Al photos on this page were taken at Fletcher Jones Mercedes-Benz with a Canon XL1 DV camcorder at night when nobody was looking. The green car is a lovely green 1997 model E420, the only V8 E-class model I could find in the dealership. Sticker for it after taxes was a little over $50,000.
For more Mercedes-Benz pictures, see my pictures and commentary on The Greater Los Angeles Auto Show
The Mercedes-Benz PowerTrip is an opportunity for anyone interested and curious to drive as many Mercedes as they can fit in the time allotted. I went on 13 May 2001 and filed this report on the experience, including a short video.. Summary: Go!
This quick listing is in response to the person who requested a brief rundown of the makes, models and caveats behind each Mercedes model.
This is based on information I've culled through my mechanic and the list. It's not meant to be conclusive in any way, since I'm a web designer, not a mechanic :-(. Your comments and suggestions are welcome; send them to email@example.com.
There are a lot of gaps in this FAQ, since I just started writing it. You can help me by sending information and commentary on your favourite models, especially if they're not well covered here.
My thanks to Craig Tiano (firstname.lastname@example.org) for his help and information when I was selecting my car. Much of that information has now been added to this FAQ.
Some issues that might be of interest to used buyers:
Grey market cars
Mercedes has often sold their cars for quite a bit more than their European prices, and they have also withheld some of their higher performance models, with the belief that they are not suitable for use in the lower-speed US market. For both of those reasons, for quite a while there was a thriving market for people who would buy cars in Europe, ship them to the US, and modify them to comply with US emissions requirements. The resulting cars are called "Grey Market" cars and can often be identified by European-style headlights (flat instead of round) and non-regulation bumpers (short and compact instead of long).
I have heard that it can be difficult to get insurance on grey market cars, and it may also be harder to get them to pass smog checks or other inspections your state may have. Be extremely cautious and check with your mechanic.
Gas versus Diesel
Diesel engines run forever, with proper care, and get significantly better mileage than gas cars. (I.e. the 300SD TurboDiesel will get about 20mpg while the 450SEL gets 13mpg). The main drawback is slower acceleration than the gas models. Once you get to around 20-30mph, however, they will appear quite peppy. Availability of diesel fuel may be a problem in some areas.
If you want a diesel car, look for the letter "D" somewhere in the model number.
Gas models are somewhat more troublesome than diesel models, and get significantly worse gas mileage. However, they accelerate faster and are thus more fun to drive. The most fun to drive Mercedes are the SL and SLK class. Close behind are the V8 S-Class and the inline 6 300 class.
If you want a gas car, look for the letter "D" somewhere in the model number, and run from the car if it's there. :-)
New versus Used
You probably take it for granted that a used car will offer substantial savings over a new example. This does not appear to be the case. For example, I saw a 1996 E320 with 31,000 miles on it for $ 45,000 at Fletcher Jones, while the identical new example goes for a list price of $ 45,900. It strikes me as silly to buy the used car with the shorter warranty and additional wear and tear when new ones are only one or two thousand dollars more expensive.
This is not confined to Fletcher Jones, however, I saw the identical situation at a much smaller dealer. I asked the very nice salesperson, and he told me that apparently the new E320s are in very high demand, and so owners of used examples are doing very well, with around $3,000 in actual depreciation (after negotiations) a year.
This seems like excellent news for buyers of new Mercedes, but it's awful news for used buyers who wander into the lots looking for deals. Granted, nobody pays retail price for these cars (except for high-demand models like the SLK and ML320), but I would expect the final selling price to be proportionately the same.
So if you think you're a used buyer, don't miss going over to the other end of the dealership. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Below 300 Class
220. [1970s]. A few rare 220 gasoline models were made. I owned one, and it performed surprisingly well for its 4-cylinder engine on a heavy body. Acceleration from 0-20 a weak spot; acceleration from 50-80 amazingly strong.
220D [1970s]. The diesel version of the 220. Craig Tiano, who owned one, calls it "very slow, dangerously so."
190E. [1982-1994]. Mercedes' first real stab at an entry-level car. This car introduced the new multi-link suspension, which eventually spread to all models. 4-cylinder (2.3) cars were criticised for sluggishness. There are several loyal 190-series owners on the list; however, I think most of them drive the 6-cyl 2.6. Unfortunately, the 2.6 is quite rare in my experience, but becomes common after 199? when the 2.3 was discontinued.
190D. [198?-1994]. Diesel model of the new entry level Mercedes. The non-turbocharged diesel model was criticised for sluggishness above and beyond the call of duty.
C220, C280 [1995-2000]. This was an overwhelming improvement over the older 190s. Performance of the 4-cylinder models, as always, is a weak point. Many list members have pointed out a problem with oil leaks which should be looked after. Hans A Strom feels that they've built this car down to a price, and he wouldn't trade his 190E 2.6 sedan for one. Automotive magazines disagree, liking the new, higher tech design. But the "essence" of a Mercedes may have been compromised.
