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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - E430 Elegance sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, on-road competence, build quality
Room for improvement
MBTex imitation leather, lacking in equipment compared to equivalent BMW

17 May 2001

THERE is not a spoiler in sight, no flagrant side skirts, aggressive alloys or obvious matt black mesh grilles.

Simply an E-class body, sober-suited interior and wider tyres. There is not even a twin chromed exhaust tailpipe to give the game away.

It is typical German understatement from Stuttgart, a restrained approach for a car that is anything but.

The new generation V8, 4.3-litre, three-valve, 205kW engine transforms the E-class from staid sedan to road-burner in a single bound.

It is a development of the recent family of V6 engines, Mercedes' first, and it is one of the biggest yet, except for the E55 5.5-litre V8 monster that gives even the latest BMW M5 and Audi S8 supercar sedans a run for their money.

But back to reality. The slick E320 V6 is not exactly slow or dull but instantly pales before the might of the E430.

Weighty but not over-heavy steering, a slick gear change and suspension that allows the car to ride so smoothly over bad roads you hardly notice the surface changing, mark this car as significantly above average in the dynamics department.

The extra grunt comes at a price. There is not much extra equipment to keep little hands happy in traffic. The fruitiest thing about the car is the motor.

Unlike its nearest competitor, BMW's 540i, there is no on-board television, no standard phone system, no Steptronic gearbox shifter and no adjustable lumbar support for the front seats.

Yes, Mercedes' seats are among the best in the business but BMW offers a wider choice of fine-tuning.

The E430 has Benz's electronic stability program (ESP), climate control air-conditioning - complete with an intelligent charcoal filter that switches to recirculate when it sniffs out noxious exhaust fumes - and fog lamps front and rear.

Climate control is part of the V8 package and removes the hallmark driver-friendly temperature control wheels that could be adjusted without taking your eyes off the road. The new control pad is stacked with two layers of identically sized and shaped buttons to tap.

The V8 also comes with cruise control and speed limiter, electric adjust front seats and steering wheel with three memories and four airbags, one in the side of each front door - not the seats as in Audi - and one in the passenger's side dash and steering wheel.

The seats are covered in leather that too closely resembles Benz's infamous leather-look vinyl MBTex, and are devoid of sumptuousness.

In line with modern requirements of the class, the ashtray and grab handles have a damped action as has the boot lid once released by an electric remote switch on the centre console.

Mercedes promises satellite navigation will be along shortly.

The engine is a fine instrument, blasting the car away from standstill with a modicum of force, reigned in by the ESP traction control linked to the anti-lock brakes and the fuel- injection system.

The ESP's yellow warning triangle's blinking frequency is directly proportional to the amount of right foot employed.

At idle at 600rpm, there is just the hint of a V8 throb emanating from behind the bulkhead, pulsating enticingly through the car's body.

Step-off is refined but effective and once on the move the proverbial tidal wave of torque wafts the car to vast speeds without fuss or unnecessary noise.

Blossoming torque wheels into action as low as 1500rpm. Keep on to 3500rpm and you will rustle up a discrete V8 rumble that adds the sense of urgency as the car accelerates.

It is half menacing and half apologetic that it is intruding on the in-car conversation. Swing the tacho needle through at least 3750rpm to generate the bark which becomes a cultured scream as the red line nears.

Augmenting the welcome injection of grunt from the extra pair of cylinders is a slicker overall feel to the rest of the car.

The standard issue stiff throttle pedal has been replaced by one with a much freer action, allowing smoother forward progress.

The gearbox has a quintet of well chosen ratios that slip sublimely one after another as you weave through traffic, with nary a bump or thump.

Hold the box in second and offer a full serve of revs to the red line for the ultimate in thrilling Benz boost.

If the E430 is any guide, Merc's goal of putting more fun into its products has been achieved - royally.

- Automotive NetWorks 05/07/1999

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