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Mercedes-Benz E220 CDi review (2002-2006)
Engine: 2.2-litre common rail turbo
Fuel type: Diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-drive
Date of test:Sept 2002
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What is it?
The E-Class is one of the world's finest executive cars. Introduced in 2002 the latest E-Class is brimming with all Mercedes' latest know-how, so much so that it makes even the bigger S-Class look slightly pointless - despite its recent revisions. A huge seller for Mercedes, the E-Class has built a loyal following, buyers liking its solid, secure drive and amazing durability. The current car builds on this, adding driver involvement into the equation too - which makes it one of Mercedes' most desirable saloons. When the estate model arrives it will also take a big slice of sales, the capacious load-lugger a long time favourite among well-heeled families. There's also a wide range of engines, including everything from the 2.2-litre common-rail diesel tested here - to a mighty 5.5-litre V8 in the AMG version.
Where does it fit?
Sitting above the C-Class and below the S-Class the E-Class is firmly situated in the mid-sized executive saloon market. Here it faces competition from it's longstanding adversary - BMW's 5 Series - and other models like Audi's A6, Saab's 9-5 and Jaguar's S-Type. All but the Jaguar offer diesel models to compete against the E220 CDI model, which is the entry-level diesel in the E-Class range. It is available, like the rest of the E-Class range, in three trim levels, Classic, Elegance and Avantgarde, and even the Classic comes well specified - leaving behind Mercedes' previous reputation for basic-spec stinginess. The E220 CDI is priced at around £26,000 - making it the ideal car to tempt buyers up from the smaller C-Class into this larger model.
Is it for you?
The E-Class is perhaps the most desirable model in the Mercedes range. It sells well, but retains an exclusive cachet over its smaller relative the C-Class, while not being quite as ostentatious as the range-topping S-Class. The perfect executive car then? Very nearly. It betters all but BMW's 5 Series in driver appeal - though even that's a close contest. Inside it's very comfortable, front and rear, while the C220, although the smallest diesel offering, provides ample power, and 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds. Low emissions also make it an attractive choice for the company car buyer, while combined consumption figures of 45mpg will appeal to everybody.
What does it do well?
There's very little that the E-Class isn't good at. A great all-rounder, it cossets both driver and passengers, and entertains demanding drivers while being able to cover huge mileage with no fuss. The seats, while initially firm, provide great support and comfort. The boot is huge, but we're surprised by the lack of legroom in the rear of such a big car. The specification is littered with equipment to ensure the E-Class is one of the safest cars you're ever likely to drive. ABS with Brake Assist, dual-stage driver and passenger airbags, front side airbags, curtain airbags, sensotronic brake control and electronic stability control all feature as standard - other essentials like ten-speaker stereo systems and automatic climate control are also included. In E220 CDI guise the E-Class sips fuel frugally, providing good performance despite its relatively small capacity. All that and it'll turn heads and look good on the drive too.
What doesn't it do well?
All those driver aids inevitably result in a driving experience that can feel slightly detached. The interior styling is generic Mercedes, which means it all functions well, but lacks any real visual or tactile delight. We're amazed that cars in this class don't all come with a CD player as standard - though that's a complaint that can be levelled at many of the E-Class's rivals, too. The only real loser in the E220 CDI's impressive package is the standard six-speed manual transmission. Mercedes has yet to produce a manual transmission to equal those offered by its rivals. It does however make some of the best automatics around, thoughan auto is a £1450 option on this model. Opt for the Classic trim and you'll be tempted by the extensive options list - which don't come cheap.
What's it like to live with?
Undoubtedly a hassle-free ownership proposition the E-Class is a stylish, comfortable and desirable choice. Mercedes has a great reputation for reliability and the E-Class should be no different. The 2.2-litre turbodiesel is refined, Mercedes engineers fitting balancer shafts to ensure smooth running, and provides decent performance despite its relatively small capacity. Low emissions means company car users will pay little tax, and great fuel economy means trips to the pumps will be a rare occurrence. A recent shake up in the Mercedes network might mean dealers moving or closing, but you'll never be too far away from a service centre. The service indicator means the car tells you when a service is due - meaning you don't have to watch the odometer and dig out the service booklet. And it should last forever - Mercedes' generally age more gracefully than any other car available, so it could still look good in ten years time.
Would we buy it?
Yes, the E-Class would definitely be on our shopping list if we were looking for a mid-sized executive diesel. The E220 CDI may be the 'entry-level' diesel, but it's no poor relation to the larger diesels in the range. However, for the ultimate in unstressed motoring we'd opt for the bigger E270 CDI - unless we were definitely constrained by budget. The E220 CDI proves an alternative to physically smaller but bigger-engined C-Class models, the E-Class undoubtedly the more attractive ownership proposition. For those who put driving above everything else, the BMW 5 Series is still the car to go for - and its replacement should prove even better when it's revealed soon. For everybody else, the E-Class is the car to have - the E220 CDI just one model in an excellent range. We'd choose it over the smaller petrol engines every time.
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