Modern Classic Review – the CarAdvice team take time away from Australia’s new car landscape to look at machines we consider true modern classics.
What’s more, we’ll try to turn our focus to cars that haven’t quite fallen out of reach in terms of scarcity and affordability. Is there something on your radar? Let us know what modern classics you would like to see the team review.
Modern Classic: 2003–2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG (W211)
Got about $40,000 on the table for your next family sedan?
The angel on one shoulder might push you in the direction of a new Toyota Camry Hybrid, as it is in every way a smart, safe, efficient and ultimately sensible decision. The devil on the other however, simply leans toward your ear and makes the noise of a belt-driven supercharger winding up; wwrrRAAAAP.
The decision is all but made.
At launch, the W211 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG was the fastest production sedan in the world. Its 5.4-litre, supercharged V8 not only (nearly) matched the numbers on the badge, but wound out a solid 350kW and 700Nm to account for a cosseted blast to 100km/h in just 4.6 seconds.
|2003 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG (W211)|
|Engine configuration||Supercharged V8 petrol|
|Power||350kW @ 6100rpm|
|Torque||700Nm @ 2650-4000rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||193.2kW/t|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic (AMG Speedshift)|
|Price when new (MSRP)||$221,900|
|Colour||Brilliant Silver Metallic / Black Leather|
Today, this supercharged sled can be yours for the same price as that Camry. Sure the model is now over 15 years old, and our Brilliant Silver Metallic example here has just tripped over the 200,000km mark, but much of the technology is still current and the performance is certainly still impressive. But perhaps the most appealing feature of this E55, is that it was only available for four years, making it just that little bit more special.
Priced from $221,900 before options and on-road costs in 2003 (and rising to $225,600 for the remainder of its reign), the W211 E55 came well stacked for the time, with heated, power-adjustable seats, which included ‘dynamic bolsters’, a sunroof, satellite navigation and a multi-disc CD changer.
Bi-xenon projector headlamps with washers, chrome flourishes around the body and adaptive air suspension were all part of the full-tilt AMG package.
Our car adds front and rear parking sensors ($2090), a powered rear sunblind ($1250) and heated rear seats ($1075). Perhaps more impressively for the time, was an option of Distronic adaptive cruise control ($6590 – ouch!) and Linguatronic voice recognition ($1270), both of which might be commonplace now, but were sci-fi level tech inclusions back then.
Even with all this kit, there’s nothing stand-out impressive about the interior. It is plush and comfortable, but there are no lairy slabs of carbon-fibre or branded hallmarks to set the E55 apart. Subtle executive transportation at its finest, until you notice the white faced 320km/h speedo…
Amusingly, the COMAND infotainment system with its 6.5-inch screen flanked by shortcut buttons and a numeric keypad, still exists, albeit in a slightly newer form, in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz Vito.
On the outside, the W211 E-Class made big inroads to modernise the quad-lamp look of the W210-generation 'E. The shape of the large sedan became much more refined, particularly at the rear where the squared off tail, made famous by the original W124 E-Class, now tapers into large lamps and an integrated bumper.
It’s clean, even for a muscle car. No superfluous intakes or vents, just a clean, high spec Mercedes-Benz, sitting low on staggered 18-inch wheels (eight-inch front, nine-inch rear). There are unique AMG-Styling bumpers and skirts, but the only real hint at what lies beneath are the V8 Kompressor badges on each flank, and quad pipes out the back.
As lets’s face it, you want the E55 for what is crammed under the bonnet, the delicious M113K supercharged big-displacement V8.
The reason this generation E55 is so special is purely due to this engine. Its predecessor, the W210 E55 ran the naturally aspirated M113 5.4-litre V8, and its successor, the W211 E63 ran the 6.2-litre naturally aspirated M156 V8. Which makes this car a one-off model in the wwrrRAAAAP stakes.
Fire up the big saloon, and those 200,000km seem largely irrelevant. There’s a sharp bark from the four exhaust pipes, and a brief squeal from the IHI supercharger each time you lightly buzz the throttle.
