Imagine you changed significant-others weekly. Each proves attractive, but each is different. Some are terrific, and you want more time with them. Some you can't wait to show the door. After a while, however, you'd find it difficult to be impressed. Only the best would stand out. It's that way with auto writers. So be impressed when I say the 2004 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG is the greatest car I've tested in 15 years of weekly changes. Price as tested: $90,985. Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles basic.
You know there's something different about this Mercedes-Benz from the moment you lay eyes on it. It seems lower, sleeker, meaner-looking than other models. Look closer and you'll see four chrome-tipped exhaust tubes exiting beneath the rear bumper. You'll see the word "Kompressor" on each front fender. You'll see "AMG" on the right rear and "E55" on the left. Check out the 18-inch, twin-spoke alloy wheels. The tires are huge, befitting a car that can travel 155 mph on an Autobahn. There are special AMG designs for the air dam, rocker panels and rear apron. Inside, you must look closely to see differences. On the steering wheel, for instance, are two buttons. Move the transmission into manual shift mode and you can press the right button to upshift, the left to downshift. Our tester also had a "Panorama Sunroof" that runs from the windshield to the rear window. Only the front section opens, however. Optional solar panels in the panorama roof create power from sunlight and use it to ventilate the car while it's parked, keeping the cabin cooler. If the sun is too much, a rear window sunshade raises at the touch of a button. And to help night visibility, the bi-Xenon headlights turn with the car, to better illuminate a curve.
In the Driver's Seat
2004 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, Lean and MeanÂ© Robert C. Bowden
The driver's seat is unusual, to say the least. It resembles a race car seat. Wings at the base and sides are part of what Mercedes-Benz calls "Drive Dynamic Seats." They have to be felt to be believed. Go into a left turn, for instance, and the wings hold you firmly in place, but .. you'll feel the right wing puff up! There are air bladders in each wing that activate based on the direction of your turn. Amazing. In hot weather, press a switch downward and air conditioning ventilation comes through the base and back of the front seats. Or press the switch up and the seats are heated. If your E55 AMG has the Parktronic system, beeps and flashing lights inform you how close you're coming to an obstacle when parking. An "Airmatic" air suspension system keeps your E55 AMG level, even under hard cornering. Air shocks change pressure to prevent lean, squat or dive. Rear seat room is plentiful and the 2004 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG can seat five. Every imaginable safety feature is standard, including side air bags front and rear and a full-cabin head protection air cushion system. If an accident occurs, the car calls for assistance. Every control is at hand; every instrument is visible. Everything about this E55 feels perfect.
On the Road
What makes this an "AMG" is the hand-crafted, supercharged V-8 under the hood. That incredible engine produces a mind-blowing 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft. of torque. It's enough to rocket the E55 from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds! It's enough to run a quarter-mile in mid-12s. It's so fierce that full-bore acceleration from a standstill gave me a headache. Felt like I'd bitten into an ice cream cone. Zowee! And if you're cruising at 75 on the interstate, you have that same rush of power just a toe-tap away. This car passes with fervor possessed by few. A magazine recently tested the fastest production cars and the E55 AMG was one of the top eight. Fastest was a race car, so throw that one out. The rest were 2-seat sports cars, some with near-zero practicality. None could carry five in comfort. No, the E55 is unique. It is the world's fastest, finest sports sedan. Flip on cruise control and a radar beam measures distance to vehicles ahead. The car accelerates and brakes as needed in traffic. Even in fast, heavy traffic, it was superb; an electronic stability program is working all the time to keep you out of an accident by adjusting engine power and braking as needed. And the brakes are the biggest, strongest I've yet encountered.
Warning! AMG V-8 Kompressor Lives HereÂ© Robert C. Bowden
It's difficult to sum up the superiority of the 2004 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG in a few words. Its standard equipment, hidden six-stack CD, air conditioning, intelligent 5-speed automatic transmission and on and on , could fill this review. Many of its special features set the bar for others, but our tester also had a navigation system, voice-operated cell phone, satellite radio, electronic trunk closer, and hands-free communication system. Its performance and handling prowess is unmatched by any other sports sedan. It's a full-size car with Porsche/Ferrari zip. They, however, do not carry five in comfort or have a trunk that can swallow two suites' worth of luggage, plus golf bags. Yet for all its awesome power this car is easy to drive around town. It doesn't jerk those inside. Comfort is very good, considering those monster tires. Fuel economy of 21 mpg on the highway is better than a wheezy 6-cylinder Jeep Wrangler tested not long ago. Bottom line: This E55 is a supercar. It's an executive hot rod, the ultimate car to own if you have more than one friend and both power and prestige are your desire. The timid can drive it, but only the bold (and skilled) can hope to tame it. Pity the car that moves into my life next week.