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Overview W211 – In Depth Review of Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2003-2009

Overview

e320 e500 e350 interior qualityThis is an in-depth review of 2003-2009 Mercedes-Benz E-Class W211 which covers this models strengths, common problems, fuel economy and safety rating. The Mercedes-Benz Benz E-Class has always been among the best well-built and well- styled Mercedes-Benz cars since the E-Class line introduction. It is categorized as a mid- sized luxury class the W211 E Class due to its stylish finishing, smooth yet elegant design, technological offerings and high safety ratings has been designed simply  to be the best or nothing. Notably the J.D. Power Award was given to the 2008 model proving once more that the W211 E-Class is a notch above the rest in terms of safety and elegance.

The most notable change of the W211 E-Class was the change in the styling compared to previous models; Mercedes-Benz has moved away from a geometric and square look to sweeping, smooth lines, subtle curves topped with the customary Mercedes-Benz grill. The smooth and long lines do not stop on the exterior; the interior has been expanded to provide more than ample space for multiple passengers and of course the driver has maximum comfort.

With the new E-Class looking poised to dominate the scene of mid- sized luxury sedans, some users have noted some W211 common problems that may be a bit costly if the maintenance of the W211 was not properly done. All in all the W211 E-Class is a topping 6 cylinder executive car that exudes class and it does make a very bold statement about the owner who pulls up to any event in this beautifully crafted machine.

The German auto maker has brought its obsession with luxury to each section of the cabin of the W211; the cabin is notably silent making conversation very easy. The only sound of the outside world that seeps in occurs when the 3.21 L V6 engine is redlined. The standard suspension allows for a smooth ride at both low as well as high speeds and for a vehicle as heavy as the E-Class, the handling is quite responsive. At low speeds, the handling may be a bit heavy in the rear wheel drive models in and around the city, but the feeling is much lighter in the four-wheeled drive versions of the W211 E-Class. Additionally where the W211 E-Class really shows its superior engineering is on the open highway where nothing stresses the engine out. It is very compliant and paired with an equally superior aluminum chassis a great balance is given with this model of Mercedes-Benz. Apart of the new technological offerings of the E-Class are the minute adjustments that occur with speed. The entire steering column can also make adjustments to meet the comfort needs of the driver. This adjustment option along with the powerful power steering system allows for easy turning and this makes the W211 E-Class a breeze to park. As it relates to fuel consumption, the V6 may not be the best in its class but the 5-speed 722.6 and 7-speed 722.9  shift transmission are very smooth allowing for quick and agile responsiveness while going through corners and on rough mountainous terrain.

As with all machines built by Man there are some things to consider before buying an E Class 2003-2007.

Any Mercedes-Benz out of maintenance plan will have problems; a poorly kept model W211 will cause the reliability issues comes to the fore.

The W211 common problems and reliability issues are listed below:

  • There have many W211 SBC brake reliability issues. In UK there were 35,000 Mercedes-Benz cars recalled for faulty electronic SBC brakes. The brake system fail and you are usually greted with “Brakes Defective – Stop Vehicle”. This requires the replacement of the SBC brake module. We noticed that SBC module can easily be found on eBay. Mercedes-Benz W211 Replacement Pump Module Listings
  • In models with the air suspension option, the air strut wear and eventually fail.
  • In the earlier years, there was a major radiator issue that caused transmission fluid contamination and eventually caused the transmission to fail. This was most common with the Valeo radiators. The transmission oil cooler was integrated in the coolant radiator. A crack can develop between the two chambers causing coolant to enter into the transmission radiator section and eventually making its way into the transmission and destroying it. This was common with the early 2003-2005 models with the Valeo radiators.
  • The Catalytic Converter can fail around 80k miles. Mercedes-Benz W211 Replacement Catalytic Converter
  • The Window Regulators had issues among other minor electrical issues. What car doesn’t have problems with window regulators?
  • Engine Motor and Transmission Mounts need replacement around the 100k mile mark. They are oil filled and when they fail they will leak the oil causing engine and steering wheel vibrations when stopped or at a stop light. The replacement motor mounts are not expensive when purchased online. Here are several listings for Mercedes-Benz W211 motor mounts. They are a pain to replace and you need the right tools to do this job.
  • The Auxiliary battery needs to be replaced in average every 5 years. Replacing the battery is easy and you can do it yourself at home. Here are the instructions on how to replace the auxiliary battery on an E-Class. 
  • Front control arm bushings failed around the 100k – 120k mile mark. Front suspension noises have been observed and may start to develop noises.
  • We have also seen a few E-Class models where the rear springs break. This is only applicable to E-Class models such as E320 / E320 CDI without airmatic. When this happens the car may be lower on the corner with the broken spring.

