Mercedes E-Class

There are certain things we take for granted in the executive saloon market: BMW and Mercedes build rear-wheel-drive cars, while Audi goes for front-drive on 'everyday' models and 4WD on its sporty variants.

Mercedes engineers have built a 4WD system that is perfect for treacherous driving conditions. It also provides a less intrusive skid-control set-up than the company's conventional ESP. When 4MATIC comes to the UK, Audi's quattro range will have a capable new rival on its hands.

There are certain things we take for granted in the executive saloon market: BMW and Mercedes build rear-wheel-drive cars, while Audi goes for front-drive on 'everyday' models and 4WD on its sporty variants.

But on the Continent, Mercedes has muddied the water by selling all-wheel- drive saloons, too. Can it beat Audi at its own game? This E-Class 4MATIC uses the firm's own permanent 4WD system, which is also fitted to the C-Class and S-Class. Unlike Audi, Merc is marketing 4MATIC as the perfect tool in icy conditions, rather than as a performance aid.

In the snow, the benefits are instantly obvious. Driven back-to-back against a conventional rear-powered E500, the AWD version is much easier to control, while the Electronic Stability Program steps in far less often. That leaves the driver feeling a lot more involved, and helps to keep the 306bhp V8-powered E-Class in check. Unfortunately, a lack of demand and difficulties in the conversion to right-hand drive mean that no 4MATIC models are currently on sale in the UK.

However, when the next-generation S-Class arrives in 2005, a 4MATIC version will be available through British dealers. It might not be every buyer's idea of the perfect Mercedes, but it will add yet another dimension to the German company's growing range.

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