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Mercedes-Benz E280 CDI review (2006-2009)
Model: E 280 CDI Avantgarde
Bodystyle: Four-door saloon
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel
Transmission: Seven-speed auto
Date of test: August 2006
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What is it?
This is the 2006 E-Class, with 2,000 changes. Looks just like the old one, doesn’t it? That’s because Mercedes has used its money nobly – to address the complaints current owners have, rather than add glitz to attract new ones. Complaints such as handling, engine power, gearbox feel and, crucially, quality and reliability. We witter on about the E-Class’ many problems and recalls, but that’s because they’ve been on such a large scale. But now, Mercedes promises, the car is as dependable as buyers into the brand expect. So potentially it’s a much-improved car, even if it doesn’t look it. Spot new models by their bigger, taller grille (with subtle ‘V’ shape at the bottom), reporofiled bumpers and standard side skirts (from the previous Avantgarde) and new rear tail lights that flash when you brake hard. But would you want to? We drove one of the best sellers, the cheaper of the two V6 diesels, to find out.
Where does it fit?
Diesel E-Class now account for the vast majority of sales, and the E 280 CDI (like the E 320 CDI, it’s a 3.0-litre V6) competes in a very hard-fought sector of the executive car market. It’s up against the BMW 525d and Audi A6 2.7 TDI, with all three offering specific values – comfort and tradition for the Benz, sportiness for the BMW and avant-garde style for the Audi. Other rivals include the Jaguar S-Type 2.7D V6 and the Volvo S80 D5. As with nearly all E-Class, you can choose various trims, including a UK-specific Sport model with stiffer suspension and racier styling, though the best seller is stylish Avantgarde trim. Take either saloon or estate, the latter unique in offering a seven-seat option.
Is it for you?
Mercedes admits its customers are very traditional. The E-Class reflects this, with the company leaving models such as the R-Class and CLS to attract the more outgoing. This is one of the brand’s staple products, and it knows messing with the formula will be at its peril. So you know exactly what you’re getting and should not be too surprised, while in years to come it should mature rather than date. That it is the antithesis to the radicalism of chief rival, BMW’s 5-Series, also won’t have been lost on the engineers. Oh, and here’s an anorak fact: the E-Class is 1.5cm longer than before, due to that slight ‘V’ profile to the front bumper. So if the current car only just fits in your garage, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
What does it do well?
It rides very well, with a roll-along, well-damped feel that’s extremely relaxing over long distances. You can tell the engineers have toiled hard to get it right, and after two hours, you’re glad they did. Interestingly, we drove a car on standard 16-inch wheels, which was susceptible to bump-interference at times, but this 280 on 17”s was fine. The engine is pretty hushed, creamy and smooth, naturally possessing all the torquey shove you’d expect of a cutting-edge V6 with 324lb/ft (between 1,400-2,800rpm). The steering is also a little more direct, plus lighter and not quite as slothful as before; delicacy is better rewarded. And the dashboard remains quite lovely, but now with a real feeling of integrity. Overall, it, like the whole car, feels ‘special’.
What doesn’t it do well?
The seven-speed auto again seems ill suited here. With an obsessive desire to hit as high a gear as possible, rapid acceleration usually calls for two, even three downchanges. Throw in the turbo lag of the engine and a long-travel throttle, and you’ve a lazy-feeling model unless you work it hard. Elsewhere, and despite revisions, the suspension is still a bit soft through the corners; you won’t be throwing this about like a 5-Series, not least because the steering remains a level detached, despite the improvements. It still lacks low-speed self-centring, too. The brakes are as long-travel as the throttle, and the foot parking brake really ought to be replaced by an electric one.
What’s it like to live with?
We know owners who, a few years ago, vowed never to buy another Mercedes again. Quality problems primarily, but service issues too. But the company, admirably, soon realised this and threw money at the problems. The E-Class seems testimony to that – and that’s despite, during the launch, the words ‘blown turbo’ coming over the radio in reference to one of the brand-new test models. Certainly there was no faulting our immaculate car though, whose dash didn’t rattle even when we Zidane’d it. Ouch. Excellent seats and a spot-on diving position remain too, as does plenty of space all round and a decent boot. Today’s Mercedes are even well stocked enough to justify their higher-than-rivals list prices; when even base Classics come with electric seats and climate control, you know there’s not much missing that you’ll miss.
How green is it?
Available only with an auto, the E 280 CDI returns 39.2mpg on the combined cycle – a good result in our book. CO2 emissions of 191g/km are lower than many a hot hatch too: again, pretty good for a big saloon that can hit 60mph in 7.6 seconds.
Would we buy it?
Your tester is a committed fan of what BMW is doing today, but even he came away thinking the E-Class an attractive machine. Not for the sort of exploits those chaps in Munich clearly encourage – but if you’re after a smooth cruiser with a very intelligent ride quality and a feeling of indestructibility, the German taxi takes some beating. The 2006 improvements only enhance this, so have to be judged a success. And now it’s reliable too!
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