By Andy Enright
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class ought to be the rock on which the company builds its church and in some markets it is, outselling its rivals from BMW and Audi. But the car's image suffered a downturn in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Things started to improve but it wasn't until the introduction of the W212 series, the ninth generation of E-Class in 2009 that things really picked up. This was a car to be proud of, which really took the E-Class's original reputation for solid build quality and refined elegance and established it once again. This is now a great used buy. Here's what to look for.
The first clues as to what the 2009 E-Class would look like appeared a little earlier. The Concept FASCINATION design study of 2008 gave us a clue to its detailing and proportions but it wasn't until January 2009 that we first saw the real thing at the Detroit Show. In 1995, the E-Class was the first Mercedes model to appear with the highly acclaimed twin-headlamp face - a highly symbolic design feature that still characterises the identity of the E-Class. The designers of the W212 E-Class reinterpreted those four "eyes" as rectangles, and this more angular look was mirrored in some of the surfacing, especially in bonnet and boot line.
Newly-developed four-cylinder CDI diesel engines suddenly became the prime focus of the E-Class range and the E200 CDI, E220 CDI and E250 CDI units proved popular with customers. The six-cylinder E350 CDI offered both more power and better economy than its predecessor, the E320 CDI.
Petrol buyers weren't neglected either, with the E200 CGI and E250 CGI bringing four-cylinder direct injection powerplants into Mercedes dealerships. The first W212 saloon and coupe models arrived in the UK in June 2009, with a five-star EuroNCAP rating being announced in December of that year. The following month saw the introduction of the sleek and rather delightful E-Class estate. 2012 saw the E63 AMG change from a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 to a twin-turbo 5.5-litre unit while at the other extreme, we saw the introduction of the E300 Bluetec Hybrid saloon and estate, the last hurrah of the W212 before it was replaced by a facelifted model in early 2013.
What You Get
The E-Class featured the usual SE, Avantgarde and Sport trim levels and the exterior proportioning was also familiar, albeit with all of the detailing sharpened up. The interior was a good deal more adventurously styled than its predecessor with brushed aluminium finishes and metal switches for the climate control. Ambient lighting on the upper specification models created a swathe of soft light across the dashboard and doors which gave an agreeably upmarket feel. If you went looking for it, you'd find hard plastics on the lower dashboard but in general, customers seemed happy with the interior build quality. The foot-operated parking brake was still as unpopular as ever.
The driving position is brilliant and there's a whole stack of reach adjustment in the steering column. All models got heated seats as well which made all the difference on a winter morning. Opt for a Cabriolet and you could have the world-first AIRCAP draught-stop technology, giving a no-wind-in-the-hair cabriolet feeling. The saloon's boot is large, with a capacity of 540-litres. There's a further 78 litres of stowage under the boot floor which is ideal for keeping useful things out of prying eyes. With a load capacity of up to 1950-litres, the E-Class Estate (length/width/ height: 4895/1854/1471 millimetres) set the standard in its class.
What to Look For
Insist on a full Mercedes dealer service history, especially for the most recent models whose lengthy warranty - effectively for the life of the car - is dependent on proper servicing by an authorised agent. Check that all the accessories work and watch out for cosmetic damage which can be expensive to correct. These are popular family cars, so check for wear and tear in the rear. Also look for the usual signs of wheel kerbing and poorly repaired accident damage. Mercedes experienced problems with the piezo electric injectors on the E250CDI and replacing them within factory tolerances seems to be a problem for many dealerships, resulting in sub-par economy.
(approx. based on E250 model) Allow around £90 for a set of front brake pads and £75 for the rear and about £375 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £295, a radiator is about £245 whilst a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £500.
On the Road
The E-Class is renowned for its cool refinement and the W212 moved the game on in that regard. It's a great long distance cruiser with long-legged engines and low levels of wind, engine and road noise intrusion. Ride quality is very good although if you do opt for the Sport suspension, there is a little more bump and thump but nowhere near as much as you'd get in, say, an S-Line Audi A6 of the same vintage.
The E-Class had never earned its spurs as a sports car and even the mighty E63 AMG feels quite a big unit. It's devastatingly quick though, whether you choose the earlier 6.2-litre V8 or the later twin-turbo 5.5-litre powerplant. It's no M5 beater though. That would come with this model's successor.
As you'd expect, the engine choice is huge. Most people opt for the diesels and it's a good call. Even the 136bhp E200 CDI feels quite zesty and the 170bhp E220 CDI feels quite naughty at times. The E250 CDI also uses this same engine, but with power boosted to 204bhp. The six-cylinder E350 CDI is a beauty though, with a real growl to it. With 231bhp and 540Nm on tap, 62mph arrives in just 6.8 seconds. The petrol line-up is only slightly less impressive, with the star of the show being the 292bhp E350 CGI V6. If you've got deep pockets there's a 388bhp E500 model powered by a 5.5-litre V8.
There's really not too much that goes wrong with these cars but values have held very firm, partly because this model's facelifted successor takes an evolutionary design theme and also because the W212 is just a very, very good car. I'd be looking for the smaller capacity diesels in either saloon or estate guises, but there's a lot to be said for the pretty coupe too, a car that really would have suited the howling 6.2-litre AMG engine. Whatever E-Class you plump for, you'll find strong build quality, great attention to detail and effortless mile-munching ability. Recommended.