The theory of natural selection applies to the biological world, but it could just as well be used to describe the automotive realm. The theory's first rule, all organisms produce more offspring than can possibly survive, is illustrated not only by the numerous defunct models of various carmakers, but also by the carmakers themselves (think all of the car companies that no longer exist). Rule two and three state that all organisms within a species vary, one from the other; and at least some of this variation is inherited by offspring (read car models)--no explanation needed on these; the correlations are obvious.
According to Stephen Jay Gould, the theory's summation goes like this: Since only some offspring can survive, on average the survivors will be those variants that, by good fortune, are better adapted to changing local environments. Since this offspring will inherit the favorable variations of their parents, offspring of the next generation will, on average, become adapted to local conditions. Unfit organisms are eliminated as a result of selective pressures in the organism's environment. Think of the new E500 as the culmination of selective pressures to build the best E-Class, ever. It is a step forward in automotive evolution.
Let's start with the design. The previous E-Class set new standards for Mercedes-Benz back in 1996. The distinctive dual, rounded headlights, softer corners, sleeker hood-to-trunk line were indicative of where the company was headed--building luxury cars that were actually good looking. The new E500 takes that concept even further; one might even call the new car pretty. It is definitely elegant. The headlights are more oval and lay back at a seductive angle. The hood line echoes the angle, moving rakishly up to the windshield to the tautly bowed roof, dropping gracefully down to the rear. The wedge-shaped sides reinforce the vehicle's muscular, but not brawny, appearance--more of a dancer's body than that of a weightlifter's. The shortened overhangs, both front and rear, reinforce the look. From a familial aspect, it shares a little bit of the new CLK along with the S-Class, yet the line has its own, distinct design.
Where the family heritage truly comes into play is in the drivetrain and chassis systems. The new E500 is powered by the same V8 engine found in other current 500 models. Outputting 302 bhp and 339 lb-ft of torque, the engine is mated to Mercedes' tried-and-true five-speed automatic transmission with Touchshift. The E500's top speed (electronically limited) is 155 mph, and 0 to 62 mph is reached in 6.0 sec. Acceleration is quick and smooth--the new 500 is 0.5 sec. faster than the previous V8, the E430--with 93% of maximum torque available at 2700 rpm and peaking at 4250 rpm.
The E500 also has all the technological bells and whistles found on the chassis of its higher-end siblings: Airmatic DC suspension with three ride-level settings, rack-and-pinion steering (good-bye recirculating ball), Sensotronic braking, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), acceleration skid control (ASR), anti-lock braking system (ABS), Brake Assist (BAS) and Parktronic. I won't go into the details of these familiar systems here (for details see the technological sidebar), except to say that they all work harmoniously together, making the E500 one of the best-handling luxury sedans on the market.
The interior is what one has come to expect from Mercedes, luxury personified: Fine, brown walnut wood appointments on the console, dash and doors; black-trimmed instrument clusters with black dials and chrome rings; dual-control climate system; a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustments; an in-dash CD player (finally!) as standard; and electronically adjustable (height and backrest) leather/fabric front seats. Fully electric, leather front seats are optional, as are the new dynamic multicontour ones. These are, perhaps, one of the coolest things found inside a car. Based on Mercedes' multicontour seats, which first appeared in the S- and CL-Classes, the dynamic version is fitted with five air cushions, one on the front seat cushion, two in the lumbar region and one in each backrest side cushion. When activated, the cushions inflate or deflate automatically depending on the driving situation. Take a hard left, and the left-side cushions inflate to keep you in place; straighten out and they go back to normal. Drive quickly through a series of twisties, and you end up getting the most wonderful of massages as the seat adjusts to each curve. (See the "At a Glance" sidebar for other available options.)
The body sets new standards for structural strength, lightweight design and safety by following the principal of having "the right materials in the right place." It is the first Mercedes that uses aluminum (10% overall, which includes the hood, front wings, trunk lid, front-end module, front-end module carrier, rear-end module, parcel shelf and rear panel behind the rear seat backrests) on such a large-scale series production. The E500's engineers also increased the use of high-strength steel alloys from 20- to 37%. As a result, torisonal rigidity is up 18% from the previous model, while the drag coefficient has dropped to a record 0.26. The aforementioned front and rear modules are bolted to the body structure, thus facilitating easier and less expensive repair in case of accident damage.
