2007 Mercedes-Benz E550
2007 Mercedes-Benz E500. Click image to enlarge

Review and phtos by Laurance Yap

Munich, Germany – Ask a competent plastic surgeon what a good facelift is and he or she will probably tell you that a good facelift is one your friends and family don’t even notice. You don’t want to walk in on them looking unfamiliar, your skin stretched so taut you can barely make facial expressions; you want a little lift here, a little shaping there, just enough so that you look better but still very much yourself.

Judged by those standards, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which has itself undergone a bit of a facelift after its introduction in 2003, is a success. It’s a familiar shape with a familiar face, but it also looks sharper, a bit more aggressive than it used to. It takes a skilled eye to make out the changes, but they’re there, and noticeable to those in the know.

For the record, those changes are actually quite numerous. The front end has been redesigned, with a sharper, more arrow-shaped grille and headlights that have horizontal ribs for a more aggressive look (think of how a facelifted person looks kind of pointier and stretched out and you will understand the effect). There are new wheel designs, new side mirrors that are mounted on aerodynamic spars, and a new rear bumper design.

In Europe, the light clusters now feature bi-xenon headlights that adapt to driving conditions – they provide a wider view on country roads and cast light further ahead at high speeds – and can swivel around corners, too.

2007 Mercedes-Benz E500
2007 Mercedes-Benz E550. Click image to enlarge

Like the rear lights, which flash quickly under hard braking, they have yet to be approved by Transport Canada.

Like the outgoing E-class, the new version still comes in a wide variety of formats to suit buyers’ needs – and will span an equally expansive range of prices, from about $75,000 for the E350 to over $120,000 for the full-blown AMG version. 4Matic all-wheel-drive is standard on the E350 wagon, which is the only wagon we’ll get; it won’t be available on the E63 (the car which, arguably, could use the extra traction the most).

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 6.3-litre V8

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

Mercedes-Benz E63
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Click image to enlarge

Two large oval exhaust pipes – no longer hidden under the rear bumper – hint at what’s underneath the hood. Indeed, what separates the E-Class from most facelifts is that there’s a lot more than just surface. The economical E320 CDI is, for a little while, no more. In September, a new Bluetec diesel, much cleaner than even the CDI, will be introduced. The 3.5-litre V6, upgraded last year, stays the same, producing 272 horsepower and a 6.9 second 0-100 km/h time. The 5.0-litre V8 in the E500 grows to 5.5 litres, and the car becomes an E550; it now produces 388 horsepower. At the top of the range, the supercharged V8 of the old E55 AMG has been replaced by an all-new, all-AMG naturally-aspirated V8. Displacing 6.3 litres, the E63’s new motor generates a whopping 514 horsepower.

Like the other engines, it’s now hooked up to a 7-speed automatic transmission, which not only makes for better acceleration, but also improves fuel economy (the E63 features AMG-exclusive “speedshift” technology, however). Paddle shifters now jut from the back of the steering wheel, enabling you to easily select which gear you want.

The old E-class’ electronic brakes have been swapped for a new electronically-controlled hydraulic “adaptive brake” system first used on the new S-class. Not only does it provide increased performance, but pedal feel is much improved as well, with none of the on-off switch effect of the older car.

2007 Mercedes-Benz E500
2007 Mercedes-Benz E550. Click image to enlarge

Despite changes to make it 10 per cent more direct, the steering feels a little lifeless on winding roads, with some play in the wheel until you’ve committed to a corner. No complaints, though, about the ride quality. Our E550 wagon tester rode exceptionally well, even when its standard-fit Airmatic suspension (optional on lesser Es) set to its stiffest of three settings. In its softest settings, it rode better than an airport limo.

Handling is improved by newly developed spring link bearings, and rebound buffer springs have been added to reduce body roll when cornering. Despite appreciably better composure in bends, the E-class is more of a secure handler than an entertaining one.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

Mercedes-Benz E63
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Click image to enlarge

It’ll happily keep pace with a sports car on a winding road, but is more interested in racking up big highway miles or transporting you in superb comfort through cities. It’s only at speeds you most likely will never see in Canada (certainly not legally) where wind noise intrudes into the cabin, and there’s only a faint rumble from the engine room to remind you that the powerful new V8 is working hard.

Some new trim materials and colours and a new, four-spoke steering wheel first seen in the SL roadster are all that’s changed inside. The materials and quality are still of a very high standard, and long-distance comfort on the well-padded seats is excellent. The driving position has a wide range of adjustment, the controls for the various electronic systems are fairly intuitive, and there are small touches of genius, like the seat-shaped controls on the door, memory for the passenger seat as well as the drivers’, and rear-seat head restraints that flip down at the touch of a button for a better view to the rear. Misfires include windows that don’t quite go all the way down – even at the front – making it difficult to rest your arm on the sill, lumbar support that’s available only as an option, and thick pillars that sometimes obscure visibility in town.

The revised E-class enters a segment where the competition is tougher than ever. Its major selling point over cars that are just as fast and luxurious is its built-in safety.

2007 Mercedes-Benz E500
2007 Mercedes-Benz E550. Click image to enlarge

While most anything in its price range has ABS, airbags for all passengers and stability control, only the E-class offers Mercedes’ Pre-Safe technology, which prepares the car for an impending accident. First introduced on the S-class, Pre-Safe reads the car’s numerous sensors for signs of evasive action or panic braking and closes the windows and sunroof, tensions the seatbelts and even positions the seats for the best occupant protection.

The built-in safety net is, like many of the new E-class’ upgrades, not immediately obvious. It’s that kind of car: there may not be a lot going on to tease your eye, but this is an impressively upgraded vehicle and one that remains one of the key players in its segment.

At A Glance: Mercedes-Benz E350/E550/E63 AMG

  • Price (estimated): $75,000 (E350) – $120,000 (E63 AMG)

  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6/5.5-litre V8/6.3-litre V8
  • Fuel consumption (European combined): 9.7/11.5/14.3 L/100 km
  • Power: 272/388/514 hp
  • Torque: 258/391/465 lb-ft
  • Competition: BMW 5-series, Audi A6, Cadillac STS, Lexus GS
  • What’s best: Seven-speed automatic; new engines; improved brakes
  • What’s worst: Numb steering, thick pillars
  • What’s interesting: Adaptive lighting not yet certified for Canada

Related stories on Autos

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class


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