1998 Mercedes Benz E ClassEnlarge Photo
The E55, a high-performance version of the E-Class sedan, will be a late-1999 model. Also coming late this year is an AMG, high-performance version of the M-Class sport-utility, the ML55. The ML55 is powered by a 5.5-liter version of the new-generation Mercedes V-8 engine that produces more than 340 horsepower (hp). Imagine a sport-utility vehicle that gets from 0-to-60 mph in 7.0 seconds. It's estimated to be in the mid-$60,000 range.
The completely redesigned S-Class will arrive this spring as a 2000-model. The lineup will consist of two V-8 powered sedans: the S430, equipped with a 275-hp 4.3-liter V-8, and the S500, with a 302-hp 5.0-liter V-8. Both vehicles use extensive aluminum and lightweight steel to make them about 500 pounds lighter than their predecessors. The S430 starts at $69,700; the S500 starts at $77,850. For your money, you get loads of technology, including distance-monitoring cruise control. Criticized in the past for being too big and too heavy, this leaner version is 2.0 inches shorter, 1.5 inches lower and
1.5 inches narrower, although most interior dimensions have increased.
Mercedes is also adding new versions of existing models with engines that are more powerful or with new features. A new four-seat CLK320 Cabriolet model joins the CLK line. And a new 275-hp V-8 CLK430 coupe model joins the CLK320. A new sport-utility vehicle with a 268-hp V-8 engine, the ML430, joins the ML320.
A manual five-speed transmission is now available on the SLK roadster, along with the standard five-speed automatic. A new optional Sport package is available. The SL roadster has a redesigned instrument cluster and styling refinements inside and out.
The news about the C-Class sedan is that a C230 Kompressor model replaces the normally aspirated C230 four-cylinder engine. This new model features the supercharged 2.3-liter engine from the SLK. The CL coupes have no changes.
Safety features are more available throughout the various lines. A curtain-type side airbag debuts in 1999 E-Class sedans, providing additional head and upper body protection for front and rear occupants. BabySmart has been added to the M-Class, making this child-seat-recognition system standard throughout the line. The system automatically prevents the passenger-side front airbag from deploying when a BabySmart-compatible child seat is present. Brake Assist has been added to the M-Class and SLK, making it standard throughout the line. The system senses panic stops and applies full braking faster than most drivers can, which means shorter stopping distances. Electronic Stability Program, which helps prevent slides and spins, is now standard on the M-Class, SL500 and CLK430. Full-range traction control is now standard on all passenger-car models.