If the aforementioned accident should occur, rest assured that Mercedes' has spared no expense in active and passive safety systems. Large crumple zones, early-recognition sensors, collision-severity-based belt-force limiters and airbag deployers, automatic weight classification on the front passenger side (it measures a range, not your actual, to-the-pound weight), rollover sensor and side and windowbags are all standard, offering the best possible passenger protection.
How does it drive? In a word, superbly. Even though I spent oh-too-few hours with the car at its launch in Spain, I was able to put it through its paces in a variety of situations. Heavy in-town traffic, smooth cruising on the Spanish autopistas, hard cornering through Catalonian back roads, up hills, down sweepers, the V8-powered E-Class was equally at home in every situation.
The E500 is what all luxury sedans should strive for. Well-appointed, of course, but also powerful and quick, with crisp, sporty handling (especially when you use the lowest suspension setting), yet smooth and comfortable.
Survival of the fittest is very apropos to the automotive world, particularly the luxury segment. The E500 definitely has all the necessary attributes to make it to the next evolutionary level.
|Mercedes-Benz E 500 Specifications|
|Engine||V8, three valves per cylinder|
|Bore x stroke||97.0 x 84.0mm|
|Rated output kW/PS||302 bhp @ 5600 rpm|
|Rated torque||339 lb-ft @ 2700-4250 rpm|
|Max. engine speed||6300 rpm|
|Ratios||(1) 3.60; (2) 2.19; (3) 1.41; (4) 1.00; (5) 0.83; (FD) 2.82 (R) 3.17/1.93 |
|Suspension, f||Four-link suspension, fully supporting air suspension system with level control AIRMATIC DC, anti-dive|
|Suspension, r||Multi-link independent suspension, fully supporting air suspension system with level control AIRMATIC DC, anti-squat and anti-dive|
|Braking system||Electrohydraulic braking system Sensotronic Brake Control, front disc brakes internally ventilated, solid rear disc brakes, drum parking brake at rear, ABS, Brake Assist, ESP®|
|Steering||Power-assisted rack-and-pinion, steering damper|
|Wheels||8 J x 17 ET38|
|Wheelbase||2,854mm (112.36 in.)|
|Track f/r||1,567/1,560mm (61.69/61.42 in.)|
|Length/width/height||4,818/1,822/1,430mm (189.68/71.73/56.30 in.)|
|Turning circle||11.4m (37.4 ft)|
|Curb weight||1,725kg (3,803 lb)|
|Acceleration 0-100 km/h (62 mph)||6.0 sec.|
|Max. speed||250 km/h (155 mph)|
| ||New E-Class ||Predecessor model||Change +/- |
|Width, mm/in.||1,822 /71.73||1,799/70.83||+23/0.9|
|Wheelbase, mm/in.||2,854/ 112.36||2,833/111.54||+21/0.82|
|Front overhang, mm/in.||831/32.72 ||841/33.11||-10/0.39|
|Rear overhang, mm/in.||1,133/44.61||1,144/45.04||-11/0.43|
Adaptive Drive System Automatically Recognizes Individual Driving Styles
The newly developed system recognizes individual driving styles. If you frequently depress the accelerator hard, thus requiring repeated hard acceleration from the vehicle, the engine computer recognizes a brisk, sporty style of driving and reacts by adjusting the characteristic curve of the accelerator and the opening characteristics of the throttle flap. At 120 km/h in third gear, for example, the E500 achieves an effective acceleration of more than 80% with the pedal at only half of its maximum travel. If the style of driving is more comfort-oriented, the acceleration potential is only reached at 75 percent of the pedal travel.
Automatic Transmission: Now With Torque Converter Lockup In First Gear
The five-speed automatic transmission features with control, two shift programs and torque converter lockup clutch. The Touchshift system provides performance-minded drivers the option of changing gears manually. Torque converter lockup is now possible in any gear--even first gear--whereas, before, it could only be engaged in third, fourth and fifth. Torque converter lockup reduces the slip that usually occurs between the pump and the turbine wheel, thereby improving mechanical efficiency and enhancing fuel economy.
