The new-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan makes its U.S. debut for the 2003 model year with technological innovations unavailable in any competitor, according to Mercedes-Benz, and with a fresh design. Mercedes said the new E-Class "sets new standards in vehicle safety, comfort and driving dynamics." Representing about 25 percent of total Mercedes-Benz sales, Mercedes calls the current E-Class "the world's most successful luxury sedan." Two new E-Class sedans will be available in the United States for 2003 - the V6-powered E320 and a new 5.0-liter V8-powered E500 sedan that replaces the former E430. The E320 is powered by a 3.2-liter V6 engine that produces 221 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft. of peak torque. The E500 takes its name from a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 302 horsepower and 339 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Both engines are teamed with an adaptive five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift, which allows manual shifting if desired. The E500 is further distinguished by its standard Airmatic DC (for Dual Control) air suspension, larger 245/45R17 tires and additional standard equipment. The E320 wagon will continue on the previous platform for 2003. The air suspension is available as an option on the E320. Mercedes said a full array of safety technology is present, including ABS anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, straight-line traction control and ESP stability control. New safety technology includes the electronic braking system from the Mercedes SL roadsters and adaptive restraint systems using eight airbags. The prior-generation E-Class sparked a design trend with its distinctive elliptical headlights, and the new car features an even sleeker interpretation, according to Mercedes. "The oval headlights are tilted back even more sharply, and the entire car exudes a fresh, sporty design theme," the company said in a statement. Wheelbase and length were both increased by 0.9 inches (to 112.4 and 190.4, respectively). Height is increased by a half-inch, while the coupe-inspired wedge-like profile makes the car appear lower than before. The optional Sport Package for either model adds bi-xenon headlights with headlamp washers, blue tinted glass, LED brake lights, sculpted side skirts, front bumper and rear apron and 17-inch sport wheels. Other Sport Package equipment varies between the E320 and E500. The E320, for example, adds the Airmatic DC suspension as well as the larger 245/45 R 17 tire size that is already standard on the E500. Tires in the Sport Package feature a performance summer tread for sharper handling response. Mercedes said it employed a number of new construction techniques to achieve greater strength without adding excess weight to the new E-Class. The body structure of the new E-Class has larger crumple zones at the front, for better energy absorption in an accident. Although both E-Class models have added more standard safety and luxury equipment, extensive use of lightweight materials has helped keep these models within 50-100 pounds of their predecessor models, according to Mercedes. The E-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz model to make extensive use of aluminum, which accounts for 10 percent of the car by weight. Aluminum parts include the hood, front fenders, trunk lid, as well as the front subframe and bumper crossmembers. The amount of high-strength steel has been nearly doubled, from about 20 percent of vehicle weight to about 37 percent. Advanced Restraint Systems Adaptive front airbags deploy with lower force in less severe accidents and with higher force in more serious collisions. Taking a signal from a special electronic sensor mat in the front passenger seat, the front passenger airbag even takes the passenger's weight into account. In addition, new crash sensors help determine the severity of the collision and control the seat belt tensioners and belt force limiters accordingly. In more severe collisions, the seat belt tensioners remove belt slack sooner, and the belt force limiters then loosen the belts progressively, reducing loads on the chest and allowing front occupants to gain greater benefit from the airbag. The new E-Class is equipped with a new type of rollover sensor that can signal the central control module to deploy the windowbags and belt tensioners if it detects this type of accident. First Large-Scale Use of Electronic Braking An electronic braking system - another Mercedes safety first - is standard equipment in all 2003-model-year E-Class sedans. Mercedes said the new electronic braking system "provides faster, more sure-footed response, especially in emergencies." Although electronic braking made its industry debut on the Mercedes SL roadsters, equipping all E-Class models with electronic braking represents the first large-scale use of this revolutionary technology. With electronic braking, the brake pedal works with an array of sensors and a computer that tells four fast-acting valves exactly how hard to apply the brakes on each wheel. With split-second accuracy, the system can change brake pressure