Can a classic model really provide daily transport and also save you money? You bet it can!
Few cars have stood the test of time quite like Mercedes’ E-Class. The executive saloon has cemented the brand’s reputation for solid build quality and top-notch refinement, so it’s understandable that the E is a popular choice second-hand. Here, we look at the past four versions of the German machine – using the maker’s W model designations – to show you the best buys and what to look out for.
Whether it’s the svelte four-door or the hugely practical estate, the E-Class is unlikely to disappoint. And because there are still plenty of older examples to choose from, buying one needn’t involve demolishing your savings. In the past two decades, an astonishing five million E-Classes have been produced, with customers attracted by its rugged build quality, stylish looks and unparalleled refinement.
Despite strong residuals, there are still rich pickings for used buyers – so long as you avoid former minicabs and those cars with patchy service histories. The first model in our quartet is the W124, which arrived in showrooms in 1985. Every car is equipped with an automatic gearbox, and a huge choice of engines was available – from the four-cylinder 200 to the silky-smooth six-cylinder found in the 320E.
As the Nineties progressed, so did the E-Class range; in 1995, the slimmer, longer and lighter W210 model was launched. This incarnation is set apart by its distinctive double-headlamp nose and slanted grille, although it carried over its predecessor’s complex multi-link rear suspension. Engine options were similar, too, until a brand new V6 replaced the straight-six in 1997.
The even sleeker W211 arrived in 2002, and with it came more sophisticated electronics, even less weight and new levels of refinement and luxury. It featured new suspension and a range of efficient powerplants – including a direct-injection diesel for the first time. That brings us to the revised W211, which was launched earlier this year with fresh headlamps, updated suspension and more safety equipment.
Despite its limited availability, the latest model is bound to push down prices of the previous variants – so now is a very good time to buy an E-Class.
Our choice: Pre-facelift W211 Having recently been replaced, the W211 generation E-Class is the obvious choice for those looking for a good deal second-hand. But don’t expect to find many bargains – especially if you’re hoping to get hold of the desirable E320 CDI.
Best value is the 240 Classic, of which there is a relatively plentiful supply. Pick one with a smart metallic finish plus sat-nav, or spend £1,000 more for an E220 CDI.
W124 Price range: £600-£5,000 Manufactured from: 1985-1995 Looking for a classy and refined motorway cruiser on a budget? You could do a lot worse than an elderly E-Class. Engine options include four-cylinder 200 and 230E petrols or 250 and 300 diesels. However, these are left looking underwhelming when compared to models powered by the durable straight-six – the 260E is fine, but the 300E and 320E from 1992 are preferable.
While trim varied enormously, leather seats and optional air-conditioning are a must. Post-1994 cars have passenger airbags, while estates offer a huge 1,975 litres of load space and command a premium over the saloon.
Watch out for rust, excessive oil consumption as a result of valve guide wear, head gasket problems and worn bushes in the rear link arms of the suspension – the latter requires the replacement of the whole arm each time.
Most choice: W210 Price range: £5,000-£12,000 Manufactured from: 1995-2002 Keen drivers will welcome the switch to rack and pinion steering, which makes the W210 better to drive than its predecessor. Post-1997 cars also benefit from a change to V6 engines, with more punch and better economy. The common-rail 143bhp diesel E220 CDI appeared in 1998, and is an excellent used choice.
Best buys are the post-facelift 1999 models, which have improved ride and handling, as well as extra equipment, and can be identified by their S-Class-style door mirror-mounted indicator repeaters.
Watch out for worn front ball joints, erratic auto changes, failed central locking and noises from the crankshaft balancing damper – this will leave the car without power-steering. The estate came with optional rear-facing seats.
Best buy: W211 Price range: £10,000-£43,000 Manufactured from: 2002-2006 The 2002 E-Class is more elegant than its predecessor, while new lightweight materials and a low-drag shape boost economy. Hi-tech electronics, such as SBC brake-by-wire and Airmatic suspension, joined the line-up; this kit was standard on the V8 E500 and an option on other models. What’s more, the front and rear suspension was revised to improve ride and comfort. The W211 is a safe choice, and achieved a five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests. It is also rewarding to drive, especially if you opt for the E320 CDI diesel, which blends a 0-60mph sprint of only 7.7 seconds with 40.9mpg fuel economy. Expect to pay more for the oil-burner, while the estate – which has a boot 20 litres larger than its predecessor’s – sells for £1,000 more than the saloon.
Best to drive: W211 facelift Price range: £29,000-£45,000 Manufactured from: 2006 to date The current E-Class debuted at the New York Motor Show earlier this year with few exterior alterations – look for the fresh front bumper, more pronounced V-grille, deeper side skirts and active headlamps. Most changes are under the skin, including revised engines, improved safety kit and an end to brake-by-wire.
The E220 CDI has power up from 150bhp to 167bhp, while the V6 320 CDI offers additional torque. There are few second-hand examples on forecourts yet, but it’s worth looking for an ex-demonstrator at your local showroom. As always, the smooth V6 diesels and practical estates – now with a 1,950-litre capacity – will be in most demand. Make sure you buy a model in a popular colour with an auto gearbox to protect residuals.