Owner Review: Sweet Dream, or Beautiful Nightmare? - The trials and tribulations of owning the Mercedes-Benz E240

Owner Review · Aug 01, 2020 06:00 PM

** This article is the personal experience of a 2003 Mercedes-Benz W211 E240 owner and does not necessarily reflect the views of WapCar.

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The Mercedes-Benz W211 E240 is the first Euro car my family has ever owned – prior to this it was all JDM and Local. I picked up this gem of a car in 2016, as a replacement to my tired XV20 Toyota Camry. Our other options that we were mulling over included the XV30 Camry, 7th gen Honda Accord and BMW E60. Eventually after lots of discussions and searching, we settled on the Benz.

Our example was a JDM reconditioned model, therefore it had certain things the local W211’s lacked, as well as lacking things that the local CBU and CKD cars had. (More on this later)

Initially, we had very high hopes for the car. Having read countless forum posts and asking people, most of them held the W211 in very high regard; my father himself still drools over the design to this date! Not much of a test-drive was needed, since by then our minds were dead-set on it.

However, not all that glitters is gold. Read on to find out why.

First Impressions & Build Quality – The best or nothing.

First impressions? Blown away. The build quality and materials were second-to-none. It wasn’t hard to understand why Mercedes-Benz has always been used as the benchmark for luxury. Everything was covered in soft-touch materials, the major contact points (steering wheel, armrests, seats, shifter) were wrapped in leather, and oh so nice to touch. The fit and finish was immaculate, even for a car that old. Every control was distinctively German; solid and weighted, and needed some force to operate. Nothing felt fragile or dainty.

Ironically, I can’t say the same thing for some newer cars, that although cost a small fortune, have interiors that look and feel cheap. The exterior build quality was as expected, even panel gaps, solid, hefty doors that have that trademark “Mercedes thunk” when they latch shut, and simply feeling solid and well built all around. The only part I find cheap? The trunk closing. There’s an annoying rattle every time I close the trunk, though I assume that might be the license plate bouncing around in its shroud. Still annoying on a car of this caliber, regardless.

Interior – Honey, who shrunk the cabin?

By modern standards, the interior layout would be described as “cluttered”. In fact, cluttered is an excellent word to describe the center console stack. Buttons upon rows of buttons! However, people who know me know how much I despise touch screen controls and “soft keys”. I do not want to dive into twenty sub-menus just to turn the AC up. For that, the W211 fits me perfectly. Every function has its own button, and with some muscle memory, I don’t even need to look at what I’m pressing to confirm.

Mercedes had really thought out the interior ergonomics, albeit for an LHD, rather than RHD. Placement of some buttons are highly questionable, especially the transmission mode selector, as well as the gear indicator. Clearly Chrysler had the say in this division over Daimler, seeing as they reused the LHD parts. How silly. Other controls were more logically placed and easy to operate, thankfully.

Highly questionable placement of transmission mode selector

The seats are oddly smaller than I’d have expected, with abysmal thigh support and rather firm bolstering. My car came fitted with power and memory seats for both the driver and passenger, an option that local W211s lack. The black leather interior required minimal effort to maintain, apart from vacuuming the carpets and occasionally applying some leather care cream. Also equipped on my car was the 4-zone Thermotronic automatic air conditioning, so each passenger can have their own climate temperature, without any fighting or complaints. The air is circulated through the rear cabin by center AC vents, as well as one on each B pillar. Soundproofing inside is stellar, and most modern cars will have to fight rather hard to trump it. Though, the engine isolation is not as great, and the 2.6L naturally aspirated V6 makes itself heard somewhat prominently. Tire noise is rather loud in mine, partly due to the performance tires I have on.

As large as the W211 is, interior space is surprisingly small. It is not cramped per-se, but definitely smaller compared to older models. 4 adults can fit relatively comfortably, though for taller people (I’m 6’2” tall), the back seat has below-average legroom. If I have the driver’s seat set at my comfortable position, the rear seat would be pretty cramped for anyone that had legs. One feature most CBU and reconditioned W211s came with was the electric rear sunshade. Very handy for our hot and sunny weather. I only wish my car came with the manual side sunshades too, but alas it does not. The transmission tunnel is rather high, as it is a rear-wheel-drive car, so seating for 3 at the back will lead to intense argument on longer journeys.

The Drive – Remarkably unremarkable.

The drive can be characterized as being distinctively uncle-spec. The suspension is a little on the firm side, however, the travel is long, and the car soaks up undulations in the road with grace. Body roll is very significant, almost as if the car is ploughing into corners. Steering inputs via the hydraulically assisted, speed sensitive steering rack are not incredibly sharp, but not sailboat levels of dull either. The car is by no means a sharp and agile handler, rather, it was meant for long, steady highway cruises, so throwing it into corners like you would a Lotus Elise would be rather foolish. Should you wish to attempt the land speed record, rest assured that the chassis is plenty stable, even when upwards of 200km/h. Brake feel is spongy and nonexistent, due to the fancy SBC brake-by-wire system. It is rather intuitive to use, however, as however much pressure applied to the pedal will equate to however much deceleration performed. There is no free space before the pads bite, just a long, spongy, and firm pedal push all the way to the floor.

