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Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The E-Class is completely new this year, and headlines Mercedes 2003 lineup. Boasting swept-back styling in the vein of the elegant, yet pricier S-Class, the new E is available now as a sedan and soon, a wagon.

Engine choices are familiar: either the E320's 3-valve 3.2-liter V-6 that produces 221-hp and 232 lb-ft of torque, and the E500's 5.0-liter V-8 that produces 302-hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. Both models get a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. Unfortunately, likely is that the wagon won't get the V-8, save some electoral recount within the bean-counters' offices. Bummer.

What all-new E-Class models share, however, are boatloads of technology. An air suspension is available on the E320, standard on the E500. Side curtain air bags compliment the side torso air bags, and every other safety innovation you can think of is standard as well, including a new "brake-by-wire" system that takes the mechanics out of braking (although there is a mechanical backup system, just to be, um, safe).

The interior is nothing short of cool -- literally. A trick optional Panorama sunroof integrates solar cells in the roof that power fans to keep the interior cool on hot days. The sweeping dash design mimics that of other M-B models like the CLK and S-Class, and the seats are outstanding.

We really wish that the COMAND system navigation/HVAC/stereo control screen was more intuitive to use, but either it's getting better with every iteration or we're getting better at using it. Perhaps both. Still it would take more than that to tarnish the shining beauty of the E-Class, a great car that has more than earned the prestigious 3-pointed star on its hood.