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The E-Class is a refined and relaxing return to old Mercedes qualities - a truly brilliant used purchase

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Many people’s experience of the W212, the fourth generation (2009-2016) of Mercedes-Benz E-Class, is probably being whisked to the airport in a saloon. 

Impressed by its spaciousness, refinement and deep- rooted quality, they glance at the instrument cluster to discover that it has done way over 200,000 miles. One day, they promise themselves, they will have one of these...

Well, with £14,000, buying one of the last 2016-reg diesels (a Euro 6- compliant E220 Bluetec AMG Night Edition auto with a reasonable 70,000 miles), that day has come.

Alternatively, the estate, with its 1950 litres of seats-down load space and self-levelling rear suspension, is only around £1000 more for the same year and spec. There’s a coupé and a convertible, too, but here we’re concerned with the saloon and estate.

The model mix for buyers is skewed towards diesel saloons. Specifically, saloons outnumber estates by about three to one, while diesels outnumber petrols 13 to one. There’s a good range of diesels on offer.

The four-cylinder 2.1-litre engine, available in four power outputs, is the bedrock of the line-up. We prefer the 202bhp E250 CDI’s strong performance and decent real-world economy over the slower E200 CDI and E220 CDI versions. The economy champion, the saloon and estate.

The model mix for buyers is skewed towards diesel saloons. Specifically, saloons outnumber estates by about three to one, while diesels outnumber petrols 13 to one.

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There’s a good range of diesels on offer. The four-cylinder 2.1-litre engine, available in four power outputs, is the bedrock of the line-up. We prefer the 202bhp E250 CDI’s strong performance and decent real-world economy over the slower E200 CDI and E220 CDI versions.

The economy champion, though, is the E300dh, a 228bhp 2.1-litre diesel hybrid, which can do almost 70mpg. The 3.0-litre V6 E350 CDI is quicker but much thirstier.

The majority of diesels are Euro 5-compliant, but from 2014 the E220 CDI and E350 CDI, badged Bluetec, are Euro 6. The E250 CDI, meanwhile, didn’t get the Bluetec treatment and remained Euro 5 until its retirement in 2015.

Turning to the petrols, logic says you should ignore the small 1.8-litre E250 CGI, but it pumps out a decent 201bhp and the few we found are low-mileage private cars with good histories. The rare 288bhp 3.5-litre V6-engined 350CGI is an interesting alternative and capable of 0-62mph in 6.8sec and 30mpg.

Also interesting is the ultra-rare petrol-electric plug-in hybrid: the 2.0-litre, 6.4kWh E350e.

Next up is a 5.5-litre V8. Surprisingly, given their original high list prices, the number of available E63s is well into double figures.

'Facelift' doesn't describe the revisions made to the E-Class for the 2013 model year. Reputed to be the most significant revision Mercedes had yet made to a model, it cost £1 billion in development - about what an all-new model would cost.

The adoption of single headlights, a simplified front grille and a refreshed interior were the obvious visual changes. They were accompanies by improvements to the engines and an increase in equipment, including a choice of suspension systems.

Safety, already high, was upped by the optional driver assistance features from the S-Class.

As for trims, Avantgarde and SE veer towards comfort while sportier versions, with their larger wheels and firmer suspension, offer a more jarring ride.

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Fortunately, on later cars, it can be partially dialled out by the various suspension modes.

A BMW 5 Series will be sharper and an Audi A6 will feel at least as well built, but a well-bought, Mk4 E-Class saloon or estate will slip unobtrusively into your life, providing high levels of comfort and practicality in one desirable and durable package. 

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2009-2016 common problems

Engine: There have been reports of some cars throwing their timing chains, so listen for rattles when the engine is warm. The 220 CDI and 250 CDI engines have experienced faulty Delphi fuel injectors. Check for coolant leaks on the 250 CDI.

Gearbox: The automatic gearbox requires fresh fluid every three years or 50,000 miles. Check that changes are smooth at all speeds.

Suspension: Depending on the system, be sure all suspension modes work. If it’s an estate, check the operation of the Airmatic self-levelling suspension. Problems may be with the suspension itself or the level sensor linkage.

Brakes and tyres: The E-Class can get through front brake discs in as little as 13,000 miles. Premium-brand tyres all round suggest careful ownership.

Interior: Not all Comand system sat-navs accept UK postcodes, although they can be upgraded. On Euro 6 diesels, the AdBlue tank takes the place of the spare wheel. The E-Class’s superb build quality disguises high mileage well, so check that the car hasn’t been clocked. Scrutinise the dashboard for warning lights. Make sure the climate control isn’t blowing more cold air than necessary. If it’s an estate, inspect the headlining and the load area for damage.