Air Suspension with Simultaneous Adjustment of Spring Rate & Damping
AIRMATIC DC is a development of the air suspension system featured on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The suffix "DC" stands for "Dual Control" and emphasizes the new dual function of the system, which now, for the first time, controls springing and damping using cutting-edge microelectronics. For the damping Mercedes-Benz uses the familiar Adaptive Damping System (ADS II), which constantly regulates the force of the shock absorbers according to needs, taking into account the state of the road surface, the style of driving and the loading of the sedan.
Special rubber bellows in the spring struts are responsible for the springing. Inside them is compressed air, which ensures softer--and hence more comfortable--suspension of the wheels and body. Under normal driving conditions, the pressure in the E500's AIRMATIC DC system is between 7 and 9 bar. A new feature of this system is the opportunity to control the air volume actively while on the move. When cornering at speed, for example, or where other dynamic handling requirements are high, AIRMATIC DC briefly deactivates a proportion of the air volume, ensuring a harder spring rate. The effect is to reduce pitch and roll, which has a positive influence on the ride stability and cornering stability of the sedan. Under normal driving conditions, on the other hand, the entire air volume remains active so that maximum comfort is achieved with softer basic suspension. By adjusting the springing and damping according to the given situation, this system solves the familiar conflict between perfect comfort and high dynamic handling when it comes to suspension tuning--and hence meets the most diverse of customer wishes.
Springing and damping adapt to the current driving situation The rapid activation or deactivation of the "comfort" air volume and the automatic adaptation of the force of the shock absorbers is controlled by a microcomputer on the basis of various sensor signals which supply information on, for example, the steering and yaw angle of the body, forward and lateral acceleration of the vehicle, the level of the body and the driving style. The control unit compares this up-to-the-minute data with stored set points and starts a programmed arithmetical process (algorithm) which determines both the optimum characteristic of the adaptive shock absorbers and the control of the air volume. The computer commands are then implemented in various ways: Springing: with a dynamic driving style, control valves in the spring struts separate off the proportion of the air volume which determines comfort, which is directly integrated in the spring struts at the front axle. At the rear axle the additional air reservoirs are attached separately, for reasons of space, to the front cross member of the subframe and connected to the spring struts by fabric hoses.
Selectable solenoid valves in the shock absorbers allow the rebound and compression damping to be altered to suit the situation so that movement of the body is significantly reduced. The "skyhook" algorithm regulates the damping forces at each wheel in such a manner that the forces resulting from the wheel movement which act on the body are reduced. Thanks to the precise regulation for each individual wheel, for example, both front wheels can be dampened harder on braking than the rear wheels in order to prevent the bodywork from diving. Depending on the control command, the valves can set one of four characteristics in an extremely short time of less than 0.05 sec.
Stage 1: Improved road roar and tire vibration characteristics with less movement of the body and lower acceleration values as a result of soft compression and rebound stage.
Stage 2: Skyhook mode--soft rebound setting and, at the same time, hard compression stage.
Stage 3: Skyhook mode--soft compression setting and, at the same time, hard rebound damping.
Stage 4: Hard rebound and compression setting to reduce the effects of wheel load variations on dynamic cornering.
Where there are small movements of the body, the new E500 uses ADS Stage 1. If the speed of movement on the part of the body exceeds a certain level, the system switches to the skyhook algorithm and, with the aid of its rapid solenoid valves, permanently switches back and forth between the second and third damping stages to compensate for pitch and roll of the body. In addition, the driver can influence the switching thresholds between the four ADS stages and the spring rate by pressing a button on the chassis switch in the center console--in three stages, from comfortable to sporty. Further performance features of the new air suspension system include automatic all-round self-leveling suspension. This ensures that, even with a heavy load, the same spring travel is always available. Furthermore, while the vehicle is on the move this system works in a speed-sensitive manner and automatically lowers the body by 15mm at both axles from a speed of 140 km/h in order to reduce drag and enhance ride stability. Below a speed of 70 km/h the body is raised to the normal level again.
