From the mundane to the clinically insane, if there is a car question that exists in this universe, I have heard it. Some are so open ended that my automotive brains begins to implode under the stress of infinite possible answers. Spoiler alert – there is no answer for “What’s the best car?”
|Engine: A 4.6L bi-turbo V8 makes 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: The only unit available is a seven-speed automatic.
Fuel economy: Official ratings suggest 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. We averaged 16.6 mpg.
Price: The E550 4MATIC starts at $62,325 while our car included a few options pushing the price to $73,060.
Others like “at what price do you get everything you could ever need in a car” are more to the point. Although this answer can vary for each individual, my new benchmark is $73,060. That’s the as-tested price after destination charges for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E550 4MATIC I recently had the pleasure of testing. The E550 has it all; luxury, performance, style, comfort and all-weather capability. Anything more expensive than the E550 becomes a purchasing exercise driven by bragging rights and ego.
A Suspension that Actually Adapts
The pillar to the E550’s all-around capability lies in the chassis. I am usually critical of Mercedes-Benz’s air suspensions as I have found in the past that there is not enough of a difference between the sport and comfort modes. That is not the case here. In the comfort setting the car rides smoothly and is isolated from all outside interference. It is the ideal setting for long highway slogs and drives through the open country.
Toggle the car over to sport mode and body motions are wrangled in as the car hunkers down, becomes more direct in its actions and allows a little road feel to filter into the cabin. It doesn’t transform the E550 into a sports car ready for the track, but it makes the car wholly capable of handling spirited driving with confidence. Part of that comes from the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system that works great both in the dry and during a snow storm – something we got to test to the fullest.
Because the E550 has an adjustable air suspension, it has the ability to raise the car’s height for more ground clearance. This is a great feature for steep driveways, automatic car washes and snow rutted roads.
Snow Test? Check.
During a snow storm in which 10 inches of the white stuff fell, we had to take the E550 out to test its capabilities. The 4MATIC system is rear-biased and will send more power to the front wheels if slip is detected at the back. Punch the gas around a snowy corner with the stability control system disengaged and the back tires will kick the rear out momentarily. But before things get out of hand, the front tires engage and pull through the corner. Keep stability control on and it’s hard to get the car upset at all.
Part of the reason we could perform slides with stability control turned off may be due to the Pirelli Sottozeros winter tires equipped to the car. These are high performance winter tires that work well on ice and in the dry, but become quite greasy feeling in moderate snow like we experienced.
Plenty of V8 Grunt
Powering the E550 is a 4.6-liter biturbo V8 rated at 402 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque that is available from as low as 1,800 rpm all the way up to 4,750 rpm. Power delivery is constant, doesn’t make the driver wait and doesn’t tail off at the top end. It feels like there is more than just 402 hp thanks to the flat torque band and sizable displacement. Despite the E550 being a bit of a porker at 4,145 lbs, the car is still rated to achieve a 0-60 mph run in an estimated 5.2 seconds. Best of all, get hard on the accelerator and the V8 emits a classic burble that is pleasantly louder than I expected.
Sending power to the 4MATIC drive system is Mercedes-Benz omnipresent “7G-Tronic” seven-speed automatic transmission. A slow responding letdown in many other applications, the calibration of the seven-speed in the E550 produced quick enough gear changes for both comfort and sporty driving. Maybe the gobs of power and torque masked any potential transmission inadequacies, but it felt great in this car where smooth, seamless gear progressions are key.
With all-wheel drive, a twin-turbocharged V8 and a curb weight wandering into SUV territory, fuel economy is never going to be great. With official ratings of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, it isn’t supposed to be horrible either. Then again, I only managed an average of 16.6 mpg during a week with the car.
Small Refresh, Big Presence
When dabbling in the $70,000 price range and above, a car needs to look like something special. Although the 2013 E-Class did look elegant, the minor restyle performed on the 2014 E-Class has really given the car more road presence. Even if it is not much more than headlight and taillight revisions, the new styling really does make the E550 look cutting edge.
Inside, the driver and passengers are treated to elegance typical of a Mercedes-Benz product. The overall design is pleasing and although the black and tan color combination in our test car wouldn’t be my first choice, there are many others to choose from. The leather front seats are incredibly comfortable and feature a pillow-like headrest. The active multicontour driver seat option with the dynamic side bolsters and a massage feature was especially nice if not unnecessary. Another nice perk during our cold test week is a current AutoGuide staff favorite – the stand-alone heated steering wheel option.
COMAND is Still Great
Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment unit is still easy to use. Everything is laid out logically and the system does not delay or hiccup between screens. Mercedes deserves praise for ignoring the industry trend of reinventing infotainment systems every few years and removing all the hard buttons. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But the E550 is not perfect. Even at this price, items like adaptive cruise control and a forward camera are not included and require selecting various option packages. There was also one electrical issue during our time with the car. During a few cold starts, a warning message said that the blind spot monitoring was disabled, but after a few minutes of driving, the warning disappeared and the blind spot system worked normally.
The E 550 is also a bit on the small side offer just 35.8 inches of rear legroom and a 15.9 cubic foot trunk. For comparison, the BMW 550i xDrive offers a similar 35.3 inches of rear legroom but a much larger 18.4 cubic foot trunk. The E 550 4Matic does trump the 550i xDrive on price though starting nearly $5,000 cheaper at $62,325.
These few misgivings are not enough to ruin an otherwise fantastic package. The E550 really does offer it all. Sure the S 550 is more luxurious and the E 63 AMG a better performer, but they are also much more expensive. The price chasm is far greater than the quantifiable differences compared to the E550 and those two cars truly become a purchasing exercise within the world of excess. If you want one of the best all-around packages the automotive world has to offer, the E550 4MATIC is tough to beat.