Back in 2003, Mercedes-Benz launched four new cars - the all-new SL, the all-new E-class, a revised S, and it's two-door cousin - the CL. Of the four, the E was the most significant. That's because E-class sales are quite a bit higher than the others. Unlike some marques, the AMG versions of all four models were not delayed while engines, transmissions, braking systems, and suspensions were developed. Of course, it didn't hurt that all four cars shared the same engine.
Regarding the engine, there was some initial confusion over the horsepower output. The initial press releases stated all four models produced 469 HP at 6100 RPM. For the CL, S, and SL, that number was increased to 493 horsepower. The revised releases said the additional horsepower was due to induction and exhaust modifications that the E did not receive.
All four models produced the same 516 pound feel of torque from 2650 to 4500 RPM. Couple that with Mercedes-Benz' penchant for underreporting power figures, and it's possible that the 55 could stand for 500+, 500+.
All E55's received Mercedes-Benz five-speed automatics. These fully electronic transmissions were designed to shift the transmission as a driver would with a manual gearbox. The transmission processor has continuous electronic networking with the engine and chassis management systems. This allows the transmission computer to adapt to a wide variety of driving situations, as well as being driver adaptive. These transmissions are equipped with TouchShift, which allows the driver to manually select gears, and SpeedShift, which shifts 35% faster than a standard E-class transmission. Being an AMG, the transmission has significantly stronger internals than the non-AMG variant. E55's were equipped with open differentials, leaving ESP to deal with the expected traction issues
I've found leaving the ESP on works best for maximum acceleration. While waiting at a light, disengaging ESP and planting the accelerator on the carpet results in NHRA style burnouts. With ESP on, the "accelerator on the carpet trick" intelligently modulates torque, resulting in 0-60 sprints in the low fours. 100 MPH arrives six seconds later, and right at about 24.5 seconds, the speed limiter stops the fun at 155 MPH.
This isn't the type of acceleration one would expect in a sedan. For example, a 2008 Porsche 911 S is slightly faster. For both the 0-60 and 100 MPH sprint, the 911 S is one tenth of one second faster. They both have four seats, but that and the time to speed is about all they have in common.
The E55 is a full sized sedan. Like every other W211 E-class, it has a spacious steel body fitted with a few aluminum panels to cut weight. The E55 has the same suspension design as an E500, but it rides 10 mm lower and has been tuned by AMG for better high speed handling. The dampers have three driver-adjustable settings, but even in comfort mode, the ride is a little rougher and noisier than standard air-sprung E's. Staggered 18-inch AMG alloys with performance rubber are standard, and they deliver good grip. The E55 delivers flat cornering, and excellent body control. It has variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering has a nicely weighted feel, and has decent road feel when off center. However there is a definite dead zone when traveling straight.
Just as the chassis advancements are a good match for the powertrain, the brakes have been upgraded to handle the increased speed. The AMG front discs are cross-drilled, ventilated, and 360mm in diameter. They're squeezed by eight piston calipers. Out back, the discs are 330mm, and the calipers are four-piston units. The E55 retains the non-AMG E's electrohydraulic braking functionality. One of its benefits are sensing when the discs are wet and drying them. One of the downsides is they lack of feel.
The E55 interior has a lot of room. Even NBA players will feel comfortable in an E. In addition to plenty of head, knee, and shoulder room, the E55 has a cavernous trunk. The interior is nicely laid out and has attractive, rich materials. The dash has beautiful translucent, white-faced AMG instruments with orange needles. The press car was equipped with the optional dynamic seats that gauge the car's cornering stance, and inflate the side bolsters to compensate. I thought they were a gimmick, but grew to appreciate them.
The standard equipment list is lengthy, and the price tag reflects it. However, the W211 E55 is worth every penny. Its tremendous power, good chassis, great brakes, and luxurious appointments make it the best in its class.