Front Axle: Four-Link System
Improved road roar and tire vibration characteristics, safe handling up to the critical limits, sporty agility and precise directional stability are due not only to the innovative AIRMATIC DC, but also in considerable part to advances in axle technology. At the front axle the Mercedes engineers have replaced the double wishbone system of the previous model with a sophisticated four-link system which allows further improvements in terms of wheel location, steering precision and comfort. Two separate links (torque strut and spring link) take over the tasks of the lower wishbone and allow even better axle kinematics and even more precise location of the wheels. Vibrations as a result of tire imbalance or fluctuations in the braking force can be compensated for more effectively in this way than with the rigid lower link level at the front axle found on the previous model. The lower spring link and the torque struts share responsibility for wheel location with triangular control arms in the upper area of the front axle. The two link levels are connected to one another by steering knuckles. The fourth component, which gives the four-link axle its name, comprises the track rods.
The safety specialists at the Mercedes Technology Center also provided an important reason for opting for the four-link system: in a head-on collision it offers greater deformation in the area of the lower link level. Because the individual axle components demonstrate a better deformation capability than the conventional triangular control arms, the kinetic energy in a collision can be absorbed more effectively. The steel-sprung model versions of the new E-Class are fitted at the front axle with coil springs, single-tube shock absorbers and a torsion bar stabilizer. The size of the rubber mounts for the springing and damping elements were increased as well, creating even further reductions in road roar and tire vibration compared to the previous model. Steering: variable-ratio rack-and-pinion system On the new E500, the gearing of the rack-and-pinion steering is situated in front of the center of the wheel and therefore in a position which, on bends, supports the easily controlled, understeering effects of the Mercedes Sedan. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a variable ratio which operates slightly more indirectly in the central area than in the outer positions. As an extra feature, Mercedes-Benz offers speed-sensitive power steering which continuously reduces the steering torque below 100 km/h according to the speed of the vehicle. This is made possible by an electronically controlled valve: the lower the speed, the greater the amount of power assistance. Parking, therefore, requires only half the steering force needed on the motorway, where the speed-sensitive power steering ensures excellent road contact.
Rear Axle: Multi-Link Independent Suspension
The basic design of the rear axle is unchanged, however, various advances have been made on the new E-Class, centering on targeted modifications of the axle geometry and on the use of cutting-edge materials. Specifically, in order to further boost the high dynamic driving qualities of the multi-link independent-suspension axle the guiding strut was placed in a new position. It is now situated behind the center of the wheel and this position supports the safe, understeering effect of the Sedan even better than the previous installation position in front of the center of the wheel. Aluminum replaces the previous material steel. With the AIRMATIC DC air suspension, all five rear axle links are made of forged aluminum, which allows a weight saving of over 30%.
Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC)
SBC(TM), which celebrated its series-production premiere on the SL-Class sports car, represents a first sortie into the world of "by-wire" systems, which no longer transmit the driver's commands mechanically or hydraulically, but electronically--by wire. The driver's brake command is transmitted electronically to a powerful micro-computer, which simultaneously processes data on the current ride status from a variety of sensors and uses this to calculate and meter the ideal brake pressure for each wheel. This occurs in fractions of a second--and, thanks to the high-pressure accumulator, more quickly and precisely than with a conventional brake system. The vacuum brake booster used to date is no longer required with this system, and the brake pedal and master brake cylinder become a single "operating mechanism" which is hydraulically decoupled from the rest of the system by valves and serves only to record the brake request. The heart of the new brake is a hydraulic unit below the hood, which, in addition to the electronic control unit, also combines the wheel pressure modulator, the accumulator and the electric pump: SBC(TM) offers significantly enhanced ride safety in emergency situations.
On emergency braking: SBC(TM) recognizes a quick switch by the driver from the accelerator to the brake pedal as an indication of an emergency situation and reacts automatically. With the aid of the high-pressure accumulator, the system increases the pressure in the brake cables at lightning speed and applies the pads to the brake discs, which can then act immediately with full force when the driver steps on the brake pedal. As a result of Brake Assist, which also triggers earlier, and the ABS control, which operates closer to optimum wheel slip during braking, the stopping distance from a speed of 120 km/h is shortened by around 3%.
