- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

With worldwide sales down for every automaker, it’s essential for Mercedes-Benz to keep the market share it has and perhaps grab a little more from its competitors. Mercedes has been on a roll with the E-Class for decades, but still faces the same challenge as the rest of the auto industry - how to make a really good car even better.

The time-proven solution is to continuously improve. Mercedes has done just that with the new 2010 E-Class sedan and coupe. The E-Class sedan comes in Sport and Luxury trims, a strategy that expands its appeal to a wider range of customers. Luxury models have a comfort suspension, while Sport models use stiffer shocks and springs.

To tell the sedan and coupe apart at a glance, the sedan has a three-pointed star on the hood, and the coupe has an entirely different look with a large star emblem in the center of its grille.

E-Class interiors are sure to meet expectations of upscale shoppers. Even though there are more features, controls are easier to use. That’s because many functions can be operated in several ways, such as via a central controller or the steering wheel where six buttons can be programmed to control driver-selected functions.

Almost any driver can get comfortable in the newly designed 14-way adjustable power front seats that can be upgraded with active ventilated seats, an option first introduced in the S-Class. Fan driven air flows evenly from the perforated leather seat upholstery, adding real comfort on long trips or in hot, humid climates where leather upholstery can get sticky.

For those who have to be in touch with everything all of the time, the Command system can be equipped with GPS navigation, an iPod/MP3 interface, Sirius satellite radio, HD radio, real-time traffic information and a voice-control system for the audio, navigation and phone systems.

E350 models feature a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The V-6 is totally satisfactory — until you try the 5.5-liter V-8. Its 382 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft. of torque provide instant gratification at the slightest touch on the accelerator.

All models use the Mercedes-Benz seven-speed automatic transmission that provides smooth, barely noticeable gearshifts. Driving normally, you have to watch the tachometer to tell when the transmission shifts.

The E-Class introduces several new safety features, some of which are not yet available on the S-Class. Attention Assist couples a steering sensor with intelligent software to identify the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy. It monitors 70 different parameters to calculate a driver’s level of fatigue and drowsiness and alerts the driver with a display that says, “Time for a rest?”

Lane Keeping Assist alerts the driver by simulating rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane unintentionally. Images from a small camera are used to identify and monitor traffic lanes. The warning vibration is much less intrusive than the beeping alert used by other automakers.

Blind Spot Assist uses two radar sensors in the sides of the rear bumper to watch the blind-spot area. When a vehicle enters the blind spot, a red triangle appears in the respective outside mirror. If the driver actuates the turn signal with a vehicle in the blind spot, a warning tone sounds.

Night View Assist covers the road ahead with infrared light - invisible to the human eye from two infrared projector beams mounted in the headlights. An infrared camera output is displayed on the command screen as a detailed black-and-white video image. A plus version detects pedestrians ahead of the car and highlights them on the display, greatly improving the warning effect.

Other recent innovations include optional automatic emergency braking, which activates in 0.6 seconds before an imminent crash.

On sale now, 2010 E-Class prices start at $49,475 for the E-350, and $57,175 for the E-550 sedans, which is up to $5,400 less than current models.

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