehicle functions. At the touch of a button, it opens to reveal an extra storage space or the newly available six-disc CD changer when it is ordered. The standard high-performance 10-speaker audio system adds surround sound, and the optional Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system takes audio performance to an even higher level with seven-channel surround sound, 420 watts of total output and 12 high-end speakers.

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Standard 10-way power seats assure driver- and front-passenger comfort. The optional Dynamic Drive seats adjust pressure in air cushions automatically in response to driving input. For example, the seat will automatically increase air pressure in the left-side seatback bolster during right-hand cornering. These seats even feature a massage function. Optional ventilated seats help to cool the driver and front passenger quickly on hot days, and the available heated seats and steering wheel provide cold-weather comfort.

The E320 can be equipped with a power tilt/slide glass sunroof or the new Panorama sunroof that creates the look of an all-glass roof and has a much larger opening than the conventional sunroof. Special glass filters out excessive sunlight, which can be further limited by power sunshades. A solar cell panel available with the Panorama roof powers the climate control's blower motor to help cool the interior on hot sunny days.

Several high-tech options can enhance convenience and safety. The Distronic adaptive cruise control system that uses radar to maintain a set distance from a vehicle traveling in front. The Keyless Go system allows the driver to unlock the car simply by touching the door handle, and to start the car by touching the gearshift knob. The Parktronic parking assist uses sound waves to detect and warn the driver about obstacles in front of or behind the car. Later in the model year, the E-Class will offer an optional power trunk closer.

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All of this high-tech gadgetry is nice while the car is sitting still, but it's when you hit the road where the E320 really comes alive. From the moment you start the engine, shift into drive and merge onto the highway, the E320 coddles its occupants like the German uber sedan that it is. It's unbelieveably quiet inside, has adequate passing power and is an excellent car whether you're driving to work or venturing through the mountains on a road trip.

This new-generation Mercedes-Benz E320 sedan makes its U.S. debut for the 2003 model year with technological innovations unavailable in almost any other car in it's competitive set. It features a fresh, stylish exterior design and a modern interior that's one of the most elegant ever offered at any price. The 2003 E320 sets new standards in vehicle safety, comfort and driving dynamics that we find hard to match-even for $46,950. (www.mbusa.com)

2003 Mercedes-Benz E320 rear
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