First Glance: Styling changes outside and in
The taillights now have a large clear center section housing the turn flasher and backup lights. Sport models get LED taillights and big twin chrome tailpipe tips. (The Luxury also gets dual exhaust, but the tailpipes are tucked under the bumper.) Look closely and you'll see that the Sport gets a slight bluish tinge to the glass, while the Luxury gets green.
The Luxury's interior looks much like last year's model, aside from a new steering wheel with cool soft-touch buttons. Sport models get a darker, more purposeful interior with black maple wood trim in place of the Luxury's brown walnut, plus white-face gauges and contrasting colors on seats and door panels. My only major complaint has to do with the Luxury's light-colored dash: In direct sun the reflected glare off the windshield was brutal. Glare wasn't a problem with the black dash of the Sport I drove.
In the Driver's Seat: The equipment you expect in a $50k-$60k car
The 2007 E's center console is just as button-happy and complex as last year's model, but the phone keypad now works with Bluetooth phones. (Previously the keypad was a dud unless you bought the optional built-in phone.) Also new on the standard equipment list: A premium Harmon-Kardon stereo system with six-disc CD changer.
Interior space is generous up front; one unusually tall journalist told me the new E was one of the few cars that accommodated him comfortably. Unfortunately, I had to sit behind this guy, and were it not for the deep cutouts scooped into the seatback, I wouldn't have been able to do it without having my knees surgically removed.
On the Road: Power, power, and more power
The trip computers reported MPG in the mid-20s in the E350 and low 20s in the E550, impressive considering how much power these cars have (and how often I was using it). The 7-speed automatic, standard in both cars, no doubt contributed to the rear-wheel-drive E's great mix of power and economy.
The E550 gets standard air springs that give it a smoother ride with better body control in the curves. Traditional steel springs give the E350 a harsher ride but also make it feel smaller and more nimble. Both cars get lower steering ratios for '07, meaning that less steering wheel movement is required to turn the car. I thought the steering was wonderful on windy roads, but straight-line freeway driving required constant tiny corrections.
Journey's End: New E-Class is well worth the price
With the 2007 E-Class, that's no longer the case. Thanks to premium features such the two-row sunroof, Harmon-Kardon stereo, Bluetooth phone integration and choice of Luxury or Sport packages, the new E350 earns its $50,550 base price. And the sparkling performance of the V8 and competence of the air suspension justify the extra $8,450 for the E550.
Is it perfect? Not quite. Though I like the improved steering response in the curves, I wish it wasn't such a chore to pilot the E in a straight line. And Mercedes' option prices, not available at time of writing, are traditionally quite lofty. That said, Mercedes staffers alluded to package pricing in keeping with the E-Class' new-found value equation.
If I had $50 to $60k to spend on a car, the old E-Class wouldn't have been my first choice. But the 2007 is a totally different story. With its new-found emphasis on style and value, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a much better car -- and a much better buy.