Body: There are reports of windscreens on 2009-2015 cars being prone to cracking. Inspect the rear subframe, axle and wheel nuts for heavy corrosion. Check the condition of the auxiliary battery in the boot.

DESIGN & STYLING

Mercedes-Benz E-Class side profile

By far the most controversial aspect of the E-Class’s design was its styling when it was introduced back in 2009 as the W212. The angular twin front headlights in particular were singled out for criticism. So when its mid-life refresh appeared there was no great surprise to notice the car looked radically different.

Of course it’s not practical to completely restyle a car half way through its product cycle but the E-Class arrived to show you don’t need new doors, bonnets or roofs to comprehensively alter a car’s appearance.

By reverting to single lamps, designing a sharper bumper and replacing the old multi-element traditional Mercedes grille with a simple twin strut design an effect that is both dramatic and for the better was achieved.

The result is still not a gorgeous car in quite the same way as an A6 was, but its attractive enough and certainly provides an active reason to consider an E-Class. Saloons and estates also got a mildly reprofiled rear end with new light clusters too. Inside all Es the differences between pre and post facelift cars were too small to delay us further here.

It's still a very traditional looking Mercedes, perhaps the most traditional of all. It sits on an uncommonly long wheelbase with a long rear overhang that turns into a vast cavern when estate bodywork is fitted.

For all its refreshed appearance, this is not a Mercedes for the avant garde, which is perhaps one reason why they dropped that title from the trim level. Indeed such is the range rationalisation that happened at the time, engines aside the only choice will be between a base SE version and a more sporting looking AMG Sport on bigger 19in wheels.

Unless, that is, you’re after the real AMG...

INTERIOR

Mercedes-Benz E-Class dashboard

In a car such as this you’re entitled to expect a persuasive blend of both quality and quantity. And the E-Class delivers both.

While some rivals focus providing an interior that reflects the sporting image of the car or the owner’s fashion sense, Mercedes instead plumped simply for one that works.

There is an immense sense of solidity to the structure, with build standards finally feeling commensurate with those of the gloriously over-engineered W124-generation of the late 1980s and early ‘90s - it feels like a Mercedes should.

Inside while the dash is gently sculpted and while every finisher that looks like metal really is metal, the cabin doesn’t have that sense of being overtly styled in quite the same way as you’d find in Jaguar XF or Audi A6.

It may be hot on its heels, but here form continues to follow function. The dials are easy to read, the ventilation brilliantly good at directing gusts of hot or cool air at your face and feet. The sense is of a company trying to make a car that’s as easy to live with as it is good to drive.

Even so the COMAND infotainment system which was world class when introduced into the previous generation S-Class back in 2005 is now merely good and has been eclipsed by, the then generation of BMW’s iDrive controller.

Where the E-Class is beaten by no other car of the period in its class is the generosity of the interior space.

Any executive saloon or estate should be expected to carry five adults in comfort (though they’ll struggle in the then XF) but the E-Class goes further: there’s not just lashings of head and leg room in the back, there’s also uncommonly long seat runners in the front, meaning even the freakishly tall will be able to get comfortable behind the wheel with ease, particularly as the steering column has a commensurately long reach extension too.

Boot space was class leading at the time for the saloon too, so long as you don’t specify either the 3-litre diesel or the hybrid, both of which lose carrying capacity to fit an 80 litre fuel tank and battery pack respectively.

As for the estate, its 1950 litre total load capacity is not just the class best, it’s more than any of its stablemates, more closely rivalled by the Skoda Superb estate than any BMW, Audi or Jaguar.

It’s also big enough for two rearward facing seats to be fitted, along with an additional crash structure, making the E-class the only seven seat estate in the class, although thanks to its massive exhausts, this option was not available on the AMG model.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Mercedes-Benz E-Class front quarter

If a 0-62mph time of 8.8sec is acceptable to you, the news is good. That’s the time for an E 220 CDI estate and the slowest of any E-Class of the period. An E 250 CDI saloon needs just 7.5sec, as does the hybrid while the E 350 CDI knocks that figure back to 6.6sec.

If you want to go faster than that, it’s to the AMG you must look, which needs either 4.3 or 4.2sec depending on whether it has the ‘S’ specification engine or not. Bear in mind this is achieved without four-wheel drive: in America where four driveshafts were standard, the E 63 S hits 60mph in a faintly bewildering 3.6sec.

Experience suggests that shopping at the performance poles is probably the best idea: the standard petrol engines will always be a minority interest on a continent where, at the time, over 90 per cent of sales of such cars are diesel. Likewise the 3-litre diesel, while tempting, will in the real world really hit your pocket hard at refuelling time.