Where there is a risk of skidding: SBC(TM) collaborates with the Electronic Stability Program (ESP(TM)), which keeps the vehicle safely on track using specific brake impulses at individual wheels and/or by reducing the engine torque. ESP (R)can stabilize a swerving vehicle early and, at the same time comfortably. This also reduces the steering effort required on the part of the driver, who, thanks to support from SBC(TM) and ESP (R), now has less difficulty in keeping the car on course.
In the wet: Sensotronic Brake Control ensures, with regular, short brake impulses, that the film of water on the brake discs is wiped off so that SBC(TM) can always operate with full effectiveness. This automatic brake drying function is activated at intervals when the windscreen wiper has been operating for a specified time. The driver will not feel the finely modulated brake impulses.
When braking on bends: SBC(TM) offers more safety than a conventional braking system. Depending on the ride situation, the variable brake force distribution proves particularly advantageous in actively influencing self-steering of the vehicle. While conventional brake systems always meter the brake pressure at the wheels on the inside and on the outside of the bend in the same ratio, SBC(TM) offers the opportunity to apportion the brake force according to the situation. The system automatically increases the brake pressure at the wheels on the outside of the bend, because they can also transmit more brake force as a result of the higher wheel contact forces. At the same time, the brake force at the wheels on the inside of the bend is reduced to benefit the lateral traction forces which are important for directional stability. The result is more stable braking with optimum deceleration.
The Softstop Function
The so-called Softstop function is a further comfort feature in the new brake system. This enables the vehicle to come to a stop particularly smoothly without jolting, which is highly appreciated in stop-and-go traffic with frequent traffic lights. Sensitive pressure control makes this possible, as SBC(TM) reduces the brake servo action shortly before stopping, thereby preventing the characteristic jolt. The Softstop function is always active--the system only gives priority to rapid deceleration during emergency braking or slow maneuvering.
The E500 has large-format, internally ventilated brake discs at the front wheels. These measure 330mm in diameter. At the rear axle, are internally ventilated disc brakes with a diameter of 300mm. For the first time the front and rear calipers are made of aluminum.
At A Glance
E500 Technological Options (European models)
Active seat ventilation: Mini-ventilators allow air to flow through the seat interior; in conjunction with leather upholstery
Auxiliary ventilation: Solar cells in the roof supply the power to drive the ventilation fan of the automatic climate control system, cooling the interior when the saloon is parked; in conjunction with panoramic sliding sunroof
Bi-xenon headlamps: Powerful gas discharge lamps for dipped and high beam improve safety at night.
"Bluetoooth" telephone: Fixed telephone installation allows cable-free telephoning in the interior of the new E-Class.
COMAND APS: The system integrates radio, DVD player, TV unit, navigation system and telephone operation.
DISTRONIC: Intelligent cruise control keeps the sedan at the right distanceDynamic multicontour seat: The backrest contours automatically adapt to the driving situation.
Easy Entry: When getting out, the steering wheel automatically moves upwards and the seat moves to the rear to allow the driver more freedom of movement.
E-mail: E-mails appear on the Audio 50 APS and COMAND APS display if a telephone is installed.
Four-zone THERMOTRONIC: This newly developed system enables the temperature and airflow to be individually controlled for each of the four seats.
Heated steering wheel: Heating wires warm the rim of the steering wheel.
Infra-red reflection: The windows reflect the infra-red component in sunlight, thereby improving climatic comfort.
Integral child seats: The child booster seats emerge from the rear seat unit at the touch of a button.
KEYLESS-GO: The doors and boot lid may be opened without the use of a key. Key-operated memory function: The seat and mirror positions as well as the settings for four-zone THERMOTRONIC are stored in the microchip of the electronic ignition key. LINGUATRONIC: The radio, CD player, telephone and now also the navigation system can be voice-controlled. optional with Audio 50 APS or COMAND APS, Panoramic sliding sunroof: The glass roof extends from the windscreen to the rear end.
Short Message Service: SMS messages are shown on the display of the Audio 50 APS unit and COMAND system if a telephone/mobile phone is connected.
