Mercedes E-Class sports fresh look for 2007

Changes made for the 2007 E-Class may look minor on the outside, but they improve the driver's sense he is connected to the road. (Associated Press)

The 2007 Mercedes-Benz E-Class doesn't qualify as a bargain for most consumers.

But anyone with $50,000 to spend on a luxury, midsize car now gets a deal of sorts with the E-Class because Mercedes made the Sport version of the car a no-cost upgrade on 2007 E350 and E550 sedans.

Thus, handsome, 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels, dual exhaust, sporty, white-face gauges, blue-tint windows and lowered suspension add nothing to the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $51,325 for a 2007 Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan with V-6.

Officials explained they want to get more new customers to dealerships and such "conquest" buyers are often sport-oriented.

Mercedes also restrained pricing for the new, 2007 E320 Bluetec sedan, which ranks as the cleanest diesel-powered car in the world and can travel more than 600 miles on a single tank of fuel.

The E320 Bluetec sedan, with the best U.S. fuel mileage rating of any mid-size luxury car at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, starts just $1,000 above the base E-Class price, or $52,325.

E-Class competitors, which don't offer diesel engines in the United States, include other luxury mid-size sedans such as the 2007 BMW 5-Series, which starts at $45,470 with six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, and the 2007 Audi A6, which starts at $45,820 with V-6, automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.

Available with four engine choices and in sedan and wagon bodies, all E-Class cars come with standard automatic transmissions and many features including dual-zone climate control, 10-way, power adjustable front seats, six air bags and stability control.

New standard equipment includes a sunroof as well as Mercedes' high-tech PreSafe safety system that automatically closes windows, positions the driver seat properly and readies seat belt tensioners if it senses a frontal crash is imminent. All-wheel drive remains an option.

But the 2007 E-Class has the same four-out-of-five-star rating from the federal government in frontal crash testing as its predecessor, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 2007 E-Class does receive a five out of five stars in side crash testing.

The E-Class is important at Mercedes, where it stakes out the middle family and business car territory.

In fact, last year's sales of 50,195 in the United States made the E-Class the best-selling Mercedes as it eclipsed the smaller, lower-priced Mercedes C-Class.

For 2007, the E-Class changes look minor from the outside, with a subtly larger grille, sportier front air dam, new outside mirrors and better cupholders, among other things.

But actually, some 2,000 parts on the car are new. Changes range from more precise steering and suspension retuning to more powerful V-8s and a new, seven-speed, automatic on most two-wheel drive models.

Many of the changes improve the driver's sense that he or she is connected to the road. The car feels well-controlled, even when navigating big road bumps and quick emergency maneuvers at speed.

But the ride overall remains refined, not harsh, and the interior is hushed and well-arranged.

Materials inside look high quality, and the test car, a 2007 E320 Bluetec sedan, had excellent fit and finish.

It also illustrated just how far diesel engines have come.

Starting up, I hardly noticed this was a diesel auto, because the usual diesel engine clatter never materialized.

But the impressive, 400 foot-pounds of torque were there, coming on strongly as low as 1,600 rpm. This substantial, almost 3,900-pound car surged forward smoothly and powerfully.

The get-up-and-go power from the new, 3.2-liter, double overhead cam, turbodiesel Bluetec V-6 is more like what you'd expect from a V-8. Indeed, the 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 available in the E-Class only has peak torque of 258 foot-pounds at 2,400 rpm.

It's true the diesel V-6 has less horsepower -- 208 vs. the gasoline V-6's 268 -- but even on highways, I didn't run out of power in the diesel sedan.

Better yet, I passed other vehicles easily and quickly. Peak torque is available all the way to 2,400 rpm.

Drivers no doubt will appreciate the diesel's fuel efficiency, even if they might have to go beyond their neighborhood filling station to find one that stocks diesel.