Premium midsize car; Built in Germany
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear- or all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $9,300 – $47,000*

2003 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

2004 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

2005 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz E-Class interior

  • Acceleration
  • Build quality
  • Steering/handling
  • Automatic-transmission performance
  • Control layout (audio controls)
  • Control layout (navigation system operation)
  • Fuel economy (E55)

Contemporary and sophisticated, rock-solid and confidence-inspiring on the road, the E-Class brims with worthwhile features and Mercedes’ cachet. New-car prices have been steep, and secondhand valuations aren’t exactly bargains. The air suspension and nonlinear drive-by-wire throttle-control system can be annoying. Overall, though, these sedans and wagons are appealing luxury-car Best Buys.


Mercedes-Benz began revamping its top-selling model line with redesigned 2003 luxury sedans. E-Class wagons continued unchanged for the time being.

Sharing a general look and some features with Mercedes’ big S-Class sedans, the E-Class continued in V6 and V8 form. Against previous E-Class sedans, the new models were nearly an inch longer in wheelbase and overall, half an inch wider, fractionally taller, but no heavier.

The E320 used an unchanged V6 engine, while an E500 with a 5.0-liter V8 replaced the 4.3-liter V8 in the prior E430. Both had rear-wheel drive. Every 2003 model included a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift gate, antiskid/traction control, and antilock four-wheel disc brakes. Front and rear side airbags, and curtain side airbags, were also standard. So was Mercedes’ TeleAid assistance system.

Sedans featured Mercedes’ new “by-wire” brakes, with electronically controlled valves that modulated pressure to individual wheels, to match driving needs. A conventional hydraulic brake booster served as a back-up.

The E500 came with an air suspension–a first for this line. Also available for the E320 sedan, it offered three driver-selectable levels of firmness. The E500 rode on 17-inch wheels, versus 16s for the E320. A sedan Sport Package included aero lower-body cladding and special interior trim; and for the E320, 17-inch wheels. Linewide options included a rear-obstacle warning, and voice-activated cell phone and navigation systems.

All E-Class models could be equipped with heated/ventilated front seats. Exclusive to sedans as first-time E-Class options, massaging “Dynamic Drive” seats had air bladders that selectively inflated to counter cornering forces. “Smart” cruise control, designed to automatically maintain a set following distance, was another sedan option. So was a twin-sunroof setup, consisting of a conventional sunroof over the front seats, a fixed-glass panel over the rear seat, and power sunshades for both. A solar-cell version ran an interior cooling fan.

High- and low-beam xenon headlamps were newly available. So was Mercedes’ Keyless Go system, which used a credit-card-sized transmitter that allowed unlocking and starting the car simply by touch.

Rivals included the Audi A6/allroad quattro, BMW 5-Series, and Lexus GS 300/430. A new high-performance AMG-tuned sedan debuted late in the 2003 model year.

Yearly Updates

2004 E-Class
All-wheel drive, a wagon body style, and a seven-speed automatic transmission were newly available for 2004 on Mercedes’ best-selling line. Sedans and wagons both came as E320 models with a 221-hp V6, and as E500s with a 302-hp V8. Introduced during the 2003 model year, the E55 AMG sedan held a 469-horsepower supercharged V8 and rode on 18-inch tires. E320s and the E55 continued with a five-speed automatic, but E500s substituted an industry-first seven-speed transmission. Mercedes said the new automatic could skip gears during upshifts and downshifts, for increased efficiency. Both automatics had a manual shift gate, but the E55 added steering-wheel buttons. The E55 had exclusive trim, exhaust and seats, with a sport suspension. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive was standard on the E500 wagon and optional for other E-Class models. Distronic cruise control, designed to maintain a preset following distance, was optional. Optional bi-xenon headlamps were now steering-linked.

Wagons could seat seven on three rows, and were available with the sedan’s Sport Package option. All models were factory pre-wired to accept newly optional dealer-installed satellite radio.

