We like a German motor here at Not2Grand, especially if that motor has a three-pointed star on its nose. There’s just something about owning a Mercedes-Benz that makes you feel special. We’ve had a few and even though they were all abysmal sheds that had been horrifically abused, we still felt brilliant driving them. The fact we earned £45.98 a year, lived in a dank, horrid, shared house and bought our clothes from ASDA didn’t matter. We had a Mercedes-Benz, so we were posh. Because that’s how it works, right?
And the thing about an old Merc is that if it’s been looked after, it will go on forever. Go to Africa and you’ll see decrepit old W123s chugging about with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock. A Merc is like a puppy – you buy one for life. Though unlike a puppy, old Mercs are so cheap you can throw them away when they break. DO NOT DO THIS WITH A PUPPY.
This brings us to the W211 E Class. Built when Mercedes-Benz started to remember how to make cars again, it’s a solid, well-built, handsome machine. And yet, it’s dirt cheap.
Look at that for a side profile. How bloody lovely is that? And yes, in case you’re wondering, we are focusing on the estate version here. Though saloons are available for the same money. We like the estate, mainly because it’s vast. If you went to IKEA in one of these, you’d have to buy curiously-named Swedish furniture for every room in your house before you got anywhere close to filling it. Look…
See. Vast. And let’s face it, you’re going to be buying one of these to be a family car, so you need all that space for stuff. Families have a lot of stuff, apparently. And with nearly 2,000 litres of space you can carry it all. That’s more than BMWs or Audis of this era by some measure. Think of it as £1 for every litre of space, with a free Mercedes wrapped around it all. Not2Grand economics in action there.
It’s not just about load space and a badge though. The W211 E Class is a damn fine car though and through. As we said, this car comes from an era when Mercedes-Benz go its shit together. The previous model, the W210, was a mess. Not only was it fairly ugly, it was also made from metal so keen to rust it would make a shipwreck blush. Then there was the build quality and the overall quality of materials used. The C Class of that era was just as bad. The A Class, eesh. It wasn’t a good time.
The early ’00s were a welcome return to form, and in the W211 E Class, it shows. This thing is built from decent metal. The interior – while not remarkable – is made well and from materials that weren’t bought from a Sunday market. It feels deserving of the badge. And most importantly for us and our meagre budget, the W211 has aged gracefully. It really doesn’t look old.
Engine-wise, there is something for everyone. The four-cylinder petrols are probably best avoided, what with the W211 being a bit of a big old bus. Though that said, they are cheaper and tend to have less miles to show for their years. However, be aware that most will be supercharged. Fine on paper, but on a cheap Mercedes, failure could kill off the entire car due to cost.
Your best bet is to stick to a diesel. The E220 CDI is frugal, but lacks any real punch. For that, you need the E320 CDI or the E270 CDI. They’ve got more grunt, more torque and are simply much nicer to live with. You’ll be surprised by how smooth they are.
Whatever you choose, make sure you get full history. They are out there, and while the miles may be higher, the history will more than make up for it. Trust us when we say a high mile/full history car is better than a low mile/patchy history version. You need the peace of mind that comes from a caring maintenance schedule. This is a premium car, after all.
On the road, the W211 E Class is a cruiser, not a bruiser. There’s a reason high mileage cars are commonplace. They lap up the miles with ease, in comfort and at a respectable pace. For a big car, the handling is respectable, though it’s not exactly what you’d consider sharp. But that’s fine, it’s not trying to be. The only big letdown is the ‘Sensotronic Brake Control’. It’s a fly-by-wire system connected to the brakes. In theory, it’s clever. In practice it’s devoid of any feel. Not what you want from the brakes.
Oh, and get one with an automatic transmission. It won’t be hard to find one, as that’s how 99% came. You don’t need a manual in a W211, it’s useless and detracts from the overall drive. Stick with auto, it’s what Mercedes does best.
As it’s a family car, safety is important. So you’ll be pleased to know that Smash Mouth fans, EuroNCAP shot one at a wall and gave it the full five stars in return. With front, side body and side head airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, adaptive brakes (prime for faster reaction in the event of an emergency) with drying function, hill hold and Isofix mounting points for the sprogs, it’s supremely safe. That’s why Mercedes used safety in the above ad campaign.
In closing, it’s a good car. A very good car in fact. Yes, early ones had some electrical issues, but recalls were issued by Mercedes-Benz and post 2005 cars were almost completely free of problems. That said, if an early car is still going now, it’s more than likely okay. Just make sure you buy one with as much history as possible, full history if possible. That’s far more important that mileage. And avoid anything that’s had a million owners. Don’t forget, there’s a wealth of tools at your disposal to check everything out.