M112 2.6 liter naturally aspirated V6

The E240 is powered by the silky-smooth M112 2.6 liter naturally aspirated V6, which produces an unremarkable 177hp/240Nm. On paper it may seem hopelessly underpowered and anaemic, however, in practice it is plenty adequate. All 177 German ponies are sent to the rear wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission. The gearing is very long, pulling for what seems to be an eternity before the next gear is called upon. In my opinion, the gearbox is what makes the car feel slow and sluggish, as the 5G-Tronic is, for all intents and purposes, archaic. Shifts are slow and draggy, and downshifts are felt pretty hard. In W mode, shifts are made even slower and the gearbox will start off in 2nd gear. Switching it back to S mode will liven it up ever so slightly, though the eagerness of the gearbox to kick down in S mode makes the drive feel very uncouth at times.

Practicality – A hoarder’s dream.

Though the interior is rather small, the trunk space is very generous. I could comfortably fit plenty of luggage and shopping, and under the trunk floor there is a small recess before the spare wheel well, where more items can be placed. The more athletic kind will love this car, simply because an entire road bicycle will go in the back with just its wheels removed. I can easily stash all my training gear in the boot and some in the cabin, and still seat passengers in comfort. For longer items, my car is equipped with split-folding rear seats, that fold almost flat to accommodate large items. (NB: CKD W211s lack this feature.) Within the cabin itself, there are plenty of small cubbies and door pockets to place keys, coins, and other random knick-knacks.

split-folding rear seats, that fold almost flat to accommodate large items

In-car entertainment – Amazing, if we were in Tokyo.

All Japanese import W211s are fitted with a Japan-specific COMAND-APS system, with special features specifically tailored for Japanese usage. Alas, none of those features work here, and even the FM radio only tunes into BFM 89.9. These units also lack the AUX input that local cars and UK imports feature, disappointingly. The sound system itself is very decent, with loud, punchy bass that can get to ah-beng levels of boominess, and clear but slightly sibilant treble. However, the DVD/CD reader is very fickle, it only works with Japanese/ROW discs, and half of my CD stash is rejected by it. The CD changer will gladly accept any CDs that the main reader rejects, thankfully. It’s a crying shame, really, that the sound system cannot be modernized without going aftermarket.

Special features – The little things that matter.

As my car is a Japanese import, there are certain things as I’ve mentioned previously that my car has, and some that it lacks, when compared to the local models. To make it easier, I’ll list it down below.

What I have

  • Split folding rear seats
  • COMAND-APS infotainment
  • Dual power and memory seats
  • Full-leather interior (no MB-TEX here!)
  • Rear side airbags (some local cars have this, but most have the curtains only)
  • Electric rear sunshade
  • Thermotronic 4-zone AC
  • Power folding mirrors

What I don’t have (that I wish I did)

  • Parking sensors.
  • A working stereo.

See the parking sensors up there in bold? That’s because my car didn’t come with them. Parking this beast can be a challenge at first, until you get the hang of using the mirrors and doing some acrobatics to look out the back window. The first time I drove this car with my father’s permission, I promptly backed into the wall behind me while parking, and left a very nice scratch on the bumper trim. Needless to say, I got a thrashing for that. Oops. Though, in hindsight, it has made me a much better driver now, by learning the hard way, instead of relying on aids.

Reliability – It rivals an Alfa.

Remember how I said I had high hopes for this car? Yeah, those hopes were crushed when the repair bills started rolling in, one after another. First to fail was the maligned SBC brake system. A replacement part will set you back a hefty 5-7k Ringgit, including labor. Next up was my AC system, that as luck would have it, broke down in the middle of a blazing hot day. To rub salt into the wound, it happened in Ipoh, and I had to endure a painful and hot drive back to KL the next day. The AC system alone set me back a good couple thousand to right. An alternator set me back a good RM700, and both batteries combined will add up to around the same price to replace. Other things to have broken include the front suspension (replaced all the arms and bushings for 1.1k), coil packs (all 6 of them, plus the 12 plug wires), EGR system, crankcase ventilation, and rear CV joints. I am also currently chasing down a persistent electrical fault somewhere in the car, which when triggered will cause my AC and radio to shut off abruptly. Honestly, this car has seen the workshop more than it has seen the open roads.

Oil services are not cheap either, with 300-400 being the normal prices including parts and labor. The big V6 up front takes 8 liters of the golden stuff to fill, and be prepared to add more between services if you use a thinner oil. Should the car not burn any of that oil, it’ll proceed to leak it out everywhere. Common leak spots are the badly-designed PCV and valve cover gaskets, as well as the oil cooler housing.

Pros

  • Timeless looks
  • Smooth, comfortable drive
  • Safer than most cars on the road
  • Generous cargo space
  • Build quality

Cons

  • Maintenance costs
  • SBC brake-by-wire system
  • Fuel consumption
  • Road tax
  • Interior space

Conclusion? – A messy hate-love relationship.

It’s akin to a messy relationship; you hate each other’s guts one day, the next, all is forgiven. For every moment it spends draining my wallet in repairs, it puts a smile on my face when I close the door and turn the key. It’s a great car to live with, provided its not a lemon like mine is. Enough power to go about business, and luxurious comfort that rivals of that era simply cannot match. Mercedes really knocked the ball out of the park with this model, with looks that will last a lifetime, and build quality to make sure that it does too.

Would I trade it for another car? Probably not for the foreseeable future.

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