Sound system: A new multi-channel system provides surround-sound on every seat with Audio 50 APS or COMAND APS
Split-fold Rear Seat: A 1:2 split rear bench in which the head restraints automatically fold backwards, and then swing forwards together with the backrest to nestle in a supported position in the specially contoured base of the seat cushion.
TELEAID: An SOS message is automatically sent and relayed to a service center in the event of an accident; in conjunction with fixed telephone installation
TELEDIAGNOSIS: Important data for breakdown assistance are relayed to the Mercedes-Benz Customer Assistance Center at the touch of a button. TELEAID is a technical requirement
Tire pressure monitoring: The air pressure of the tires is automatically monitored.
As the first-ever production diesel car was a Mercedes-Benz, you would expect the oldest car maker in the world to be accomplished in the art of oil burning motors. In practice, they have the most complete range of any car maker with four, five, six and V8 cylinder turbo-diesels.
The high tax on fuel in all European countries, coupled to the not inconsiderable fuel economy advantages of diesel does concentrate the mind. No wonder that around 40% of Mercedes-Benz cars sold in Germany last year were diesels. Mercedes also pushed the boat out last year by offering the 220 CDI motor in the C-Class Sport Coupe, making this the worlds first oil-burning coupe. Needless to say, it is one of the best selling models.
The emissions argument that diesels are smoky and polluting no longer holds true with the latest generation of engines. Using state-of-the-art technology like common-rail injection and ECU-controlled variable geometry impeller blades to maximize turbocharger efficiency, the latest oil-burners are clean, frugal and powerful. With torque outputs significantly exceeding those of equivalent petrol engines at much lower crankshaft speeds, driving these cars is also a more relaxed experience.
The latest generation of four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz diesel engines, made its debut in the C-Class and the new E-Class. Featuring direct diesel injection and twin gear-driven contra-rotating balancer shafts, it is even smoother, quieter and more efficient. With 150 bhp on tap, acceleration is brisk rather than strong, but the 251 lb-ft of torque developed at 2000 rpm is ample to keep the new E220 CDI moving swiftly through the traffic; 0-to-60 mph takes 10.0 sec., top speed is 131 mph and you can expect to average over 37 mpg.
When you start the engine from cold, it still clatters a bit, but once it is warm and you are moving, the sound of the motor recedes into the background. Cruising on the motorway, it almost completely disappears and at 80 mph you have absolutely no inkling that there is a four-cylinder compression-ignition motor hammering away under the sleek bonnet. The near absence of wind noise underlines the overall refinement.
The five-cylinder turbo diesel in the E270 CDI is another kettle of fish altogether. With 177 bhp at 4200 rpm and 295 lb-ft between 1800 and 2600 rpm (314 lb-ft at 2000 rpm for the automatic), it is a keen revver and sounds like an Audi quattro when stirred through the gears to its 8.9-sec. 0-to-60-mph time and 143-mph top speed.
When the previous (W210) E-Class was facelifted in 1999, it also received a new flagship turbo-diesel model, the E320 CDI. This common-rail straight-six features an ECU-controlled variable-vane impeller for its turbocharger and delivered 197 bhp at 4200 rpm. The piece de resistance, however, is its massive torque, 347 lb-ft from 1800 to 260 rpm, a staggering 42% increase over the outgoing E300 TD. This brilliant engine, which propels the car to 60mph in just 8.2 sec and on to 143 mph. The fact that it also returns over 35 mpg is icing on the cake.
With its stump-pulling torque, the 320 CDI motor would have been a natural for the ML-Class SUV, but as a straight-six is too long to fit under the hood. European diesel fans thus have to make do with the ML270 CDI. This will be remedied at the end of 2002 however, when an all-new 3.2-liter V6 turbo-diesel with direct-injection takes its place in the new E-Class. Despite the E320 CDI's very high performance, it will not be the flagship E-Class diesel. The popularity of diesels in Europe is such that the stunning 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 400 CDI motor from the S-Class will also find its way into the new E-Class in the coming months. With 250 bhp and 413 lb-ft of torque, it hammers the last nails into the coffin of any argument that oil burners cannot be smooth and powerful.