Home - Mercedes-Benz - E-Class - 2003 E-Class
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contents of this article
Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Specs | Pictures

1. Model Lineup 4. Driving Impressions
2. Walkaround 5. Final Word
3. Interior Features  

This is a Mercedes-Benz, a brand identified for decades by technological advancements, so there's more to the new E-Class than meets the eye. Underneath are a redesigned multilink suspension, structural enhancements and new technology that delivers tangible benefits to both driver and passengers. Much of this is trickle-down from Mercedes' engineering flagships: the full-size, $120,000 CL600 Coupe and the $90,000 SL Roadster. One such system is Sensotronic Brake Control, which might be called brake-by-wire. The connection between the brake pedal and reservoir of brake fluid is electronic, not mechanical or hydraulic. The advantage? The electronic system can apply brakeClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class picture force to each wheel independently, helping to keep the car traveling straight and true during panic stops, even on bumpy, uneven roads. It will also keep the brakes on full in an emergency situation, as measured by sensors, even if driver eases off, a common mistake. And if it's raining, the system periodically, lightly, applies the brakes to sweep them dry.
Airmatic Dual Control suspension, standard on our E500 and included with the sport package option on the E320, replaces conventional steel coil springs with air springs. This computer-managed system adds more or less air pressure to the spring at each wheel, based on road conditions or driving style, to slightly soften or firm the ride and add or decrease body roll (the left or right lean when the car turns). In combination with electronically adjusted shock absorbers, the ADC suspension can automatically improve ride quality or handling characteristics, or optimize the balance of the two, depending on where the car is traveling and whether the driver is dawdling or going quickly. The system works automatically, without switching suspension settings between sport and comfort.

No new Mercedes would be complete without safety advances. E-Class cars come standard with eight airbags (dual front airbags, side bags for front and rear, and head-protection curtains that run the length of the cabin on both sides). The 2003 E-Class also employs a new airbag management system with more impact sensors, designed to more precisely control the timing and rate of deployment. The system accounts for the weight of a front-seat passenger, and controls seat belt pretensioners according to the force of impact.

The 2003 Mercedes E-Class is as attractive inside as it is outside. The dashboard applies what Mercedes calls a "double sweep" cockpit theme, meaning that the lines sweep from each side and blend into the doors and center console. The wood trim (maple stained nearly black with the sport package) is complemented by splashes of chrome throughout. The plastic panels, quite rich in the old E-Class, are even better thanks to a new soft-touch finishing process. All are sprayed with a polyurethane coating that delivers impressively consistent colorClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class picture and appearance.

The instrument cluster has white script on black gauges with sharp LED lighting, creating little eyestrain even after hours in the driver's seat. There's a big speedometer in the middle, with a menu-operated display for diagnostics, feature selection, ambient temperature, date and other information at the speedo's center. To the left sits a large analog clock, to the right the tachometer. On either end of the cluster are neat bar gauges that resemble thermometers, displaying fuel level and coolant temperature. Overhead, dual sun visors on both sides allow driver and passenger to swing one across the side window and still have full protection in front. Between the visors on the headliner sit a cluster of switches controlling cabin lighting and the telematic SOS call button. On our E500, this panel also included a switch to open and close the expansive sunroof shade, which unrolls front and rear from the center of the cabin. Switches for the Homelink package are located on the bottom of the rearview mirror. The new E-Class has duplicate controls on the steering wheel hub to operate the phone, radio and information display.

Climate controls are set across a narrow strip below the center dash vents and above the radio controls. The E-Class features set-and-forget automatic operation, but it also allows full manual override of heating or air conditioning, and full control of airflow for foot, dash or windshield vents. Moreover, besides theClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class picture separate temperature adjustments, the E-Class allows different airflow directions on either side of the car, via simple radial dials for both driver and passenger. The passenger can choose heat from the foot vents, for example, while the driver selects dash vents. The heating and cooling controls are easy to find and operate.
We can't say the same about the main audio and telephone controls. Centered around a new LCD display screen, the buttons look better than those in some competitors, but they can be much more difficult to operate. The multi-layer E-Class system is actually an improvement over that in the more expensive S-Class, but it still isn't particularly easy to use. We presume that a driver gets used to such things, but it will take time in this car. Be prepared to invest time learning the audio and phone controls.

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Below the audio package is a single row of switches for door locks, flashers and seat heaters. A pop-up panel reveals the CD changer. The console has a pop-up cupholder and a large storage bin (two when not equipped with the telephone package). There are good-sized bins in each door and map pockets on the front seat backs. The glove-box release is all the way left on the box, within easy reach of the driver, next to a slide-out change drawer. The glove-box has a full-length dividing shelf, but it's not particularly large.

The front seats are first rate firm enough for good support, but not hard. We can't speak for those of large stature, but drivers of medium build or smaller will certainly appreciate them. Some seats leave smaller drivers sliding across the surface between the bolsters when the car changes direction. The E-Class seats grip firmly, even if you weight less than 180 pounds, and there's more thanClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class picture enough adjustment (using Mercedes' patented seat-shaped controls) to accommodate just about everyone.
There's plenty of headroom and decent legroom in back, though there could be more. Unless the front seat bottoms are raised all the way (likely only with short drivers), there isn't enough room for rear passengers to slide their feet under them, depriving the long-legged of some valuable stretching space. Beyond that, the E-Class's back seat has nearly all the comforts of home. There are air vents for both sides, a fan-speed switch and, in our E500, separate temperature adjustments for rear passengers; ashtrays in both doors and a 12-volt power point; reading lamps and a switch to operate the sunroof shade; a wide, fold-down center armrest with cupholders and divided storage. Headrests are provided for all three seating positions, and they can be retracted remotely with a button in front when not in use.

The 2003 E-Class lacks something that's increasingly common in cars of this type: a folding seatback or some pass-through system that allows longer items such as skis to be placed in the trunk. The trunk is, on the other hand, one of the largest in the class. With 15.9 cubic feet of space, the E has more cargo volume than the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Lexus GS, and Cadillac Seville. It's even larger than the trunk in Mercedes' full-size S-Class. The trunk floor is as long as it is wide, with load height just above the bumper. This, as we joke in the business, is a three-stiff trunk. Just think how many golf bags that would be.

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