Owner Review

1995 Mercedes-Benz E220 review

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Wow, what a car.

This is the coupe version of the legendary W124. The chassis is designated C124.

A little background. I like cars, but I don't like all cars. There needs to be something special about them. You will never find me driving a Mazda 3, regardless of how good the reviews say it is. There are far too many around and they are not so good as to stand head and shoulders above the crowd to warrant my interest. My vehicle of choice is usually fabricated in Italy and has plenty of charisma, but that doesn't mean I close myself off from other makes.

I also have the habit of changing cars... a lot. In the last few years I have had two "sensible" (at least according to the reviews) cars and neither lasted in my ownership for six months.

A friend of mine said he found a disco (Land Rover Discovery) on Grays online. When I saw it I thought it was a bit worn out and probably required a tonne of maintenance to keep it running, but when he said he only paid $2000 for it, I realised he got a good bargain.

Regarding buying a car at auction, I thought, "I can try that."

I looked through all the auctions and the most interesting car I saw was a 220E Coupe. It had done more than 230,000km, but from the photos it looked in reasonable condition.

Unfortunately the car was interstate so was not easily viewed. I studied the images and the report, before looking through the classifieds to get a feel for the monetary value. I then thought, "why not?" and I placed a bid on the car. I was instantly outbid. Hmmmm, there was interest in this car... so I bid higher, then higher, then...

As the auction closed there were multiple other last minute bids, but I won the car, spending nearly double what I had planned as my limit. I still had not seen the car and was very worried it would let me down when I actually got it home, but... it was just as gorgeous in the flesh as in the images. It had some minor scrapes on the plastic front bumper and the rear bumper, the brakes needed doing and the transmission needed a service, but other than that, it was a wonderful car. I was stoked!

So, what are these things like? Firstly the shape is timeless. It seems simple enough but the proportions are spot on. These things are unmistakable on the road. They look fantastic. If you took the badge off some later Mercs, you could mistake them for something else, but not this.

Then you sit inside and take in the luxury: Fantastically comfortable leather seats. A footwell deep and wide enough to enable a great seating position, and while the steering is not reach adjustable it somehow always seems perfectly positioned. My other car has six-way adjustable electric seating, with a tilt and reach steering wheel, and it is nowhere near as comfortable as this.

Look around and you see a dash top that looks pristine after 25 years in the Australian sun. The centre stack has a shiny polished wood grain finish. Door cards have pleated leather curtain look, the transmission selection is staggered - almost gated, the seats are super comfortable and offer side bolsters, and the rear seats... omg... they feel like you are in some super-comfortable cinema lounge chairs.

Look forward and you see very clear analogue gauges. There is no guessing what speed you are going or having sunlight glare affecting your vision of the dials.

Amazing, this mechanical analog stuff. It's so clear. Maybe it will catch on.

This thing did cost over $120k in 1995, so a bit of luxury is to be expected.

So let's start the engine. The seat belts are brought forward on extension arms for your convenience (now that is just showing off!!), and it starts first time without hesitation, idling smoothly. Select reverse gear to back out of the driveway and an amazing thing; without a rear view camera I can see behind me, in a coupe!!! So it is possible... take note modern car makers. I start driving forward and I think, "I thought these road surfaces were more uneven." The suspension is sublime.

Then you have a look around and marvel at the unobstructed clear view. The front windscreen is much more upright than modern cars and the A pillars are much thinner, making you wonder (or at least I do) why the field of view in modern cars is so restricted. Reduced visibility is surely a safety issue. I certainly will "make do" without the pillar air bags for the increased visibility and the less likelihood of needing any protection the air bags might provide. Speaking of safety, the W124 was ahead of its time in safety, and there are plenty of YouTube videos showing offset collision performance that would shame most modern cars.

In driving, the car does not feel under-powered, but it is definitely not fast. If fast is what you want, then the E500 would be the go - but this is a 4-cylinder 2.2-litre with 110kW.

It does move okay though, and it effortlessly keeps up with traffic. The steering is a bit on the vague side and needs to be constantly corrected when moving at low speed. It seems to tighten up as speed increases and the car feels very secure on the highway - possibly a service of the steering mechanicals is in order.

The car does have a brilliant turning circle and parking it is a breeze. Who needs front sensors when you can see the front of the car?

You glide down the road and very little outside noise intrudes. There are some squeaks and rattles, but this is a 25-year old car that has done heaps of work. The car has ABS, front airbags, dual zone climate control, cruise control, etc. but does not have modern gizmos like adaptive cruise, lane departure or camera sensors. Funny, my other car has those and I don't miss them in this.

You turn the radio on and... it works. The original radio looks a little worse for wear, as its buttons have been pressed more times than it is possible to count, but it works. The volume can be set very low and the sound is still clear because of very little outside noise intrusion. This car has a 10-stack CD player in the boot, and, it works!!! I was blown away that the original Mercedes-branded CD stacker still works. I filled it with some of my favorite music and turned up the volume. This thing must have a PA in it, because the volume can be very loud without sounding distorted. My response: WOW.

What it doesn't have is a USB port or Bluetooth (not sure they were invented in 1995). Never mind, a plug-in Bluetooth FM transmitter will fix that.

The level of engineering that has gone into this car is amazing. For example, the front wiper (not wipers) is made to service the whole windscreen. It sweeps with an eccentric motion and works beautifully - better than the dual wipers on my late model car that is only 3 years old. That is an area where the engineering effort is clearly visible. Other areas which show the engineering effort would be in the compliant ride, the safety credentials (which were well ahead of their time) and the driver and occupant comfort, which are first rate.

And the best thing about this car, although it performs extremely well in this modern overcrowded road network, when you sit in it and drive you are transported back in time about 25 years when everything seemed simpler, when you enjoyed the journey and ended up with a bit of a grin on your face (at least I do).

Thank you to everyone who read all this.

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