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When a single manufacturer creates so many good products, it’s easy to start taking them for granted — perhaps even more so when you get to sample their wares for free. But after spending a week with the Mercedes-Benz E500 sedan, I was not only astonished at how good a midsize sedan could be, but was also reminded that the E-Class is the industry’s prototype for midsize performance and luxury. Everything about this car is right. It’s big enough to be comfortable, but small enough to maneuver and park. It easily accommodates four passengers and their luggage, but dives into twists and curves with the same exuberance as the SL500 roadster. Its fit and finish are superb. And it is fast. Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus get much of this stuff right, but nobody puts the whole package together like Mercedes. Let’s start with the engine. The E500′s 5.0-liter, 24-valve aluminum V8 is velvety smooth while offering hair-trigger responsiveness. It responds to the driver’s whims without bolting out of control. Audi’s V8s are equally powerful, but uneven in acceleration. Lexus’s offerings are whisper-quiet, but ultimately lack passion. BMW’s big 8s are superb in their own way, but are not as refined as Mercedes’s. Perhaps only the Jaguar XJR’s 4.2-liter, 390-horsepower V8 paired with its creamy 6-speed automatic transmission can rival the E500 for all-around finesse, but be prepared to pony up an additional $18,000 for that supercharged cat, which doesn’t hold the road as well as the E500. The E500′s highway manners are simply stunning, and its capabilities will easily tempt you to push the limits of good judgment and the law. Imagine a locomotive with the ability to move laterally: The E500′s ingenious suspension keeps you stable on even the roughest pockmarked pavement. And that suspension is complemented by the second-best seats in the business (the best are in Mercedes’s own S-Class and CL-Class cars) — simultaneously comfortable and supportive, designed to enable all-day driving with no ill effects. Add to this package Mercedes’s legendary attention to active and passive safety, and the discussion turns from “price” to “value.” True, the Mercedes E500 is not inexpensive, but your return on investment will be immediate.
THE DETAILS: MSRP: $57,045 Price as tested: $61,855 Mileage: 16 city/23 highway Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles, with 24/7 Roadside Assistance

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