Keep in mind that genuine parts are expensive and service costs are high in some countries such as United States. If you live in Europe, service costs are not your main concern. If the car was not properly maintained; it may be very expensive to find the issues and fix them.

In the early models of the W211 E-Class, the most dreaded message is the error message “Service brake Visit Workshop!” When this is displayed in the dashboard it is an warning message indicating that something needs to be replaced in the braking system typically the SBC brake motor / pump. This can cost from $1,000 up to $2,500 depending on where you perform the repair. For 2003-2006 models the SBC braking system was backed up by a hydraulic system ensuring that at no time were the passengers ever at a safety risk. After 2006 the SBC brake system was removed from the E-Class.

The E500 and E550 E-Class models both have airmatic suspension system that makes lowering and adjusting the suspension stiffness as easy as pushing a button. The Airmatic system uses air springs with automatic damping to control ride height at all 4 corners of the car. The issue here is that the air struts eventually develop a slow leak and the car begins to settle after a few days. There are now many air suspension air spring bags / struts so this repair is not as expensive as it once was. If you do a quick search online you can find rebuild, new or used air springs for the W211. Here are a few examples of: Mercedes E-Class W211 Suspension Air Bag Spring Strut.

Be careful with 2003,2007,2008 E-Class models equipped with the the M272 and M273 engines such as the early E350. These engines timing chain sprocket for balancer shaft was manufactured with metal that was too soft to endure the conditions and as a result, it prematurely wears to the point that the balance shaft jumps time, causing the following error codes P1200 and P1208. The engine will sometimes suffer from a rough running issue and the only solution is for the removal of the engine and replacement of the timing chain spricket.  This is an expensive repair which is greater than $4500 and it is prudent that you pursue this under warranty if you have had these symptoms.

On 320 CDI, there have been reports of leaking diesel pumps. The fluid leaks on to cooling system pipes, causing rust which must then be replaced.

Buying Tips

Before purchasing any car, get the service records and make sure that the car had been very well taken care of by its prior owners. In addition to getting the service records, have a professional mechanic review the vehicle and also have the vehicle checked by a repair station with a Star Diagnostic SD Scanner.

Here are some of the things to consider before buying a used E class 2003-2009 W211 Mercedes-Benz Benz. Avoid purchasing Mercedes-Benz Benz cars with the SBC braking system unless there is proof that the SBC pump was replaced. It is possible that the SBC brakes was replaced for free under the 10 year goodwill warranty offered by Mercedes-Benz. Purchase an OBDII scanner and scan the car along with your certified mechanic and electrician, double check the codes online as well as in the owner’s manual.

Purchase an OBDII scanner and scan the car for fault codes before you buy it. Most owners will allow you to plugin the scanner under the dashboard into the OBD II port. Keep in mind that most generic OBD II code scanners can only read the Engine Control Unit but the Launch Creader, iCarsoft MB II and Autel DS708 Professional OBD-II Scanner can perform a multi-system scan on a Mercedes-Benz.

Safety

The W211 is equipped with airbags in the front and back, plus it has curtain airbags on the sides. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the W211 had overall good crash test scores.

safety airbag score
Safety Score by NHTSA for different W211 E-Class models.

Fuel Economy

The fuel economy (MPG) varied based on the trim of the E-Class. The table below provides a comparison on fuel economy  between the following E-Class trims:

  • 2003 2004 2005 Mercedes-Benz E320
  • 2004 2005 E500 (not 4-matic)
  • 2007 2008 E320 Bluetech
  • 2007 2008 2009 E350 4Matic
    comparing w211 fuel economy mpg
    Source: FuelEconomy.gov

This data is provided by U.S. Department of Energy and are based on MPG. All the cars compared have either the 5-speed or 7-speed automatic transmission.

Conclusion

The W211 E-Class is a beautiful car, with a generous power offering comfortable ride and fun to drive. If you are considering to buy an E320, E350, E500 you will not regret it. Make sure to do your research and inspect the car carefully.

Keep in mind that E-Class W211 handling is great as well, but it is a high maintenance car that can be very expensive to maintain unless you plan on doing your own repair. While there is a certain joy in seeing that three-pointed star standing up on the front-end keep in mind that this is a Mercedes-Benz Benz and if you do not spend to maintain the car, huge repairs will come up. This can be a very expensive car to own.  Our recommendation would be either a facelift W211, 2007 or newer model year as they are designed better and many issues were resolved for these years.

Most of the W211 models since the facelift in 2006 are cars with fewer problems and offer greater value. Watch the following video if you would like to learn about the features of the W211 since we didn’t cover that too much here.

 

 

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