C240, C320 [2001-]. Yet another overwhelming improvement, the new C class is designed to significantly resemble the new S-class in appearance. It succeeds; the C looks like a 3/4 miniature S, albiet a shade short. You can recognize it immediately by the headlights - the dual lights, split on the eariler models, are now merged.
240D. [1974-1983] Mercedes' base vehicle for ages. If you want good acceleration, check out the 300D. This has the same body style as the 300D from the same era, so I'm including it here. Occasionally found with manual transmission, a relative rarity.
300D, 300D TurboDiesel. [?-1985] Mercedes' mid-line vehicle. The TurboDiesel gives a significant gain in acceleration over the older model.
300TD. Mercedes' diesel station wagon, same comments as 300D.
300SD. Mercedes' diesel flagship (?-1980 in older body style, 1981-? in newer style). In the 1980s, the 300SDL and 350SDL were long wheelbase versions of the same model.
300E [1986-1995]. The mid-range Mercedes, a fantastic car in all respects. Fast, powerful, smooth. However, the traditional Mercedes enthusiast may bemoan a more plasticky style, with lighter components and a less firm door slam. When I had mine, though, I loved it. In strict design and drivability terms, probably among the best Mercedes made. It gets about 21mpg, as opposed to the 12-15mpg of the S-class.
300CE [Sometime after 1986 - 1995]. The same as the 300E, but with a gorgeous coupe or convertible body. This is a better looking car than the 300E, and yet it still seats four with reasonable comfort. As with all coupes, you pay in roominess, especially in the back seat. But for the solo driver who loves beauty, it's tough to beat if you want to pay the extra money for looks.
300E 2.6 or 260E. At various times, this car was offered as a less powerful relative of the 300E, using the less powerful 6-cylinder engine from the 190E 2.6. It shares all 300E virtues other than the power. I'm not sure how the performance is relative to the 300E; perhaps some owners might wish to comment.
400E This is a 300E with an 8-cylinder V8 engine. Although I don't have any hard figures, this car should go like crazy with the bigger engine.
500E. A rare collectible car, the 500E was a 300E with the engine from the 560SEL. This car blows away just about any other car on the road, but does it with the discreet invisibility of a true Mercedes. The sharp-eyed will catch the flared wheel wells and know you're driving something special. Final assembly and re-working of the car was done by Porsche. Alas, this car is no longer being made, although there is a rumoured successor coming soon. I found one used at W I Simonson in Santa Monica for $ 55,000 in May 1998.
The successor is, of course, the AMG-based E-Class. I don't know much about it, but expect it to be quite impressive, albiet wildly inappropriate for our tragically speed limited roads.
300D [1986-1995 in many areas]. Same as the 300E, but with a slower but more economical TurboDiesel. This car died temporarily in California due to emissions regulations, but a diesel model is once again available in all states.
E320, E420/E430 [1996 - Present] The new E-class Mercedes was much lauded as a daring and innovative design. The odd bug-eyed headlights and the presence of cupholders (!) were considered significant breakthroughs by the motoring press. They are applauded as being peppier and more fun to drive, but some people complain that the quality feel of the old model has been compromised. You may want to drive one back to back with the old model to see which suits you better.
The photo is of a 1997 model E420. In 1998, this has been replaced by the even faster E430; unfortunately, the new model has apparently faced either overwhelming demand or underwhelming supply, so you'll find it difficult to obtain. (The photo on the top of the page is of the same car.
The large, luxurious Mercedes represents the automotive state of the art.
The best performers by far are the V8 models. However, they can be serious maintenance problems if they are not well cared for. V6 models are more bulletproof, but you might not be happy with their performance. If you buy a car for performance, stick with a V8, live with the maintenance costs, but be sure you have a good one, and that you can afford to keep it running and happy.
The following pre-1973 models have a nice "vintage" feel, with more wood and more "classic" looking instruments.
280S A 6-cylinder S-class sedan, with a similar body style to the later 280SE models. Carburated engine; carburators apparently a maintenance weak spot. Pricing 1k-4k.
280SE. The fuel injected 6-cylinder engine. From 196? to 1972 on old body style. About the same price as the V8 models, this car is more reliable than the 4.5 V8, but a bit of a slug performance-wise. Continued with newer style through 1980. I believe that in the newer style, this was mainly, if not exclusively, a grey market car. Pricing $ 1k-4k
280SE 4.5. [1972-1973] The S-class body with a 4.5 litre 8-cylinder engine. Has a reputation as a beautiful car, which it is, but maintenance is pricey. Prone to rust. This car has held steady in value for the last few years, at least in California. It may have future collector value as the supply dwindles. Pricing around $ 5k. A SEL version is slightly better equipped and has a longer wheelbase.
