Road Test - Supercharged Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Mar 5, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    A fast car and a stronger brewage.

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    BY DANIEL PUND
    Photography BY JEFFREY G. RUSSELL
    MARCH 2003

    Speed, it seems to me, provides the one genuinely modern pleasure.... I myself have never traveled at much more than 80 miles an hour in a car; but those who have drunk a stronger brewage of this strange intoxicant tell me that new marvels await anyone who has the opportunity of passing the hundred mark.
    —Aldous Huxley,
    "Wanted, a New Pleasure"

    The Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG is not a sports sedan, although it is a sedan. The E55 is not a sports car, although it tears from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The E55 is a speed sled—a conveyance of staggering power capable of great pace. Attaining great speed is not just the E55's forte; speed is its reason for being.

    Some perspective is in order here.

    The E55 takes just 0.3 second longer to reach 60 mph than the 508-hp V-12 Ferrari 575M Maranello F1. The Merc comes with heated and ventilated seats and costs about $175,000 less than the Ferrari. In 23.1 seconds, the E55 reaches 150 mph—a speed only 5 mph below its governor-limited top speed. At that pace, the 469-hp E55 is still accumulating velocity more quickly than China accumulates new citizens. Hell, at 154 mph the E55 is still accelerating. Thanks to an almost incomprehensible 516 pound-feet of torque (Audi's supersedan, the RS 6 makes a comparatively paltry 415) and a quick-acting five-speed automatic transmission, the E55 is a half-second quicker than the Ferrari from 50 to 70 mph.

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    But what does 155 mph feel like in the E55? Well, Huxley might be disappointed because the E55 at that velocity feels a lot like the average new car doing 90 mph. So effortlessly and with such extraordinary stability does the E55 maintain pace that speed is a cerebral, rather than emotional, experience.

    You're aware of the speed because your brain tells you objects couldn't possibly be thrown into your field of vision so quickly. Never have we experienced speed so divorced from the sensation thereof. There's no wind noise, no lightness in the steering wheel, no unnerving shiver through the body. The E55 slips quietly through what seems an unusually thin atmosphere. It is simply exquisite.

    German drivers, who can more frequently (and legally) exploit the potential of such a car, can have the top-speed limiter disabled at a dealership. No chance of that here in the United States of Litigiousness. Based on our experience with the car, would you really want to do that anyway? We were headed into the mountains north of Phoenix, lounging at 85 mph, when we saw a V-8-powered BMW X5. Its driver was in a racy mood. We squeezed the throttle to perhaps half its travel—normal for an expressway pass. The engine thrumming gently increased its volume and pitch. There's a hint of supercharger whine in the high register. Even on a grade, the automatic doesn't bother downshifting. By the time we glanced at the rearview mirror, the X5 was simply gone, vanished. "Damn," we muttered aloud to no one, "how fast were we going?" The Euro-spec speedometer said 230 km/h. Let's see, if 100 km/h is 62 mph, then—whoa!

    This is the kind of thing that 469 horsepower will do for you. AMG, Mercedes' performance division, takes a standard-issue 5.0-liter V-8 and increases its displacement to 5.4 liters, adds stronger internals, modifies the three-valve heads, and adds a new intake and exhaust. In the previous E55, this treatment was good for 349 horsepower. But with the 450-hp Audi RS 6 about to show up on American roads and the 394-hp BMW M5 already tearing them up, less than 350 would just not do. So the E55's engine gets a Lysholm (or screw type) supercharger with an air-to-water intercooler blowing 13.1 psi of boost. A smaller-diameter, larger-length exhaust system fitted to the E55 explains the loss of 24 horsepower compared with the SL55 AMG powered by ostensibly the identical engine. Superchargers at low boost can be a power parasite, so AMG added an electromagnetic clutch to the blower's belt-drive pulley. It's not engaged until the engine computer decides you really want all that power.

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    The standard Mercedes five-speed automatic has been modified for E55 duty as well. The shifts are quicker and firmer. The transmission has three settings: comfort, sport, and manual. You must activate manual to use the shift buttons mounted behind the upper spokes of the steering wheel. So good is the sport mode at holding a gear and so quick is it to downshift that we often didn't bother with the buttons. You can also choose your gears by rocking the manumatic shifter left and right. If we must have an automatic in a performance car, this is the one we want.

    Beyond the powertrain, the superlatives don't come quite as naturally. The brakes—big discs (14.2 inches in front, 13.0 inches at the rear) pierced with ventilation holes—look like serious business. The fronts carry eight-piston calipers as long as loaves of bread. At full clamp-down, they stop the 4200-pounder in 175 feet, which is 10 to 20 feet longer than the performance of some 4000-pound M5s we've tested.

    Worse, the brake pedal feels as if it has no mechanical connection to the brakes. This is because it doesn't. Like all E-classes, the E55 has electrohydraulic brakes. The car "reads" the position of the pedal and determines how much pressure to apply to the brakes. The pedal is supposed to mimic the feedback you would get from a conventional pedal, but it doesn't. You cannot smoothly modulate the brakes. You might as well get used to the alternating lunging and halting that accompanies every stop.

