Used car check: Mercedes E-Class (W212)

A large station wagon from Mercedes with a durable diesel engine and a possible range north of 1,200 kilometers - what has been a real recipe for success for decades will soon no longer be available as a new car. One more reason to check out the Mercedes E-Class as a used car, namely in the form of the W 212 generation built up to 2016. anyone interested in buying a W212 should know this - a enduring car with a solid reputation. But what exactly does good mean here? And what is not quite so durable?

Looking back at the E-Class ancestors is obvious. Steel strongholds, which still prove their reliability today as battered desert taxis, appear here as well as rusty corpses, which, despite solid technology, badly scratched the reputation of the series.

The following applies to the 212: Except for one elementary part (more on that in a moment), it has no rust problems. But transcontinental taxi rides will probably continue to take place in W123 and W124. In order to function with high mileage just as permanently, the W212 always needs some affection via the workshop computer or in the form of often expensive spare parts.

Body: fast loader

Most W212 cut a fine figure here, if they don't come across as completely unkempt. Rust protection, paint quality and the encapsulation of the underbody and wheel arches ensure that corrosion or moisture problems are foreign words for 212 drivers. With their help, the driving noise is kept to a minimum.

The only exception is the plastic box that surrounds the air suspension units. In the station wagon it sits behind the left rear wheel and collects dirt and sand over time. If a hand has been applied here and not every line has been laid perfectly, the cables can be worn out. A chassis fault that looks expensive in the instrument cluster sometimes turns out to be just a five-minute job at the soldering iron. Nevertheless, you should take a look at station wagons and vehicles with Airmatic to see whether the vehicle level is correctly maintained on all wheels. Tip: With the engine running, sit in the trunk, two of you are welcome, and check whether the car immediately balances the load again.

So the body of the big Mercedes seems to be wearing a clean slate. But this E-Class makes a big blunder. We already reported on the same phenomenon in the 204 C class in the AMS issue 11/2022. Specifically, it is about the carrier of the multi-link rear axle, made of steel and protected by a matt black powder coating. This cracks over time, allowing moisture, road salt and dirt to penetrate, resulting in severe rusting. Mercedes knows the problem and usually exchanges the subframe as a gesture of goodwill.As with our photo car, which has already received a new part after a TÜV inspector stuck his screwdriver into the original. If a W212 still has the first axle carrier, please poke around courageously, because rust holes are often completely invisible behind the dimensionally stable powder coating.

Interior: space with time

An impeccable W212 still offers great utility today. Compared to its predecessor, the W211, which was also very reliable, it has more space, the operating concept is fresher and the possible scope of driver assistance or infotainment is significantly larger. Greater track width and wheelbase as well as the stiffer body, together with first-class noise insulation, ensure an impression of comfort that still meets premium standards today. If you compare the station wagon versions, the cargo space of the W212 (695-1950 liters) holds around 50 to 100 liters more than the successor W213.

Ultimately, it is this ambience that not only characterizes the W212, but also ensures a dignified aging process. Yes, the monumental cockpit and the stiff ironed body edges may look like the famous living room wall unit in rustic oak. This E-Class also avoids, especially after the facelift, overly fashionable and therefore quickly ephemeral gimmicks. Compared to the more evolutionarily designed predecessor series W211, Mercedes has tried to go a new way stylistically with the W212 without neglecting the old values. At the start there was a lot of talk about a feeling of security – a car like a castle and so on. The silver decorative element around the central air vents in the cockpit was given the crest-shaped contour of the radiator grille in order to show this strength in the interior as well. Today, 13 years after the W212 debuted, that castle feel still works. If you close the doors, for example, it sounds like a safe and precise.

It is also of high quality. The edges of the dashboard are covered with a soft vinyl skin with a fine surface. The optional leather seats, just like the standard fabric seats in the Classic and Elegance, show hardly any signs of wear. Only the imitation leather parts of the avant-garde furniture often disappoint with cracks. Ergonomics and clarity are at least as convincing as in the predecessors. Despite minor malaise, the robust W212 also proves that it comes from a very solid family.

Suspension: true to the lines and solid

In terms of driving comfort, the air suspension is a fine thing, but it is by no means a must for the sedan. Probably nobody has complained that the steel springs of a 212 sedan are too tight. Even the avant-garde models, which are lowered by up to 15 millimeters, like our photo car, don't look noticeably harder.For more precision in fast corners, the W212 has an ace up its sleeve: the so-called Direct Control chassis.

