To say the E-Class is an important model for Mercedes would be an understatement. Unlike rival BMW who makes more than half of its sales on its entry-level 3 series, the entry-level C-Class models comprise only 19% of Mercedes sales, and at one time the E-Class represented a sizeable 30%. It is therefore a critical model, one that benefits Mercedes when it prospers and drags it down when it stumbles.
And did it ever stumble. When introduced in 2002 as the all-new 2003 model, reviewers hailed the $2 billion project with enthusiasm, especially praising the technology and much-improved styling. Demand soared, 6 month waiting lists were reported, and the E-Class excitement was on. But shortly after launch, Mercedes realized something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong. The trickle of customer complaints soon turned into a tidal wave, prompting the formation of a 200-strong engineering SWAT team dedicated to fixing flaws. Everything from axle sleeves to electronics were replaced or redesigned, and with quality issues no longer confined to the infamous M-class, the damage to Mercedes’ image was nothing short of detrimental.
It’s within this context that the mid-cycle 2007 E-Class makes its debut. Although visually similar to the 2003-2006 model, Mercedes is quick to point out that over 2,000 parts are new or revised. The exterior houses a new front bumper, lower air dam, grille, headlights and tail-lights. Standard equipment now include sunroof, 6-CD changer with Harman/Kardon sound system, and PRE-SAFE anticipatory safety system. Omitted from the press release was the removal of the problematic drive-by-wire system, originally introduced as a major safety innovation but proving more as a major headache after two recalls.
The most impressive upgrade is the new 382 hp 5.5 liter 8-cylinder engine, which improves output 27% and results in a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. That edges out BMW’s 550i, which has 360 hp and goes 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. But the ultimate driving machine may get the ultimate victory. In its third year, the 5 series sold 22,636 units compared to the E-Class’ 16,507 for the first five months of 2006. If the revised E-Class fails to top the 5 series this year, then it will almost certainly capitulate next year’s sales race, where BMW introduces the mid-cyle 5 series. The next closest competitor is the vulnerable Lexus GS series, whose sales are down 6% in its second year. Therefore, the time for Mercedes’ star to shine is now.