2005 E-Class
A turbocharged diesel six-cylinder sedan called the E320CDI went on sale as an early 2005 model. During 2005, a 3.5-liter V6 replaced the 3.2-liter in the E320, turning it into an E350 for the 2006 season.
2006 E-Class
A new V6 engine signals the arrival of the E350 model for 2006. E350s have a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 and replace E320 models, which had a 221-hp 3.2 V6.
2007 E-Class
Revised styling, new engines, and additional safety equipment highlighted 2007 for Mercedes’ midsize sedans and wagons. The E550 had a 382-hp V8 and replaced the 302-hp E500. The E320 Bluetec had a 208-hp V6 turbodiesel and replaced the 201-hp E320 CDI. The high-performance E63 had a 507-hp V8 and replaced the 469-hp E55. New for ’07 was Mercedes’ Pre-Safe system, which automatically tightens seatbelts and readies full braking power when sensors detect an imminent collision. All ’07 E-Class models got revised front and rear styling.
2008 E-Class
The E-Class received no major changes for 2008.
2009 E-Class
A newly available audio unit with voice control combined a wireless cell-phone link and 6-disc CD/DVD changer. The new audio unit had optional features such as a navigation system with real-time traffic updates, HD radio, MP3 connectivity, and a hard drive capable of storing 4 gigabytes of digital music files.


longitudinal front-engine/rear- or all-wheel drive

A 3.2-liter V6 engine went into the E320, while E500 models held a 302-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8. The E55 AMG got a supercharged V8, whipping up 469 horsepower. Each engine worked with a five-speed automatic transmission, but a seven-speed unit went into E500 models for 2004. A turbodiesel six-cylinder engine became available for 2005, in the E320CDI sedan. For 2006, E350s have a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 and replace E320 models, which had a 221-hp 3.2 V6. For 2007, The E550 has a 382-hp V8 and replaces the 302-hp E500. The E320 Bluetec has a 208-hp V6 turbodiesel and replaces the 201-hp E320 CDI. The high-performance E63 has a 507-hp V8 and replaces the 469-hp E55.

Turbodiesel dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/197
Engine HP 201
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 369
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic


Turbocharged dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/182
Engine HP 208
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 400
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
7-speed automatic


ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/195
Engine HP 221
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 232
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic


dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/213
Engine HP 268
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 258
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic
7-speed automatic
Supercharged ohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 5.0/303
Engine HP 302
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 339
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic
7-speed automatic
dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 5.5/333
Engine HP 382
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 391
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic
7-speed automatic

EPA ratings of AWD V6 models are lower.

Road Test

Among sedans, the E320 can feel languid until engine rpm rises; then it’s smooth and quick. An E320 accelerated to 60 mph in a brisk 7.3 seconds. The E500 feels faster, and can reach 60 mph in 5.6 seconds with the five-speed automatic. The E500 4Matic wagon is just slightly slower. “Drive-by-wire” electronics don’t consistently coordinate with the five-speed transmission to furnish alert reactions, but using the manual-shift feature helps. Slightly “soft” throttle response aggravates that automatic’s occasional reluctance to downshift for passing.

Unabated thrust from any speed marks the behavior of the E55 sedan, which could reach 60 mph in as little as 4.2 seconds. Despite mild lag in low-speed power delivery, the CDI diesel sedan can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.

Test E320 sedans have averaged 18 to 23.7 mpg, while E500s with a five-speed automatic averaged 19.4 to 22.4 mpg. The lower figures include gas-guzzling performance runs. E320 wagons with 4Matic have averaged 16.8 to 17.3 mpg, and E55s have returned 13.7 to 15.3 mpg. The E320 CDI averages 33.7 mpg in mostly highway driving, and 27 to 29.2 mpg with more city usage. All gasoline-engine models require premium-grade fuel.

Stable always, the E-Class is best in base-suspension E320 form, which is comfortably controlled and absorbent on most any surface. The Sport Package E500 suffers from body bounce and tire thump, unless its air suspension is set to the softest mode. Better-behaved is the E55, which is firm but never punishing. With 17-inch tires, the E320 amplifies pavement blemishes and harms ride comfort.

Still not as nimble as rival 5-Series BMWs, the E-Class sedans corner with grippy assurance and modest body lean–especially with AWD. The antiskid system is a bonus in wet weather, and 4Matic brings an additional of all-weather security. E500 steering feels rather heavy at low speeds, and all models suffer from excessive on-center play. Straight-line stability is impressive, though. Stopping power is potent, but by-wire brake pedal feel could be more linear.

Low but audible coarse-surface tire thrum is evident. Wind rush is well-muffled. Engines rise to a classy full-throttle growl, but are almost silent otherwise. The E55 has a sportier exhaust note and slightly more rear-tire noise. Available 17- and 18-inch tires thump loudly over bumps. The CDI sedan suffers audible diesel “clatter” on cold starts and in lower-apeed acceleration, but is otherwise nearly as refined as a gas E320.

Most controls are illuminated, and gauges are clear. But some operations aren’t obvious, including a fussy audio system. Mercedes’ navigation system is not the easiest to use. The in-dash CD changer’s powered cover partly obscures its loading slot. The steering-column stalk for cruise control is too easily confused with the turn-signal/wiper stalk. Cabin decor is modern and tasteful, with top-notch materials and assembly.

