The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
With its understated elegance and cast-iron image the E-class is a fabulous car but it’s also very costly to buy and run, while the reliability of early examples can be appalling.
Pros
Spacious cabin
Build quality
Image and refinement
Cons
Patchy reliability
High prices
High running costs

Mercedes-Benz E-class W211 review (2002-2009)

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What is it the Mercedes-Benz E-class W211?

The Mercedes E-class has been a constant for two decades and when it first appeared in the early 1990s (with the now-legendary W124 codename) it was one of the most over-engineered cars in the world. Since then, the model’s fortunes have hit rock bottom then risen again, to the point where the current E-class is brilliant once more. But here we’re dealing with one of the two generations that came in between; the car codenamed W211 which appeared in 2002.

Unfortunately, the W211 E-class’s arrival in June 2002 coincided with a low point for Mercedes in terms of its cars’ build quality. Despite the C-class’s high purchase cost and premium status it could rot badly, while there was also a litany of potential issues. An abridged list is in the “What to look for” section below. Over its seven-year lifespan the W211’s quality control was steadily improved and as a result it’s essential that you go for the newest car you can afford. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have problems with pre-facelift cars.


Search for and buy a quality used Mercedes-Benz E-class on driving.co.uk


That facelift came in July 2006. It brought 2,000 changes focusing on improving build quality­. It also led to the introduction of the E500 and the insane 507bhp 6.2-litre E63 AMG, but there was an array of more affordable models from the outset. These include some smaller-capacity petrol variants, and they’re nice enough – they even make sense if you don’t do lots of miles. But if you’re a high-mileage driver you’re better off going for one of the brilliant diesels, which make long-distance drives a real pleasure.

The best diesels have six cylinders – the E280 CDi and E320 CDi – but the four and five-cylinder models (the E220 CDi and E270 CDi) are worth a look, too. Whatever you buy, make sure it’s got an automatic gearbox or selling it on could prove a nightmare. The biggest engines came with two pedals only but even with the smaller powerplants you’re best leaving the cog swapping to the car.

The E-class isn’t the only talented executive, though. If you’re a driving enthusiast you’ll prefer the BMW 5-series, which is astonishingly talented dynamically and generally more reliable than the Mercedes. The Audi A6 is another great alternative, which like the BMW comes with superb powerplants. Autos tend to be fragile and repairs run into thousands but the availability of quattro four-wheel drive is a plus point. If you’re in the market for a saloon rather than an estate, the Lexus GS and Jaguar XF are also worth a look, although load-lugging versions of the latter are now creeping onto the used market.

What none of these cars can offer is the capacious load bay of the E-class estate, although if carrying capacity is a priority you really need to consider a Volvo V70. But that doesn’t have the status of the Merc and frankly, for the money, nothing does. Which is why if you can find one of the later fully sorted cars, you should go for it.

 

What to look out for when buy a used Mercedes E-class W211

Many of the issues centre on the E320 CDi as its high-pressure fuel pump can leak diesel onto the cooling system pipes, its fuel injectors can fail and they can also seize into the cylinder head. Not only this but the ceramic matrix in the catalytic converter can break. Elsewhere, the transmission oil cooler on autos can fail, a myriad electrical faults can crop up and the front suspension springs can break. Make no mistake: repairs can be costly.

With such a catalogue of potential issues, it’s no wonder the E-class has been recalled no fewer than nine times so far, on three occasions because of the possibility of issues with the brakes. Engine running problems, fuel leaks and self-levelling rear suspension woes also cropped up.

 

The one to buy

Mercedes-Benz E-class W211 E320 CDi Avantgarde auto estate

Factfile

Engine:
2987cc, 4 cylinders
Power:
224bhp @ 3800rpm
Torque:
398 lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission:
6-speed auto
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 7.3sec
Top speed:
149mph
Fuel:
34.9mpg combined
CO2:
215g/km
Road tax band:
K
Dimensions:
L 4890mm, W 1820mm, H 1505mm

 

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