LOOKS . Adventuresome
HANDLING . Assured
AMBIANCE . Interesting
COMFORT . Well Defined
STEREO . Impressive
FUN TO DRIVE . Of Course
HEADS TURNED . Social Climbers
EMOTION . Confidence
CACHET . Playboy


Sticker . $45,840
Power . 217 horsepower
0 to 60 . 7 to 8 sec.
Test Mileage . 21.4 mpg
Seating . 5
Trunk . 13.7 cubic feet
Parking . Arrogant


Those Germans are aggressive and Mercedes is pushing hard to conquer the luxury market. New thinking, new styling and new sensations are driving this push for market share. They are doing very well at it too. Used to be that Mercedes was a daddy's car, big, solid, ponderous and most of all imposing, in stature and behind the wheel. The 320 twists all that into a sleeker, faster, svelter idiom.

Mercedes structure has always been stout, but the old ones literally looked hewn from a block of steel too. The 320 is a much softer form. Graceful and well curved, like a big blond with tasteful jewelry. Serious, but playful and imaginative. Very seductive, in a mature sort of way. The interior is very flashy with lots of bizarre Mercedes touches. Enough real and ersatz walnut for an Alpine chalet, draped in folds of fine grey leather. Captain's chairs, that go every which way imaginable, including power headrests, that one could actually rest a weary head upon and a commanding road view, complete with hood star. A kickin' stereo that liked the decibels laid on. A whizbang periscope cupholder and various tricky luxury bits, some of dubious virtue. Excellent auto climate controls, if one left them alone; a good idea, given the complexity of their command. A snug, but comfortable rear cabin. An interior that marries the best of old world German craft skill with high tech design and features.

A twist of the weird switchblade key, (not too far - or the trunk will pop - huh?) and a certain mechanical & satisfying hum appears. Off we go, quickly as it were - the 4 valve six features tons of power on top. Driven aggressively the E320 flies; leisurely command proves less rapid as the midrange is soft. Steering is lighter and more accurate than any previous Benz, almost BMW class now. A certain hum, mechanical & satisfying Ah, the E class on the open road . . not quite the ride of Lexus, but very smooth; not as crisp as BMW, a certain vagueness off center, but very secure; not totally silent as the thump thump of road dots is audible; but a very well chosen balance of ride, agility and isolation.

The E 320 is an excellent automobile, fully capable of bearing the load of prestige and expectation that come with the three pointed star. Nice flavor, luxury/sport. The neighbors will notice.