Translated from Daimler German, it stands for standard adaptive shock absorbers. They do not require any control devices or cables and work solely on the basis of magnetorheology. Magnetowa? The filling of the shock absorbers has certain metal particles that align themselves based on the pressure conditions in the damper body. In the case of high-frequency impulses (e.g. cobblestones), the damper allows for easier compression. Fast corners with a lot of load on the outside wheels, in turn, increase the pressure.

Current upper-class vehicles are a little better at this discipline (also thanks to computer control), but the W212 also has this pleasantly safe feeling, which reminds the driver of cornering in the ICE. Why this digression into chassis technology? Quite simply: if a 212 doesn't run like it's on rails, something is wrong. Then either the dampers are defective (rarely) or the chassis bushings are simply knocked out (frequently). This must be taken into account in the budget. Those who find what they are looking for (recognisable by rumbling on bumps) can at least renegotiate the price.

Engines: Defects occur, but rarely unexpectedly

The diesel rate, which is high at 65 percent, shows that compression-ignition engines were the most popular engines even when new. Not wrong. The four- and six-cylinder diesels with displacements of 2.1 and 3 liters are consistently recommended for the W212, despite initial weaknesses in other models. With at least 360 Nm of torque, the economical basic diesel is always sufficiently powerful, the V6 models from the E 300 CDI serve sustained thrust with a dull sound. What is the catch?

Well, on the one hand, the Euro 6 standard, which was only introduced in portions from the end of 2013, makes many older 212 diesels practically useless for urban environmental zones. Although the E-Class was a Euro 6 pioneer, it still had Euro 5 diesel under the hood until autumn 2014. These 212 examples are traded today at noticeably cheaper second-hand prices. These engines had a free optional de-cheating software update in 2020. The feared losses in consumption, performance or durability have not materialized so far.

Hook number two affects a larger problem area per diesel engine. Once they have been fixed, there is hardly anything standing in the way of eternal engine life. The four-cylinder (OM651) has a small water cooler, which regulates the temperature of the exhaust gas (EGR) used to clean the exhaust gas by recirculating it into the combustion chamber. Here there are occasional leaks, which are noticeable due to loss of cooling water and slime in the oil cap. The repair is quite complex and costs an average of 600 to 800 euros. The upper cooling water socket on the cylinder head also leaks a little more rarely. Once done, it's mostly quiet.

The V6 (OM642) is similarly concentrated.To the chagrin of many mechanics, this one carries an oil cooler under the intake manifold in the hot cylinder V of the engine. Until 12/2011 its double O-ring - a penny - often leaks after a few years. Then the ribbed V fills steadily with oil until it escapes through a drain hole and is noticeable by sudden oil stains. To exchange the entire intake tract including the turbocharger must be removed. The repair costs: depending on the workshop, almost four digits! An invoice that can prove these repairs is worth its weight in gold when buying a used diesel.

Exhaust gas treatment can cause problems

What else? As solid as they are, both diesels don't like short-distance operation, bad fuel or a rough driving style. The result is stuck exhaust gas recirculation valves or defective air mass meters, which are only available in one piece as an intake manifold for just under 600 euros, especially with the V6 - made stupid, but mostly avoidable with a little prudence. The differential pressure sensor of the soot particle filter, which also doesn't last forever, is installed on the bulkhead and is easily accessible.

These typical defects usually only appear in cars after 200,000 kilometers. The series of failed piezo injectors that made bad headlines up until 2011 are practically non-existent today, as they were replaced across the board with magnetic injectors as part of a recall campaign. In very rare cases, the four-cylinder diesel also showed excessive wear on the simplex timing chain at the rear. Experience teaches, however, that these cases are usually associated with poor maintenance or no maintenance at all.

Safe bank: the petrol engines

But diesel is very expensive right now and environmental zones for older oil engines (OM) are taboo. It doesn't matter, because the 212 portfolio naturally also has some fine petrol engines to offer. You really don't have to avoid any of them. The M271 and M274 four-cylinders are powerful, economical and rarely cause problems in the 212. Cases with a lengthened timing chain or defective camshaft adjusters are not unknown, but quite rare. In the E 200 NGT, which can also be used bivalently with natural gas, the M271 does not work as an EVO (i.e. with a turbocharger), but - like its predecessors - with gentle supercharging.

The at least 252 hp V6 petrol engines, on the other hand, have no serious problems. If the timing chain rattles, hands off! Usually the engine was then really tortured and not regularly serviced. On the other hand, a quiet rattling at idle is normal and is due to the direct injection.