As is true with most modern AMG models, the engineers from Affalterbach managed to install both wolf and sheep under the E55’s skin, even back in 2003. Potter about town with the transmission and suspension in their default comfort settings, and the ’55 is a big lazy sedan. Easy, docile, comfortable.
There’s a hint of the animal as you squeeze the throttle, but it never feels twitchy or eager, unless you want it to.
Tap the button next to the shifter to activate sport or manual mode, and change the damping settings for a slightly firmer feel, and the world’s fastest sport sedan seems a little more willing to show you why it won the title.
Don’t get me wrong, power delivery in 2003 was more Australia Post than UPS, and while there’s no organ-crushing rush from the lights, there’s a seemingly endless pull as the '55 starts to gather steam.
While peak power in the E55 doesn’t arrive until 6100rpm, things start getting very interesting once the supercharger spins up to its 23,000rpm maximum and the full slab of the 700Nm of torque hits from just 2650rpm. I know that’s a lot of rpms going on, but put simply, once the needle passes 3000, you are cleared for take off.
The ESP light will flicker if there’s even a hint of cold, damp or slick surface, but the 1812kg E55 stays sure to its trajectory and powers on with confidence. Everything runs through an AMG-Speedshift five-speed automatic transmission, which learns and adapts to your driving style, regardless of whether you leave it in ‘D’ or opt for the manual mode.
Shift changes can be enacted by ‘tipping’ the shifter or pressing the buttons (not paddles) on the back of the steering wheel. Being a five-speed torque-converter automatic, these shifts aren’t fast by 2020 standards, but it works both ergonomically and systematically, even if you can only tap up twice to remain under the speed limit!
Pace builds, the V8 snarl grows, the experience underpinned by the whine of the supercharger. Crack a window ever so slightly, squeeze the throttle and there’s that devil again; wwrrRAAAAP!
Keep things spinning in the sweet zone between 3000 and 4000rpm and there’s enough response to make the E55 feel like a much lighter and more nimble car. The ride is good, not as plush as with the dampers in their comfort setting, but still compliant and direct. You feel the sharper hits, but it doesn’t jar and its worth remembering this car has essentially circumnavigated the globe, five times.
All this fun is thirsty work for the big V8. Mercedes-Benz claim a combined fuel consumption cycle of 13.1L/100km, and well, I’m not suggesting you can’t achieve that, I just don’t think you’ll want to. My short time with the car had the 98 flowing at a much more celebratory 35.3L/100km.
Sadly too, the enjoyment piloting this long-geared, captain of industry chariot is short lived on Australian roads. Even with judicious throttle input, you get somewhere between eight and 12 seconds of full-torque press, before you have to back off again.
It’s a shame we can’t enjoy European-style high-speed ground travel in this country as at this price point, there’s a lot to be said for big-torque, low rev touring between major centres, and petrol stations.
Is this modern classic for you?
Buying a 2003-2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG...
Calling an E-Class Mercedes rare or special, without having to delve into the AMG pre-merger back catalogue is kind of a big deal. To the uninitiated, the W211 E55 looks like a well-wheeled E220, but when you consider the limited run of the supercharged engine, it makes this car worthy of its modern classic status.
Plus, if you want rarer and more special, it was also available as a wagon!
Any big-ticket Mercedes is worth going into with your eyes open though, as complex components like air suspension, bi-xenon headlamps and, well, a large-displacement supercharged V8, need the right maintenance, with the right investment, to keep things running smoothly.
The modern technology still makes this an easy car to live with on a daily basis, and it has the unique ability to both blend in and stand out which is a big part of the appeal.
Look for a comprehensive service history, and signs that it has been cared for, and you’ll thank that devil on your shoulder every time you hear that wonderful wwrrRAAAAP!
Modern Classic Rating: 8.6
Thanks to the generous owner for supplying the E55 for our test and review.
MORE: Everything Mercedes-AMG