What is the Mercedes E-class W212?
Before Audi gatecrashed the party, your choice of German family saloon was simple: for the ultimate driving machine, you bought the BMW 5-series; for the ultimate in comfort, you headed to the Mercedes dealership for an E-class.
It’s a simple formula, and it still applies today. Focusing on comfort has made the E-class the linchpin of the Mercedes line-up: a favourite with German taxi drivers, executive chauffeurs and the family with a holiday’s-worth of luggage who need the vast estate version.
The current E-class is based on the model that was launched in 2009. Revised in 2013, it has been redesigned without the “four-eyed” headlamps, and now comes with the option of more electronic gadgetry. This includes the useful, but far-from essential, all-round cameras that provide a bird’s eye view of the car and its surroundings on the dashboard screen, as well as an active parking function where the car controls the steering and brakes, enabling it to slot itself into a bay or parallel space.
Mercedes describes the potential options as “limitless” and the range extends from a 168bhp diesel engine to a turbocharged V8 petrol engine in the E63 AMG S with 577bhp. In total, there are two four-cylinder diesels, as well as a V6 and diesel hybrid. Petrol buyers can choose two versions of the 2-litre four-cylinder unit, the V8 in the E63 AMG or the more highly tuned version in the E63 AMG S.
There are now only two trim levels: SE, which offers luxuries including an automatic parking system, three-tone ambient lighting and DAB radio, and AMG Sport, which adds a bodykit, improved brakes, sport suspension and a Nappa-leather steering wheel.
Cruising on a motorway in virtual silence, enveloped in the leather seats, with barely a vibration from the road surface below, the temptation is to simply close your eyes and drift off. Or at least it would be if the standard “Attention Assist” tiredness warning system wasn’t ready to sound an alarm the instant you do so.
There are few more relaxing cars to drive this side of a Rolls-Royce, especially if you opt for the optional Airmatic air suspension. Even on the twistiest back roads, the big E-class remains composed and flat while cornering. The smaller-engined diesel models are particularly well-balanced. The steering on all models is precise, despite lacking some feel. In its own way, the E-class is enormously satisfying to drive. The seven-speed automatic gearbox is excellent, delivering smooth shifts at the right time. The same level of praise can’t be applied to Mercedes’ manual gearboxes, which are generally best avoided.
If you’re not seeking the unhinged E63 AMG models, the 168bhp E220 CDI diesel model stands out for its impressive performance and frugal economy, returning 61.4mpg on the official combined cycle. Although it may be tempting to “upgrade” to the E250 CDI, our testers have found it to be harsher and less refined. Pick the V6 petrol engine in the E350 and you’ll be able to summon what feels like vast reserves of power, as if from a ship’s engine room, sending the car surging forward smoothly. It fits the car’s character perfectly, although there’s a price to pay with an official fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg or closer to 40mpg in real-world driving.
It’s not just the exterior of the E-class that was updated in 2013; the interior received a minor redesign, too, which has tidied it up and improved quality. The car doesn’t just feel like it has returned to the hewn-from-granite Mercedes standard, last seen in the 20th century, but the evidence suggests that it has. The previous version of the E-class has achieved good reliability scores and this should continue with the current car.
The dashboard display isn’t as simple to operate as those offered by Mercedes’ German rivals but it’s fairly easy to use once you are familiar with it. A dial in the centre console is used to select functions on the screen at the top of the dashboard, controlling sat-nav, phone and radio functions among other things.
The most impressive part of the cabin has nothing to do with technology but is all about its sheer space, with generous legroom for rear seat passengers. Put the seats down in the estate and there’s space for 1,950 litres of luggage, or in other words, everything including the kitchen sink. It’s around 300 litres larger than the estate versions of the Audi A6, BMW 5-series and Jaguar XF. Mercedes offers several options to fill it, including two (small) rear-facing seats, to make the E-class into a seven-seater, as well as storage options to keep luggage in place instead of wallowing around the cavernous boot.
It’s easy to get carried away with the options list, which offers equipment ranging from a larger fuel tank to heated rear seats. The 360-degree camera, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the car’s surroundings, is useful for avoiding parking bumps. The ventilated seats, which are fitted with cooling fans, make a big difference on long journeys. You may struggle to resist he optional keyless entry system, which now allows hands-free access to the boot. You open it by waving your foot underneath the bumper, leaving your key in your pocket or bag.
The E-class has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. As well as two ISOFIX child seat mounts, safety equipment includes nine airbags as standard, as well as a collision warning system, tiredness monitor and automatic emergency braking.
What to look out for when buying a used Mercedes E-class W212
After a big dip in quality a few years ago, Mercedes has improved its production processes and the E-class is generally as reliable as you’d expect of a car carrying the three-pointed star. The only issue that’s cropped up so far is with the diesel engine’s fuel injectors, which can need replacing after surprisingly low mileages.
Although E-class owners are generally a happy bunch, this generation of the model, has already been recalled four times. Two of those were because of fuel leaks, one because of power steering system leaks and other because of loss of power steering assistance.
Additional reporting by Richard Dredge
The one to buy
Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI SE 7G-Tronic Plus estate
- £36,185 (price correct at time of publication)
- 2143cc, 4 cylinders
- 168bhp @ 3000rpm
- 295 lb ft @ 1400rpm
- 7-speed auto
- 0-62mph in 8.8sec
- Top Speed:
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4905mm, W 2071mm, H 1507mm
Mercedes-Benz E-class rivals
- BMW 5-series (click to view used car prices)
- Audi A6 Avant (click to view used car prices)
- Jaguar XF (click to view used car prices)