All-wheel drive 350s up to 2011 still drive without direct injection, need an idea more fuel than the rest, which with a little patience can be moved with 8.5 liters in everyday life. Long-suffering is made significantly more difficult by the powerful eight-cylinder engine with up to 585 hp in the late E 63 AMG.Be careful, the 6.2 liter engines (M156) up to April 2011 occasionally suffer from elongating cylinder head bolts, which is noticeable through the symptoms of a defective head gasket. The repair is complex and expensive. The younger E-63 eights are considered robust, but should always be bought from reputable previous owners.

Transmission: From archaic to contemporary

Anyone who tends towards older years of construction before the 2013 facelift is not unwise, but should make sure that the transmission suits them. Four-cylinder until June 2011, for example, are still coupled with the indestructible, but very old-fashioned five-speed automatic. Here the well-stepped and precisely switchable six-speed manual transmission is clearly to be preferred. However, most 212s have the excellent seven or nine stage automatic converters. With an oil change and flushing every few years, they last forever and work quite agile, extremely comfortably and sensibly tuned. Only with spinning engine sensors or the soot particle filter recuperation can there be a somewhat clumsy shifting behavior.

Shortcomings: 212s are a bit sensitive

Sensors in all their forms are generally an issue with the W212. It feels like there is one in every corner of the car. If defects occur - which is not uncommon - the replacement is often not expensive, but the repair is either expensive (workshop) or, if you do it yourself, nerve-wracking because it is difficult to get to the sensors. From the height sensor for the chassis and light (rear axle, near the differential) to countless temperature sensors (hidden in the engine compartment) to the position sensor for the automatic rear roller blind in the Estate (almost unattainable), there are countless candidates for failure. Diagnosing them requires a good OBD reader.

Every workshop has this and is also recommended for do-it-yourselfers. Once there with an expert hand, you should completely open and close the EGR valve on all engines with the computer. If errors occur after this, cleaning usually helps. The cause is then simply a rather reserved driving style of the previous owner. From time to time full throttle is allowed with these modern engines to prevent such coking.

Up to this point, however, it should be said for fairness: The aforementioned in the area of ​​sensors and exhaust aftertreatment affects practically all modern vehicles today. In addition, with the 212, such small things become noticeable because these models usually have above-average mileage.

Checkbook only electronically

The service history is also electronic, but not stored in the car. There is no longer a checkbook for stamping on the 212 Mercedes. Missing it when you visit is no reason to run away. We recommend a visit to the Mercedes dealer, who can quickly and easily provide information about the maintenance history or completed recalls.

Fortunately, the latter can be counted on one hand. The free campaigns could also be completed so quickly that hardly any previous owner shied away from the trip to the workshop. In a longer period between 2012 and 2015 there were individual vehicles with 4Matic all-wheel drive in which a faulty steering angle sensor could lead to the failure of the steering assistance. The owners were contacted and asked to Mercedes. The same applies to some specimens from 2014, in which the supply line to the starter, more precisely its overload protection, was undersized, which in the worst case can lead to a fire. As a remedy, a thicker ground cable was installed here.

Prices: From sober to classy

This would not have existed before: Diesel and petrol on the same level - it starts at around 10,000 euros for the cheapest good ones. With a Euro 6 drive, prices realistically start at 18,000 euros for a four-cylinder. Six-cylinder with many extras cost from 20,000 euros.

It may be because many people shy away from reaching for the big car, but with over 4,000 W212s currently advertised online, there should be something for everyone. We recommend a slightly larger mileage tolerance. More than half of the 212s have already covered more than 150,000 kilometers. Despite good shelf life, it is important to sort out used ones. Pay particular attention to the year of manufacture and the emission standards of the engines and, if financially possible, also to a facelift model. Otherwise it is secondary whether a 220 or 250, a 300 or 350 is under the hood. The characteristic difference is more of a question of principle: four or six cylinders? The six-enders deliver top-class drive comfort, and engine noise hardly gets through to the driver. The four-cylinder, whether petrol or diesel, run more audibly and a little rougher, but not much more effort. They also fit into the 212 ambience like the taxi sign on the roof.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a used family station wagon for the long term these days, the W212 is a good choice. Especially with a Euro 6 drive. Unlike the ancestors mentioned at the beginning, however, the famous piece of wire is no longer sufficient for repairs in old age. From time to time the W 212 needs a new sensor here and a costly wearing part there. It is best to plan for the money that would otherwise be lost when buying short-lived new cars.

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