Six-footers have good front head room and plenty of leg space. Seats and the tilt/telescope steering wheel have ample power adjustments to tailor a good driving stance. Dynamic Drive seats (if installed) work subtly, but seem frivolous. Visibility is good, but bigger mirrors would ease lane changes.

Back seats are supportive, but two adults make up the comfortable maximum. Head room is limited for six-footers. Toe space is only adequate. Leg space is restricted behind a tall front-seater. Entry/exit is cramped by narrow floor-level passages. The available “Panorama” sunroof steals no head space, but functions no better than a regular single-panel sunroof. Wagons have a rear-facing third-row seat, but it’s toddler-sized.

Sedans have a long, wide trunk with a flat floor. A conveniently low load sill helps, though trunk height isn’t generous. Lid hinges cut into available space, but they’re shielded to prevent cargo damage. In-cabin small-items storage ranks about average. Wagons have a long, wide, flat-floor cargo bay.


Model Tested: 2004 E320 sedan

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 9
Steering/Handling - 7
Quietness - 8


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 8
Room/Comfort Rear - 6
Cargo Room - 5


Value - 10

Total: 71


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
112.4 190.3 71.3 57.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
15.9 20.6 20.6 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 37.7 41.9 35.6
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
112.4 190.3 71.3 57.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
68.9 20.6 7
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.9 38.0 41.9 36.0
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2003 E-Class 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Front Passenger Injury - 5

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: The air conditioning runs in only one mode due to a faulty connection at connector C1 on the driver side. (2003-06)
Air conditioner
Description: Rumbling or squealing noises may come from the A/C compressor due to a bad pulley or bearings for which there are improved components. (2003-06)
Air conditioner
Description: The air conditioning may only work in the emergency mode due to a poor connection at the signal acquisition module on the driver’s side. (2005-07)
Alternator belt
Description: The alternator may not provide adequate charging due to a faulty internal voltage regulator (2003-05) and if the “Battery-Visit Workshop” message appears the battery control module may need to be reset or replaced (2003-04).
Ball joints
Description: Noises from the upper control arm caused by bad ball joint caused by torn rubber cover on joint. (2005-07)
Blower motor
Description: The blower motor may quit working after a minute or so, then work momentarily and quit again due to internal circuit breaker in blower regulator which must be replaced. (2005-06)
Blower motor
Description: The blower motor may quit, but run again only to quit again due to a faulty blower motor regulator. (2006-07)
Description: The Sensotronic Brake Control may quit working (reverting to the backup hydraulic mode) due to weakening wiring harness connector. (2003-05)
Description: The brake hold function may stop working due to miscommunication on the network from the battery sensor. (2007)
Audio system
Description: The buttons in the steering wheel may stop working due to electrostatic discharge damaging the steering column module. (2005-07)
Description: Moisture gets into the crankshaft position sensor causing hesitation, rough idle and hard starting requiring that both the sensor and wiring harness be replaced. (2003)
Tail/brake lights
Description: Water leaks onto the fuse box on the passenger side if the air intake drain valve gets clogged, water and dust enter the tail light housings due to poor sealing of the gasket, and water may enter the trunk if the extra license plate holes are not plugged. (2003)
Description: The halogen headlight bulbs may burn out repeatedly because they are receiving too much voltage and a software revision of the control unit drops the voltage from 13.2 to 12.8 volts to prolong bulb life. (2003)

Recall History

2003-05 E-Class
Description: In certain vehicles with extremely high mileage and high number of brake actuations, Sensotronic Brake Control can move into hydraulic mode.
2003-05 E-Class
Description: Sensotronic Brake Control on some cars may prematurely shift to hydraulic back-up mode, which requires greater brake-pedal pressure and longer pedal travel.
2003-08 E-Class
Description: An incorrect software calibration number (SCN) coding received during a recent workshop visit can affect a number of functions: (1) the fuel gauge readings may be incorrect; (2) a stuck fuel-level sensor may not be displayed in the instrument cluster; (3) the check engine light may illuminate incorrectly; and, (4) the speedometer may be out of tolerance. In the event of a vehicle crash, the electrical fuel pump may not receive a crash signal that is required for the fuel pump to disconnect and prevent future fuel delivery as designed. Dealers will recode the SCN.
2007 E-Class diesel
Description: Engine may stall and not restart due to a failed crankshaft sensor. Dealers will replace the crankshaft sensor.
2007-2009 E350 wagon
Description: Load-leveling rear suspension system connecting rod may fail, reducing vehicle control.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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