BY JONATHAN CROUCH
If you want a Mercedes-Benz, with its image of restrained style, disciplined authority and sporting understatement, then the car you're probably thinking about is an E-class. The first generation model (produced between 1993 and 1995 though estates, coupes and cabriolets continued for a while) is an excellent buy and there are plenty to choose from on the used market.
Models Covered: First generation E-class - 1993-1995: (E200 2.0 Saloon, Estate / E220 2.0 Saloon, Estate, Coupe, Cabriolet / E250D 2.5 D Saloon, Estate / E280 2.8 6cyl Saloon, Estate / E300D 3.0 6cyl D Saloon, Estate / E320 3.2 6cyl Saloon, Estate, Coupe, Cabriolet / E500 Saloon)(NB - The Estate and Coupe models continued until 1996. Cabriolets continued until 1997)
Originally, the E-class was a line-up of mid-range models, ranging from the 200E to the 300E, introduced late in 1985. Saloons, then estates were offered first before coupes and, ultimately, convertibles arrived. In 1993, the range was rationalised and renamed as the E-class line-up at the same time as enjoying a minor facelift; you pick the later cars by their clear front indicator lenses and wide side mouldings. This first generation E-class range was a huge success for Mercedes. Over 10 years, it held sway as Europe's favourite executive saloon; even months before it began to be replaced in 1995 by an all-new model range, it remained Britain's best selling luxury car.
What You Get
'The Best or nothing' was the personal motto of Gottlieb Daimler and the criterion he applied in creating the automobile. A century later, it remains the guiding spirit of the company he co-founded. Most Mercedes-Benz customers feel the same. Few would consider a Vauxhall or a Ford, a Rover or a Saab as an alternative, however luxurious. None of those cars could give them the feeling of driving a universal automotive benchmark, a car which sets the standards by which others must be judged. There's a great deal of mythology in that of course. In many ways, the Stuttgart company can no longer claim to be in a class of its own, with great strides by rival manufacturers, notably neighbours BMW, challenging the premium prices still being asked by the three-pointed star. Even so, the ownership of a Mercedes-Benz still remains the mark of instant status. Somehow, just seating yourself behind the wheel is enough to send a little rush of pride seeping through the veins. You've made it.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Buying from a franchised dealership is undeniably expensive, but it does take the worry out of purchasing an E-class. Going this route also entitles you to Mercedes' helpful PCP finance scheme and an impressive back-up package of after-sales benefits. A nice metallic colour is preferable, as is automatic transmission, leather upholstery and air conditioning, all of which will guarantee an easier sale when it's time to sell on. If you're buying alone, look out for badly treated cars which have been disguised. Telltale signs are sagging seats and shiny steering wheel rims.
(approx based on an E200 2.0 estate): A clutch assembly will be around £155. A starter motor will be about £195 and a radiator around £175. An alternator is around £300, a full exhaust about £880 (including catalyst). Brake pads front and rear are about £60 for the front and £40 for the rear. A replacement headlamp is close to £275.
On the Road
An E-class isn't cheap, and its price isn't one that most owners would attempt to justify by quoting from the standard equipment list. Having said that, the specification on most post-1993 cars does run to anti-lock brakes, power for the steering, sunroof, windows and mirrors, a driver's airbag, central locking and lumbar support for the seats. In the first generation E220 for example, acceleration to 60 takes 10.8 seconds, but the car's slippery shape does ensure an above average maximum speed of 123mph (or 131mph in the case of the saloon). Handling is precise - the car turns into corners with a crisp fluidity - and is aided by excellently weighted power steering that offers just the right amount of assistance. Less welcome from the point of view of the sporting driver is the giant steering wheel which looks like something from a Triumph Toledo. Once you get used to that, you learn to respect the impressive reserves of grip on offer. The powerful, progressive brakes add to the all-round feeling of safety which the car imbues to its owner. Less familiar will be the unusual fly-off parking brake, applied by a pedal mounted on the left-hand side of the driver's footwell. You release it with a facia-mounted handle. The interior itself looks less austere than perhaps you might expect; Mercedes brightened things up in later years by the addition of shiny polished wood fittings, although the atmosphere remained very Germanic. You soon learn to live with the firm seats, which prove to be deceptively comfortable over long journeys, but less impressive on short ones. E-class estates offer a usefully sized loading area that's reached via a low loading sill. They can't rival the spaciousness of Volvo's estate cars, but should prove ample for the needs of most owners.
If you can afford the asking price, then an E-class becomes a surprisingly affordable car to own. That's down to design efficiency and tiny depreciation. Your accountant will approve.