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2000 Mercedes-Benz E-55

You know that scene in Titanic when the young star perched on the front of the ship, arms stretched out, yells, I'm king of the world? That's what you feel like behind the wheel of the Mercedes Benz E-55.

You know that scene in Titanic when the young star perched on the front of the ship, arms stretched out, yells, "I'm king of the world?"

That's what you feel like behind the wheel of the Mercedes Benz E-55. The single-cam 24-valve 5.4 L V8 makes a thumping 349 hp and 391 lb.ft. of torque.

Be smooth with your launch — there's enough power to overwhelm even the 18-inch Michelin Pilots, and enough to keep the traction control busy through second gear. Amazing accelerative feats await: it easily whips Corvettes and even Porsche 911s in the stoplight grand prix. The five-speed automatic, adapted from

Mercedes' V12 models, has none of the usual kickdown stodginess- it drops down two, even three, gears and shoots you off into the sunset. Target the three-pointed gun-sight at some apices on a challenging road — thoughtfully, it marks the approximate position of the right-front wheel — and be amazed by how fast

and flat the E-55 corners.

Your palms and brow might be coated with sweat, your heart may be palpitating double-time, but the car executes a metaphorical shrug on the exit, wondering what the big deal was as it charges to the next corner.

Invincibility means more than being able to demolish almost anything on the road. It also means feeling safe during such (admittedly bone-headed) manoeuvres. There are so many systems at work here to help keep you out of trouble.

The brakes are massive, racing-derived ventilated discs with ABS and Brake Assist, which applies full force in emergencies. There are airbags everywhere: front, side, and head curtain. There's ESP, which can brake one wheel if it senses impending under or over-steer. (Switch it off, and slide this 1,670 kg four-door through corners like a dirt-track racer.)

And yet, befitting its regal status (it costs $98,900), the E-55 convincingly plays the luxury car tune as well. Attractive bird's-eye maple trim cascades down the centre console and flows across the doors.

A power rear sunshade, seat heaters and automatic climate control are standard.

Everything, including the meaty AMG-monogrammed steering wheel, is electrically adjustable. The supportive multi-contour seats are more comfortable than anything in my house. Those, combined with the spectacular Bose sound system (in typically bizarre German fashion, a dealer-installed CD changer is still optional at $830), meant that much of the time I wasn't driving the E-55, I spent inside it, reclining with a good book.

Nits to pick are few and far between, and owe more to my aesthetic sensibilities than any objective measure. While I love the goggle-eyed look of the E's front end, it's at odds with the blocky rear.

The interior plastics look and feel durable, but lack the soft touch I've come to expect in cars this expensive (and those, like VW's Golf, that are far cheaper).

More worryingly, the big V8 drinks premium unleaded like the proverbial fish: during the E-55's 1,000 km six-day stay with me, I spent more than $100 on gas.

But it's worth it. This car does everything so well. It's a comfortable, spacious luxury cruiser with an under-stated exterior.

New lower-body cladding, AMG alloys and a twin chrome exhaust are as emphatic as it gets.

It has a surprisingly unruffled ride, given the staggering performance potential. But that monster V8 and those huge tires mean it's also big, noisy hooligan fun. I gave the E-55's keys back with wobbly knees. Had I kept it even a day longer, I probably would have lost my licence.

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