So it’s the little diesels to which most turned and quite correctly. Remember the base E 220 diesel was the only E-Class available with a manual transmission – all the others used Mercedes’ own seven speed auto, which is not and never has been as smooth or intuitive as the ZF eight speeder used by most rivals.

And while Mercedes’ four cylinder diesel is rather gruff in lesser cars, it responds beautifully to being installed in an E-class where it is sufficiently smooth and quiet not to puncture the picture of serenity Mercedes so carefully constructed for this car.

Of the two we’d choose the more powerful E 250 CDI motor because the additional performance is notable and welcome in a 1775kg car, and the penalty at the pumps is not as great as you might expect.

As for the 5.5-litre twin turbo AMGs, if you can find the extra to get the ‘S’ you should on the basis that even more of a good thing can often prove wonderful. It does here: this is a mighty motor, sweeter, more powerful and with a better spread of torque than the smaller, less powerful engines used by the then BMW M5 and Audi RS6.

Bear in mind too that while the BMW (and Jaguar XFR-S) is available only as a saloon and the RS6 just as an estate, Mercedes will build you an E 63 with either four or five doors.

RIDE & HANDLING

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé rear cornering

Ride quality is a Mercedes E-Class hallmark and even the worst of them all – an E 63 in sport mode – is still a perfectly comfortable car. But depending on wheel and tyre choices and whether air suspension has been optioned, your E-Class will come with ride quality that starts at exceptional and extends all the way to the truly extraordinary.

A base model E-Class on steel springs glides like few other cars in the world. It’s soft but deftly controlled, sponging away all manner of everyday lumps and bumps but never resorting lurching or wallowing over long wave undulations.

Estates are even better because all of them got air-sprung self levelling rear suspension as standard. But it’s only when you drive a car with bags of air at each corner that you realise just what can be achieved – namely a level of comfort you’d need a brand new S-Class or a Rolls-Royce to significantly trump.

There is a pay off in the way the E-Class handles. With its long wheelbase and relatively soft suspension, there is a stateliness to the way it gets down the road you’re unlikely ever to confuse with agility.

Slow corners tackled with excess enthusiasm will result in an early cessation of play as the electronic stability systems call time on such behaviour, but with precise and sensibly geared steering quicker curves are much more proficiently dispatched.

Predictably enough these comments don’t really apply to the AMG versions, which are anything between awesomely capable and splendidly nutty depending on how you choose to drive them.

They put you in closer touch with conditions underfoot than either competitors from Audi or BMW, and should you find the time and space to safely disengage the safety nets, they’re more fun and predictable to hoof around on the throttle too.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

It’s up to you really. If you believe the official figures, an AMG will do 28.5mpg, a hybrid 68.9mpg.

Of course neither stand bears much semblance to reality except in a comparative sense: whatever the actual numbers it probably is true that the AMG will drink around 2.5 times more fuel on any given journey.

In reality it would be fair to expect something near 50mpg for one of the small diesels in mixed gentle driving and around 40mpg for the four cylinder petrol models and six diesels in similar circumstances.

Bear in mind too that not all Mercedes E-Classes have the vast 80 litre tank as standard so if you want a 600 plus mile range from a little diesel engine, you’ll need to option it in.

As for the AMGs, expect an mpg figure in the early to mid 20s and you’ll probably not be too disappointed so long as you don’t regularly make full use of the engine’s potential. If you do, 15mpg becomes a terrifyingly easy place to reach.

VERDICT

4 star Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Whichever Mercedes E-Class you buy, you’re buying into a way of thinking unlike any other in the class.

Its rivals might obsess about image and what customers might think their cars say about them, but Mercedes has more meaty matters on its mind.

So it’s true the E-Class won’t turn heads like an A6 or spark envy like a 5 Series. Indeed it’s entirely possible it’ll say things about you that you may not appreciate. The E-Class has never been a car to which hot shots aspire and that remains the case today.

But what if you don’t care about all of that? What if what really matters to you is that you drive a car of real quality and engineering integrity? What if it matters more to you that your car is quiet and comfortable for your entire family than its ability to make the neighbours turn green with envy? That is the Mercedes E-Class’s pitch and it’s a convincing one.

You’ll never see the E-Class at its best on a round the block test drive, but live with one for a few days and see how well it slips unobtrusively into your life and you might well end up feeling you’d not mind if it hung around for a few months. Or years.

AMGs aside - and their appeal derives from simply being the best supersaloons and estates on sale - the E-Class is not a car that likes to shout and scream its credentials. It would much prefer merely to get on with the job quietly and capably. And that is a task to which it is near perfectly suited.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2009-2016 First drives