2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon
2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon. Click image to enlarge

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Mercedes-Benz Canada

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Mercedes-Benz E-Class, 2003-2008

In the summertime, there’s a guy up the street from me who regularly drives past my house in a late 1960s or early ’70s Mercedes-Benz 230. It’s a gorgeous car, and looks to be in mint condition. That 230 model (W114 series, 1968-1976) is one of many Mercedes models that can be found in the E-Class family tree, Mercedes’ mid-sized cars.

Interestingly, the “E” designation didn’t appear on a Benz car until the first fuel-injected models arrived in the late 1960s (the German term for fuel injection is einspritzung, according to Wikipedia’s entry on the E-Class), but wasn’t used consistently in its current form – E320, for example, as opposed to 220E – until the 1990s.

If you follow the E-Class’ lineage, the model introduced in 2002 as a 2003 model is the seventh-generation of the car, and is also known by its W211 codename. The W211 began its life in 2003 in two forms: the V6-powered E320, and as the E500, with a 5.0-litre V8. The six was good for 221 horsepower/232 lb-ft of torque, while the V8 made 302 hp/339 lb-ft.

2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI
2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI. Click image to enlarge

For 2004, the AMG-tuned E55 was added; its supercharged 5.5-litre V8 produced 469 hp/516 lb-ft. This model year also introduced the station wagon version of the W211, offered in E320 and E500 forms, and only with M-B’s 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.

In 2005, Benz added a diesel engine to the lineup, this one a 3.2-litre in-line six producing 201 hp/369 lb-ft; this model was known as the E320 CDI.

For 2006, the 3.2-litre gasoline V6 was replaced by a more-powerful 3.5-litre motor. It made 268 hp/258 lb-ft, and was used in the new E350 model, in both sedan and wagon body styles. An E55 wagon was added too, though this one was sold with rear-wheel drive only.

The 2007 model year brought a new base model to the E-Class lineup – the E280 – powered by a 3.0-litre V6 making 228 hp/221 lb-ft. The old in-line six diesel was replaced by Benz’ cleaner BlueTec V6; this motor made 210 hp/388 lb-ft, while returning about the same fuel economy. At the same time, the wagon lineup was pared down to just one model, the E350 4MATIC. Also, the E500 became the E550 thanks to a larger motor making 382 hp/391 lb-ft, and the E55 AMG became the E62 AMG, getting a 6.2-litre V8 with 507 hp and 465 lb-ft.

2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon
2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon. Click image to enlarge

In 2008, the E280 was rebadged as the E300 and got standard all-wheel drive.

The transmission choice was limited to a five-speed automatic in 2003 models. In 2004, the E500 got a seven-speed auto. The seven-speed was shared with the E350 starting in 2006, and the E63 got it as well in 2007.

The original W211s earned EnerGuide fuel consumption ratings of 12.2/8.1 L/100 km (city/highway) in E320 form and 14.5/9.4 L/100 km as the E500.

The 2005 diesel-powered E320 CDI was rated at 8.9/5.9 L/100 km (city/highway), while the E55’s numbers were 16.6/10.3, and 2006’s E350 was rated at 12.3/8.0 L/100 km (city/highway).

The 2007 E280 earned ratings of 13/9.1 L/100 km (city/highway); note that 2007 non-diesel, non-AMG models had standard all-wheel drive, hence the increase in fuel consumption over the 2006 E350.

The E63 was rated at 17.2/10.8 L/100 km, and the new BlueTec diesel at 9.0/5.9 (city/highway).

2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI
2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI. Click image to enlarge

Where reliability is concerned, Consumer Reports’ data holds no surprises: like many high-end German cars, the E-Class has been less-than-perfect, earning average to below-average used car ratings, depending on model.

A “Brake – Visit Workshop” warning in the instrument cluster could be caused by a bad brake light switch. It’s an easy DIY repair; see this thread at MBWorld.org for a how-to.

Here’s a discussion comparing pros and cons of the old diesel models, versus the newer BlueTec versions.

A scraping or rumbling sound heard when driving over imperfect pavement could be caused by worn stabilizer bar links.

A thumping noise from the rear suspension in E-Class cars with the AirMatic suspension is normal. See this thread to read about one owner’s lengthy ordeal to find the source of the noise. More insight can be found here.

If the rear-seat climate control vents blow nothing but hot air regardless of HVAC settings, the problem could be with the “changeover valve.” See this thread for a DIY repair how-to.

2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI
2005 Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI. Click image to enlarge

Consumer Reports notes the audio and climate control systems as the main trouble spots in the W211 E-Class, as well as minor transmission issues. This last item could be attributed to owners experiencing odd shifting at city speeds, as discussed in this thread.

