The German prestige automaker Mercedes-Benz is enjoying record sales in the United States. The company's E-Class cars compete in the "mid-luxury" segment, ranging in price from about $47,000 to near $60,000.
A person can buy a new car in the United States for one-fifth what it costs for a new E-Class Mercedes. So, why spend the extra dollars?
The Detroit editor of Road and Track magazine, Matt DeLorenzo, believes he knows.
"The first thing you get is the three-pointed star and everything that represents in terms of the German automaker's history of building high-quality and exclusive cars," He explains.
And Mr. DeLorenzo says there's another factor.
"A little bit more "flash" than what has usually been associated with Mercedes, and I think a direct response to some of the new luxury marques like Infiniti and Lexus that have entered the markets," he says.
The E-Class is packed with the latest electronic gear for safety, comfort and convenience. One example is the so-called "Distronic" active cruise control, a device that automatically maintains a pre-set distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you - all by computer and a sonar beam. The device makes highway cruising safer and more comfortable. Dave Schembri, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, found it very helpful when driving in fog.
"When you put this Distronic system up in dense fog, it is the most reassuring system you could ever imagine," he explains. "And it's worth the price of admission just for those few instances a year that you're very nervous, that you can't gauge what is in front of you."
The "price of admission," or cost, by the way, is not cheap - just under $3,000 for Distronic.
As befits a car in this price range, the E-Class is smooth, silent and solid-feeling, with a firm ride in the Germanic manner. As for Road and Track's Matt DeLorenzo's assessment.
"It's not as spirited a car as, say, a BMW in terms of absolute handling. But the E-500, which was the model I drove, is quick and very comfortable,"
Some say $50,000 is far too much money to spend on a car, even if you can afford it. But in January of 2003, more than 4,500 U.S. customers plunked down their money for a new E-Class, an increase of over 40 percent from the year before. Mercedes-Benz is convinced it is doing something right.