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    Likewise, the myriad programs involving electronic stability, traction control, brake proportioning, and semiactive suspension are constantly doing things you didn't ask them to do.

    These are good systems that can keep your $70,000-plus car from pirouetting into the nearest telephone pole. But the insistence of the Mercedes systems adds an unwanted layer of isolation to the driving experience. The steering doesn't communicate with the driver, either. The weight feels artificial, and there's a certain wooden touch to its action. You can choose among three suspension settings for the Airmatic suspenders, and even the stiffest is not disconcertingly so. But the E55 rolls more than you might expect for such a machine. And even with wide Continental summer tires (245/40 front; 265/35 rear), the E55 pulls a middling 0.83 g on the skidpad—less grip than an E320 with a Sport package. The E55 feels distant, aloof.

    Its looks are subdued. Eighteen-inch twin-spoke wheels are standard, and the ride height is lowered (about half an inch) from that of stock E-classes. The low, long biomorphic shape of the E55 and its four chrome exhaust tips make the car look something like a gigantic gecko wearing jewelry. The interior gets similarly subtle upgrades. Bright white gauges grace the dash. Otherwise, the interior looks and feels as stately as that of lower-level E-classes.

    We'd like a bit more visual differentiation between the AMG and base E-classes, but we can't complain about price. Mercedes says the new E55 will be priced at about $74,000. That's only a thousand or so more than the BMW M5 or the outgoing E55, a relative bargain.

    Sadly, that price does not include the cost of paying every other driver on the road to stay the hell out of your way.

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    THE VERDICT

    Highs: Positively silly amounts of power, stability slightly greater than that of the earth.

    Lows: What, they couldn't do 600 horsepower? Wimps! An M5 is more fun. Electronics actually drive the car.

    The Verdict: A compelling case for the creation of the American autobahn.

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    COUNTERPOINT

    No doubt the E55 has power to spare, so I'd like to return a few of the 469 ponies in exchange for things the E55 lacks. For more progressive brakes, AMG can have back 20 horses and the four hair-trigger clamps the car has now. Sharper and less weighty steering? I'll swap 10 ponies, and another 10, if it'll trim off 200 pounds. As soon as AMG can locate a proper manual transmission, it can expect 35 horsepower by return airmail. Then I'll have a 394 horsepower German supersedan with brilliant brakes and steering, a 4000-pound curb weight, and a six-speed stick. Now, why does that sound so familiar?
    Aaron Robinson

    In northern Arizona on a ribbon of flawless asphalt in 60-degree dry weather with very little traffic, I decide to risk a monster ticket and possibly the sheriff's rubber room. The car leaps forward, the engine wailing without a hint of shriek. At 130 mph, the strangest thing happens: When I press even farther down on the pedal, I again feel a surge of torque at my back. Yet it is utterly stable; you can feel the flex of the tires and not a vibration from the steering wheel. It's just so solid. I think this car should have Air Force decals on its flanks starting with the letter F. This is one of those rare cars that are simply not overpriced even at $74,000.
    Steve Spence

    If you think the E55 fails to justify its estimated $74,000 price, consider the following: It makes more horsepower than an Aston Martin Vanquish V-12; it produces more torque than a BMW Z8 and a Mini Cooper combined; one of its front brake calipers houses as many pistons as both front calipers on a Porsche 911 Turbo; from 0 to 60 mph it's quicker than a Maserati Coupé Cambiocorsa; from 0 to 120 mph it stays wheel to wheel with a Ferrari 575M Maranello F1. But unlike all those cars, the E55 can accommodate five adults and a big duffel for each of them. Best of all, it attracts about as much attention as any ordinary E-class. It's a steal.
    Ron Kiino

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  2. shervin

    shervin Guest

    :wackit:

    Those crazy Germans

    But is it just me or are those some skinny rear tires for so much power
     
  3. lsondubz

    lsondubz Guest

  4. Girth

    Girth ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ OT Supporter

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    Give me 2 perre... I need 2 perre.
     
  5. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    so its not quite as good as an m5 at anything except raw power? :sad2:

    I'd take one tho :o
     
  6. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    More electronics than K.I.T.T. :o
     
  7. Girth

    Girth ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ OT Supporter

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    I'd take one over the M5 for now... until the V10 one comes out in a few years. :big grin:
     
  8. elysium

    elysium Guest

  9. MB300E87

    MB300E87 Active Member

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    that my friends is my dream car. i have dreams about flying down the highway alone at night with no other cars on the road with the bi-xenon headlamps leading the way and the star on the hood pointing where to go. i'm so serious, i want this car.
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    This country needs an autobahn. Badly.
     
  11. Penguin Man

    Penguin Man Protect Your Digital Liberties

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    Nice seats :bigthumb:
     

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