The W211 E-Class earned “good” ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) frontal offset crash test, but only an “acceptable” rating for side impact protection, thanks to a high risk of torso and pelvic injury for front-seat occupants.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests, the 2003 E-Class earned four stars for driver and front passenger protection in the frontal impact test, and five stars for front and rear passenger protection in side impact tests. These ratings would remain the same through 2008.

2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon
2004 Mercedes-Benz E-500 wagon. Click image to enlarge

Canadian Red Book pegs the price range for used W211 E-Class cars starting at $21,000 (2003 E320) to $93,225 (2008 E63 AMG). My pick would be a 2006 wagon model, which gives you a car new enough to still have some left-over warranty coverage, and late enough in the W211’s run that some of the bugs will (hopefully) have been worked out. Sadly, the wagon was never offered with a diesel engine, so the gas-powered E350 is it, at a Red Book value of $41,525.

So, like most German cars, a used E-Class doesn’t come cheap, but the W211 is one that actually seems worth the money, in terms of reliability. While there are a few things to watch out for, these issues are mostly minor and won’t leave you stranded. Still, high repair costs when something does go wrong make looking for a car with left-over factory warranty a wise choice; also, don’t buy a car that doesn’t come with detailed maintenance and repair records. And please, before you buy (or before you even starting looking around), find a trustworthy Benz mechanic to whom you can take any car you’re considering for a once-over before buying.

Pricing

Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) November 2008:

Year
Model
Price today
Price new
2008
E350 4MATIC sedan
$61,850
$74,500
2007
E350 4MATIC sedan
$52,850
$74,500
2006
E350 4MATIC sedan
$40,775
$78,350
2005
E350 4MATIC sedan
$30,825
$76,950
2004
E350 4MATIC sedan
$26,400
$75,950
2003
E320 sedan
$21,000
$69,950

Online resources

BenzWorld.org and MBWorld.org both offer discussion forums specifically for the W211 E-Class, so I’d start with either of these sites in a web-based search for information on this car. Don’t overlook the E-Class forum at MercedesForum.com, though; it takes in all generations of E-Class, so finding specifics will more difficult, but there is plenty of information to be had here.

Manufacturer’s Website
  • Mercedes-Benz Canada

    Recalls

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008242; Units affected: 37

    2003-2007: Certain vehicles may have been programmed with incorrect software calibration data during the manufacturing process. This could affect various functions such as: the electric fuel pump may not receive a signal which, in case of a crash, may prevent the fuel pump from disconnecting as designed; the maximum speed limiter may not be activated; the fuel gauge readings may be incorrect; a stuck fuel-level sensor may not be displayed in the instrument cluster; the speedometer may be out of tolerance which, as a result, may indicate inaccurate vehicle speed; the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system may reduce the emission level applicable to the vehicle, causing the Check Engine Light to illuminate incorrectly. Correction: dealers will reprogram the electronic control module.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004210; Units affected: 6,579

    2003-2005: The electronic monitoring system of the Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) is designed to monitor the pressure gradient within the high pressure line of the brake system. If an unacceptable pressure gradient is detected, the system will switch, as it is designed to do, into the hydraulic function mode. DaimlerChrysler AG has determined that in certain instances, if vehicles are not routinely serviced and have extremely high mileage combined with a high number of brake actuations or a high brake actuation frequency, the pump motor of the SBC may run out of permissible tolerances, thereby triggering the hydraulic function mode. Correction: Dealers will re-program the SBC hydraulic unit. A software update will provide a clear maintenance notice on the vehicle display and assure continuous pump speed operation within tolerances.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005094; Units affected: 9,256

    2003-2005: On certain vehicles, the Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) unit may contain a pump piston which is out of permissible tolerances. Also, vibrations within the electrical connector may cause a loss of electrical continuity. Both conditions may result in the system reverting to hydraulic function mode. A loss of brake power assist would result in increased pedal effort and extended stopping distance. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if required, replace the SBC pump unit.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007418; Units affected: 1,417

    2007: On certain diesel powered vehicles, the crankshaft sensor may fail, causing the engine to stall. Engine stalling would result in lost propulsion which, in conjunction with traffic and road conditions, and the driver’s reactions, could increase the risk of a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the crankshaft sensor.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006145; Units affected: 41

    2005-2006: On certain vehicles, under hard operating conditions, the engine compartment temperature can increase to a level which exceeds the design parameters for the alternator. A damaged alternator cannot assure sufficient voltage to supply the vehicle electrical system. A damaged alternator has the potential to cause an engine compartment fire. Correction: Dealers will install a modified control unit and a new alternator.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007410; Units affected: 4

    2007: On certain vehicles, under hard operating conditions, the engine compartment temperature can increase to a level which exceeds the design parameters for the alternator. A damaged alternator cannot assure sufficient voltage to supply the vehicle electrical system. A damaged alternator has the potential to cause an engine compartment fire. Correction: Dealers will install a modified control unit and a new alternator.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

  • For more Used Vehicle Reviews by Chris Chase, click here

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