I recently had a chance to review a beautiful 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500E, which is a Mercedes E-Class with a 330-horsepower V8. This may not seem particularly special to you, but it very much is — and today I’m going to explain what I mean.
First, a little background on the 500E. Back in the 1990s, Porsche was struggling as a car company, producing very few vehicles and having trouble with finances. It was a dark time for the automaker, and there was speculation that Porsche was going to have to try and find a buyer.
Then, wonderfully, Porsche’s help was requested by Mercedes. Mercedes wanted to put a larger engine in their E-Class sedan as a bit of a test bed to see if such a vehicle would be popular, but the complexity of it — the engine was too wide to fit in the E-Class as designed — wasn’t desirable for Mercedes to figure out. So Mercedes came to Porsche and asked for help creating the niche vehicle.
Porsche delivered the help, engineering a revision to the 500E that widened the fenders, creating room for the suspension and engine to co-exist. Porsche also built the 500E in a building on the Zuffenhausen factory grounds, the same area (though not the same structure) where the 911 is built. It was a big deal, and it remains a big deal to this day: essentially, the first Porsche sedan (even if the car was a Mercedes-Benz, save for final assembly and some late-stage engineering).
These days, well-kept 500E models can bring big money due to their rarity, Porsche connection and place in Mercedes’ history, since they were one of the "origin cars" that led to the widespread creation of big-engine Mercedes vehicles like the AMG lineup, and so it was a pretty nice thing to be able to drive a pristine one like the one I drove.
This particular 500E was finished in perhaps the car’s least desirable exterior color, which is a two-tone light and dark green — not exactly the stuff of beauty. However, the special color combo is very indicative of this car’s era, and it works reasonably well. Plus, many 500E models were silver or black, so this green vehicle stands out.
Unfortunately, aside from the color and the Porsche connection, I don’t find much more about the 500E that stands out. The power is mediocre by modern standards, coming in around 330 horses, and the 4-speed automatic transmission is lazy to downshift for acceleration. This really does seem like what it is: an early attempt at a big-engine Mercedes sedan before lots of thought and tuning went into "AMG-ifying" vehicles with improved styling, handling, braking, accelerating and everything else.
But it’s a valiant first effort and an exciting one, mostly because you know you’re driving such a special car. No, nobody else will notice it on the road, but you’ll gain easy access to any Porsche event with this car — especially when it’s in the kind of excellent condition this car was in.
Disappointingly, though, it also doesn’t steer like a Porsche. The steering is slow to respond and there’s not much improvement over a standard E-Class from this era. Really, again, it’s just a regular E-Class with more power, and although I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing, later models surely did it better.
But this car is special and special in a way that future E-Class AMG models simply weren’t. That alone makes it exciting to check out, to drive and to experience. Find a Mercedes-Benz 500E for sale
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