W210 Buyer’s Guide

The 1996 to 2002 Mercedes-Benz E-class, dubbed internally by Mercedes as the W210 model, represents one of the best values in the used midsize luxury car market. The W210 marked a radical — and initially controversial — shift in Mercedes-Benz design philosophy. Mercedes waved goodbye to the slab sides of the 1980s and 1990s, and with the W210, ushered in the sleek, yet still timeless, styling that continues to direct Mercedes-Benz design today. Many styling cues of current Mercedes models — such as ovoid headlamps — were patterned after the W210 E-class. The W210 E-class still looks like a brand new Mercedes, but costs less than than a new Honda Civic!

E-class Lineage

Mercedes offers only three sedans: the C-class, the E-class, and the S-class. The small C-class is Mercedes’ entry-level vehicle. The E-class is Mercedes’ mid-level sedan. The S-class is their high-end large luxury car.

The W210 E-class replaced the venerable W124 E-class, which was manufactured from 1986 to 1995. The W211 E-class then succeeded the W210 sedans in 2003 and the wagons in 2004. The photo on the left shows the W210 (left), W211 (top) and W124 (right).

The W210 marked the last of the high quality Mercedes-Benz construction before cost cutting sent reliability and durability crashing. (W124 owners often claim their cars are the last of the high quality, “money-no-object” Benzes. They are correct that the build quality in the W210 is not as good as the W124. The doors of the W210 do not close with the same solid “thunk” as the doors of the W124. However, these descriptions of quality are all relative. The W210 is a more technically sophisticated, spacious, and comfortable vehicle than the W124, and is still very reliable.)

W210 Variations

The W210 is a very versatile car. Mercedes sold the W210 in both sedan and stationwagon forms. The available staionwagon gives W210 buyers the option of serious cargo-hauling without compromising sportiness or luxury.

Mercedes has historically produced each of its models for a very long time — usually abou ten years. The W210 E-class is no exception. This is one factor that makes the W210 E-class such a good buy. In 2000, the W210 model series underwent the only major revision/facelift during its seven year production. I’ll explain the differences between the 1996 to 1999 “pre-facelift” cars and the 2000 to 2002 “post-facelift” cars are largely cosmetic. (I’ll explain the differences in greater detail in a bit.) The bottom line is that only someone familiar with the W210 could distinguish a 1996 model from a 2002. Despite the similarity, the later model years command a substantial price premium over their older brothers.

Seven engines were available in the W120 in North America over the course of its production:

  • E300 3.0L Inline-6 Diesel (OM606; 1996-1997)
  • E300 3.0L Inline-6 Turbodiesel (OM606; 1998-1999)
  • E320 3.2L Inline-6 Gasoline (M104; 1996-1997)
  • E320 3.2L V6 Gasoline (M112; 1998-2002)
  • E420 4.2L V8 Gasoline (M119; 1997)
  • E430 4.3L V8 Gasoline (M113; 1998-2002)
  • E55 AMG 5.5L V8 Gasoline (M113; 1999-2002)

W210 Safety

The W210 sports a safety record that should make Volvo envious. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analyzed fatal car collisions in the United States between 2000 and 2003 and rated the W210 E-class as the safest car in the U.S.