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'Bahn Razors: 1999-2002 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG


Here's to the good life...

The Mercedes-Benz 500E and E500 of the early 1990s was (and still is) a spectacular sport sedan, so much so that the folks behind the three-pointed star knew it would be hard to cook up a worthy sequel. But thanks in no small part to longtime Benz tuning firm and, since 2005, wholly owned subsidiary AMG, the Fünfhundert’s successor was at least as athletic as its forbear. Its name: E55 AMG.

The W210-series E-Class – introduced for the 1996 model year – marked a bold new direction for Mercedes-Benz. It featured radical new styling up front, dominated by four large, ovoid lamps. The ovoid theme continued at the rear, with elliptical back-up light details complimenting the company’s trademark horizontally ribbed taillight lenses. In the U.S., standard engines were a 3.2L 24-valve inline-six (replaced by a 3.2L 18-valve V6 in 1998), a 3.0L 24-valve diesel inline-six (replaced by a turbocharged version in 1998), and a 4.2L 32-valve V8 (replaced by a 4.3L 24-valve V8 in – all together now - 1998). All were paired with automatic transmissions: 4-speeds in ’96, 5-speeds for ’97 onward. But it wasn’t until 1999 (for the U.S. market) that the E-Class once again had a true hot rod version. The Herren und Damen at AMG bumped the 24-valve SOHC V8 (which was also offered in 5.0L form in the larger Benzes) up to 5.4L; the increase in displacement (along with other upgrades) launched output skyward, specifically 349hp and 391 lb./ft of torque. The lone transmission was, as with its more mundane siblings, a 5-speed automatic. However, the brakes were bigger, the suspension was firmer, and the styling was slightly more aggressive, but not enough to tip off the average motorist or, more importantly, law enforcement official to the sort of strudel-fed muscle lurking under the hood. A 2000 facelift for the whole E range lowered that hood slightly, as well as adding more conventional-looking taillights and some interior upgrades. But the basic foundation remained the same and, in the case of the E55 AMG, why would you want to change it when it already turned in 0-60 sprints in the low fives and had to be reined in at 155 mph, lest it violate the German passenger car manufacturers’ gentlemen’s agreement regarding top speeds? Exactly.

Prices for high mileage examples start in the low-teens, while pristine examples can occasionally breach the $20k mark. Reliability of major components like the engine is generally very good, but because the W210 E was one of the first new Benzes developed after the W140 S-Class, a.k.a. the Billion Dollar Baby, the engineers were ordered to design many other parts – like the window regulators – down to a price. This lead to part failures that cost people who owned the cars out of warranty money, and cost the company a sizable chunk of its glowing reputation for quality and durability. In short, be sure to keep a repair budget set aside for the “little things” and maybe one or two biggies. But chances are you’ll be having too much fun driving your E55 to worry about those or any other things. Good luck with your search.

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