on each wheel over uneven surfaces and can even increase brake pressure on the outside wheels when braking in turns. Even ABS anti-lock and ESP stability control work more efficiently, since they are more deeply integrated with the brake system. An electrically-driven hydraulic pump and a high-pressure reservoir (or accumulator) provide "always-on" full brake pressure to each wheel, with the computer-operated modulator valves controlling how much pressure actually operates the brake at each wheel. Mercedes said the new E-Class exhibits cornering that befits a sports sedan along with superb ride comfort. The new four-link front suspension is similar to that of the S-Class, and the patented five-link rear suspension provides unparalleled wheel motion control. A new version of the air suspension from the S-Class, called Airmatic DC (Dual Control) is standard on the E500 model and optional on the E320 sedan. Airmatic DC suspension uses sensors that monitor road conditions, driving style and cornering forces to ensure that the system always chooses the best air spring and shock absorber settings. The system can switch between different suspension modes in a fraction of a second, and the driver can also select from four pre-set suspension response programs. In essence, the Airmatic DC suspension system eliminates the compromise between handling and ride comfort, because it continually and automatically optimizes both, according to Mercedes. Quicker rack-and-pinion steering, coupled with larger-section tires, gives both E-Class models sharper handling than before. 'More Luxurious' Mercedes said the E-Class interior is more luxurious than before, with a new sweeping dashboard and center console, soft-touch trim surfaces, wood and chrome trim elements and a full array of power amenities. The E320 comes equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, while the E500 features standard four-zone climate control (optional on E320) that allows different temperature settings for the rear outboard passengers as well as the driver and front passenger. Features like a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows with one-touch up/down operation and auto-dimming mirrors are standard equipment. A new, power flip-down panel in the center console houses switches for many vehicle functions. At the touch of a button, it opens to reveal an extra storage space or the newly available six-disc CD changer when it is ordered. The optional COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system has been enhanced with DVD capability, and the GPS navigation system now uses its own dedicated DVD drive for map and data storage. The driver can control navigation and phone functions with voice commands when the optional digital phone with voice control is ordered (late availability). The standard high-performance 10-speaker audio system adds surround sound, and the optional Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system takes audio performance to an even higher level with seven-channel surround sound, 420 Watts of total output and 12 high-end speakers. 'First-Class Seating Driver and front passenger comfort is assured by standard 10-way power seats. The optional multicontour seats use adjustable air pressure to custom-tailor seat comfort. The new optional Dynamic Drive seats adjust pressure in air cushions automatically in response to driving input. For example, the seat will automatically increase air pressure in the left-side seatback bolster during right-hand cornering. These seats even feature a massage function, according to Mercedes. Optional ventilated seats help to cool the driver and front passenger quickly on hot days, and the available heated seats and steering wheel provide cold-weather comfort. The E-Class sedans offer a power tilt/slide glass sunroof or the new Panorama sunroof that creates the look of an all-glass roof and has a much larger opening than the conventional sunroof. Special glass filters out excessive sunlight, which can be further limited by power sunshades. A solar cell panel available with the Panorama roof powers the climate control's blower motor to help cool the interior on hot sunny days. Several high-tech options can enhance convenience and safety. The Distronic adaptive cruise control system that uses radar to maintain a set distance from a vehicle traveling in front. The Keyless Go system allows the driver to unlock the car simply by touching the door handle, and to start the car by touching the gearshift knob. The Parktronic parking assist uses sound waves to detect and warn the driver about obstacles in front of or behind the car. Later in the model year, the E-Class will offer an optional power trunk closer. About Mercedes-Benz USA Mercedes-Benz USA is responsible for the sales, marketing and service of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles in the United States. Headquartered in Montvale, N.J., near New York City, MBUSA employs about 1,500 people in 20 locations across the U.S. Through a nationwide network of more than 300 dealers, MBUSA sold 206,638 vehicles in the U.S. during 2001, setting an all-time sales record for the fourth year in a row.