Steve gets behind the wheel of a 3rd generation E class to see whether it is a used car gem.
The Mercedes W211 E class was launched in 2002 to replace the notoriously rust prone W210 model. There was a lot riding on this new E class and most importantly Mercedes reputation, due to build quality issues affecting various models of Mercedes both in the late 1990s and into the start of the 21st century.
This new model E Class was only available in two body styles, either saloon or estate and three spec levels were offered on release which were; Classic, Elegance and Advantgarde. Even the entry level Classic spec was well equipped and benefited from climate air conditioning, cruise control, alloy wheels, heated washer jets and rain sensing wipers. The Elegence trim added interior touches such as wood trim, leather trimmed steering wheel/gear knob and the top spec Advantgade benefited from part leather trim, Xenon headlights, LED rear lights and specific five spoke alloy wheels.
Various engine options were available including a good array of diesel engines which reflected the market at the time, as diesels were in favour with buyers and the government. The options were; 220CDI, 270CDI (prefaclift only), 280CDI and 320CDI in diesel form. On the other hand petrol buyers weren’t forgotten about as the E Class was available as a 200, 320 (V6) or a 500 (V8) which was fitted to the AMG and later replaced by the E63 at the end of production. The key to a long engine life for any Mercedes is regular maintenance and this should help reduce some issues. One key issue on CDI engines are injector seal failure and this can be sotted by a rough running engine and a fuel smell in the cabin. As you would expect it is not cheap to repair and you’ll be looking roughly up to £500. Also bearings for the super chargers pulley can fail especially on cars that have covered more than 100,000 miles. Due to the age of most W211 cars, most will have covered more than 100k so it’s worth checking the service history for this work being carried out.
Unfortunately the early cars weren’t without faults, but compared to the previous rusty W210 the W211 suffered from electrical and mechanical gremlins. The most important electrical issue to watch out for on early cars, those built up to 2005 are faults with the Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) system. The SBC system was designed to be a form of anti-skid control and was able to make adjustments to brake pressure to help keep the car more stable under braking. However the system has been known to fail and even Mercedes replaced the SBC units when the cars were within warranty. Due to the amount of customer complaints/system issues Mercedes reverted to a hydraulic system for the facelift model. In addition, one key issue with early E class models is with the radiator which has been known to leak into the gearbox oil cooler. This ultimately jams the torque converter and can result in an expensive bill but only affects models built up to 2003 and fitted with a Valeo radiator.
Mercedes facelifted the E class for the 2006 model year and thankfully this rectified a lot of the early faults and around 2000 improvements were made, including to the performance and handling. The facelift was graced with new headlights, grill and bumper which helped improve the styling. For the facelift a sport spec was also added which was fitted with 18” wheels, cornering lights, stiffer suspension, gear shift paddles and cost £1,470 as an optional extra on the estate and a whopping £3,570 on the saloon.
As you would expect safety wasn’t neglected either and the facelifted E Class was fitted with a tyre pressure monitoring system as well as adaptive braking system which flash the brake lights to warn cars behind of sudden braking. If the car behind still fails to stop the E Class is fitted with PRE SAFE occupant protection and neck pro head restraints which both prepare the occupants and vehicle for an imminent impact.
Driving the W211 Mercedes E Class
The car I have on test is a facelift 2006 280CDI estate model with the optional extra sport trim which has covered 133,000 miles. Sliding into the comfy leather seat it is clear to see that this model of E Class differs greatly from its boxy predecessors. The cabin is light and airy as well as having a dash that curves and gives the E Class a modern, yet sophisticated look and is very well laid out. The front seats are easily adjusted thanks to the electric adjustment and memory feature as well as being heated which is ideal for the up and coming winter. This is also supported with the reach and rake adjusted from the leather steering wheel. Turning the key and the V6 diesel engine fires and quickly settles to a smooth idle.
Engaging drive and pulling away it is clear that the V6 diesel has brisk acceleration which is further helped from the 7 speed GTRONIC gearbox, both of which present no drama. The W211 E Class was highly praised for its handling characteristics, with great body control/neutral handling and this particular car is no exception. The ride is very compliant and absorbs bumps well, which is impressive as the sport model has the stiffer suspension but is supported with self-levelling Airmatic air suspension on the rear. Furthermore the steering is precise and gives the driver confidence to push the car into the corners. As you’d expect the braking system is more than adequate to stop this autobahn stormer, and can bring the car to a stop in half the distance of the Highway Codes distances which is impressive for a car of this size and weight.
On examining the cabin it is clear that the interior is built well and very electrical item was working and the interior was showing no real signs of wear, other than on the driver seat bolster. There is a generous amount of leg and head room for rear passengers as well as having a carnivorous boot which can also be fitted with optional extra rear facing seats.
The Motorists Guide View
The W211 E Class was a very expensive car when new but now they can be obtained for as little as £1500 and are exceptional value for money. But be warned there will be a lot of cheap E class cars out there which are suffering from mechanical or electrical issues, and as such a comprehensive service history is a must. Cars that are in good, cared for condition will provide fantastic family transport as well as providing good levels of comfort, equipment and safety and it is a car I would strongly recommend.
Length: 4,818mm (15ft 10in)
Width: 1,822mm (6ft 0in)
Height: 1,452mm (4ft 9in)
Luggage capacity: 540 litres (rear seats up)
Length: 4,850mm (16’ 0”)
Width: 1,822mm (6’ 0”)
Height: 1,495mm (4’ 11”)
Luggage capacity: (rear seats up): 690 litres.
Luggage capacity: (rear seats down): 1,950 litres.
Kerb weight: 1,785kg – 1,885kg