There’s a wide range of diesel and petrol engines on offer in the E-Class, but the vast majority of used examples are diesel. We favour the E350 CDI since this six-cylinder diesel is smooth and effortlessly rapid, but the more popular E220 and E250 – different power outputs of the same 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine – are great if economy is a priority.
The E250 is a decent blend,
of performance and reliability.
Don’t discount the petrols, either. The E250 is a decent blend of performance and affordability, while the E63 is spectacularly brilliant in a two-faced, luxury exec meets rabid sports car fashion, but you need to be willing to foot the predictably terrifying running costs of a twin-turbo 5.0-litre V8 super-saloon.
Reliability is generally a real strong point with this generation of E-Class. Check for black smoke or odd hesitation in throttle response from the diesels, as the injectors can be an issue, and the alloys are prone to corrosion (which will cost some £100 per wheel to fix). There have been quite a few recalls for the E-Class, too, so it’s worth finding a car that’s got proper dealer service history as this means any potential faults will have been fixed. Servicing needs to be done every year or 15,500 miles, and also consider that this rear-wheel drive car will likely get through rear tyres quicker than your average front-wheel drive saloon or hatchback.
The E-Class is chain-driven, so there’s no need to worry about cambelt changes. Even so, for the level of executive smugness on offer here, the E-Class can be remarkably cheap to buy and run if you stick to the smaller diesels.
As for which trim to go for? Well, three trims were offered at launch – SE, Avantgarde and Sport – all of which had different suspension setups. We’d go for an Avantgarde model, not only because it sounds posh but also because it has comfy suspension, real leather upholstery (as opposed to the fake leather in SE cars) and xenon headlights, on top of the front- and rear-parking sensors, alloys wheels and Bluetooth that even entry-level cars came with. A facelift in 2013 saw more standard safety equipment added to the range, and also saw the trims change to SE and AMG Sport. One option that’s worth checking for is folding rear seats, as this wasn’t standard but being able to drop the rear seat backs will make the occasional trip to Ikea a lot easier.
Overall, given how cheap and available the E-Class is, it’s no surprise that it’s such a good used buy if you want a big, premium car. The key thing to remember is that a lot of these cars will have done very high mileage and have potentially had a hard life as a taxi or company car. If your budget only stretches to the leggier examples, look for a car that has been owned privately, has proper service history and that still feels solid. No matter how reliable a car is, if it’s been abused for the last 200,000 miles, you’re taking a risk with how much life there might be left in it. Lower mileage cars don’t jump up in price too much, so if you can stretch to it, go for one that hasn’t been to the moon and back.