The W210 may not be loved like its W124 predecessor, but that does keep 'em cheap…
By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, April 1, 2022 / Loading comments
What, in your opinion, is an ‘old git’ motor? Many will be shouting ‘Jaguar XJ’, ‘Lexus LS400’, ‘Honda Jazz’, or ‘anything with a Rover badge on it’, but for some readers the answer to this question will always be ‘W210 Mercedes’.
In production from 1995 to 2002, or 2003 for the estate version, the W210 E Class was Mercedes’ much anticipated successor to the W124. Although the W210 benefitted from both lightness and a more advanced safety design, the much anticipation part of the deal turned into much aggravation for many serial Mercedes buyers who, previous to getting a W210, had staunchly believed that the sort of corrosion and electrical difficulties they were suddenly noticing were exclusive to lesser vehicles, ie anything not wearing the three-pointed star.
This bad seed sowed by turn-of-the-century Benzes grew into the automotive equivalent of knotweed for the company. Nobody can say with any certainty exactly how many diehard customers were permanently lost by the unbecoming ghastliness of prematurely rotting metal and, compounding that, by the firm’s short-sightedly meanspirited response to complaints, but it would have been a lot.
The 2000-on facelift W210s were improved across the board and the steels used for the W211 successor were properly galvanised from the third quarter of 2003, but the ‘Chrysler effect’ of the 1998 merger with Daimler-Benz brewed up a nasty stench of reputational damage that still lingers on like a silent eggy one more than twenty years later.
Shame really, because any unbiased driver climbing behind our shed’s binlid-sized steering wheel would almost certainly be agreeably surprised by the refinement and comfort on offer, especially if they came into it having only experienced the corrugated tin roof ride that we are required to tolerate in most modern cars.
For 1998 model year E320s like our Shed, the old M104 3.0 straight-six made way for Mercedes’ first V6, the M112 18-valve 3.2. Some preferred, and indeed still prefer, the creamy smoothness of the inline-six to the burble of the V6, but it was hard to argue against official numbers insisting that the newer engine was a superior unit. Its torque band was wider than the i6’s with 232lb ft between 3,000 and 4,800rpm. There was also 221hp at 5,600rpm. In the 1,630kg saloon the result was a 0-62 time of 7.9sec, a top whack of 148mph, and 27.4mpg on the combined cycle.
The old straight six wasn’t without its problems – head gasket and wiring harness to name a couple. The V6 made a mechanically pretty sound but it did bring some new issues to the party – MAF and crank position sensors to name a different couple. Like many cars, the W210 could be sensitive to good battery condition. ESP warning lights would most likely be telling you that your brake light switch had gone.
Busted window regulators were par for the course, which again is hardly exclusive to this car, but it’s more often found on the rears than the fronts, making it easier to continue driving with the classic sheet o’ cardboard fix if the glass refuses to rise. Instrument clusters have been known to play up. Shed recently had some of that in his beloved W124. Turned out to be a ten-second relay swap, but he doesn’t know if a W210 even has that relay.
The car you’re looking at here is a top-spec Avantgarde. In case you’re wondering, the ‘W/S’ button by the gearshift gives you a choice of Winter or Standard shift modes. If you choose ‘W’ the car starts off in 2nd gear rather than 1st for better traction in slippery conditions, unless you have the lever set to ‘1’ of course. Shed would have loved a button like that on his W124 because the change quality from 1st to 2nd can be whiplash-jerky on those. He’d like to block out first altogether because there would be very little real world performance difference, he would have one less gearshift flare to put up with, and there would be a considerably lower chance of scorching his trankliments with sloshed takeway coffee.
It’s not easy to clock corrosion on a dark blue body photographed in shade but Shed thinks he can see a spot of it just above the front offside bumper by the wheelarch. You probably wouldn’t have to poke too deeply with your crosshead screwdriver to reveal a touch of brownery on all four arches, but in general the car looks well cared for. It failed the MOT three years and 6,000 miles ago on some structural rust. If that job was done well you’d like to hope it’s good for a few more years yet. The latest MOT in February was a clean pass.
A 1996 straight six W210 sold a couple of years ago for £9,500. Admitttedly it only had 3,000 miles on the clock, but £1,500 for a 130k-miler doesn’t seem so bad against that. Sometimes git is good.
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