300SEL [1969-1972]. Craig Tiano writes as follows about this model:
I believe you may have missed the 300SEL of '69-72. It was the previous high line car (even more luxurious than the 280SEL) with air suspension like the 600 of the same time period. The car came with one of 2 engines: 4.5 litre (yup, the same one they used in the 450SEL's 10 years later!) or the 6.3 litre (same as in the 600). The first 6.3 was built by a MB engineer as a high performance personal car. It worked so well that MB made it a production model. It is an amazing car for it's day: 0-60 times in the low 6 second range, will do over 150mph. Today, the air suspension is a maintenance nightmare. The 6.3's value ranges from nearly nothing (beater cars) to $45k for a pristine low mileage example. An average 6.3 with fully functional mechanics and suspension runs in the $15k range. The 4.5 version seems to top out at $10-12k for pristine cars, and not much less for fully functional daily transportation.The following post-1973 models have a nice "modern" feel; you could easily confuse the interior of an excellent condition example with that of a brand new car. (I know because I own one). Handling has significantly improved from the earlier models.
300SD. [?-1991]. The diesel S-class model, entry level. In my experience as a 300SD owner, acceleration from about 0-20mph takes forever, and then it builds up and becomes quite quick. This is also a very smooth, plush and elegant car. Remember to change your oil every 3,000 miles on the dot. Unlike the gas models, this model designation remains the same through the next generation of S-class cars, so it has an especially long model life. See the newer S-class remarks for differences between the old and new body style.
450SE, 450SEL. [1973-1980]. The S-class gets a new look and a more rugged, rust-resistant body style. An excellent condition example can look fresh and contemporary even today. You can get them cheap, but they can be a maintence horror if not well cared for. Pricing around $ 2k-6k. (The picture to the left is of my old 450SEL, which served me well for one and a half years before dying of a cracked head :-(. Naturally, this picture was not taken at Fletcher Jones Motorcars, who would no doubt faint before even looking at such a car).
450SEL 6.9. An offshoot of the 450SEL, this car is often just called the '6.9'. According to Craig Tiano, "The 6.9 in proper tune, BTW, can only be described as having "rocket-like performance". The 6.9 still has the distinction of being the 'world's fastest production sedan'. A good 6.9 is now up in the $12-15k range." I've seen them for as little as $ 6k, no doubt in wretched condition. Beware, for any problems will cost silly money to fix. But it is a spectacular car when in first-rate condition.
450SLC This was built on the SL chassis. It's a coupe, not a convertible.
The next-generation S-Class. I believe these are the first cars to have the neat seat-shaped power seat adjusters. The climate control was also changed. Other than that, the cabin is surprisingly similar to the previous generation.
380SEL [1981-1984/5]. Another new look for the S-class. The 380SEL has a reputation for having a troublesome and underpowered engine. Pricing around $ 6-8k.
500SEL [1981?-1984]. The 380SEL with an engine more suitable for the marque, but still more troublesome than the more recent (1985+ models). Air suspension problems may exist in some models. Pricing around $ 6-8k. I believe most of these were grey market.
500SEL [1985-?]. A better engine and no more air suspension make this car significantly more expensive than earlier 500s, around $ 10-12k. I was told to avoid this car in favour of the 560SEL, below
560SEL [1986-1991]. Successor to the 500SEL, with the more powerful engine. $ 11-30k depending on year and mileage. Some of these models have air suspensions, which can be troublesome and expensive to repair.
420SEL [?-1991]. The low-end V8, less powerful than the 560 series but somewhat less expensive, too. As of April 2001, this is the car I currently own. It's not much slower than the 560. Curiously, insurance rates are much lower - I was quoted $1,200 per six months to insure a 1991 560SEL but only $850 for six months for a 1991 420SEL. Since performance really isn't much different, the insurance cost might be a major advantage for this model.
300SEL, 320SEL [?-1991]. The entry-level S-class, with the same 6-cylinder engine as the 300E. With all the weight it has to carry around, unlikely to impress performance-wise.
380SEC, 500SEC, 560SEC. Coupe versions of the S-class sedans. You lose two seats, get a shorter and thus more nimble car, and pay significantly more money.
600SEL, 500SEL, 420SEL, 320SEL. [1991-early 1999] They have (ahem) controversial appearance, sort of like a blown-up 300E. Some amazing features, like the parking guides and the dual air conditioning units (you can keep each side of the car 20degF warmer or cooler than the other). Later renamed S600, S500, S420 and S320.
The 12-cylinder 600SEL is definitely a collector's item, a high-mark in Mercedes history. Present management claims that it will soon be replaced by an 8 of comparable power; apparently the price ($ 128k) and potential maintenance costs caused customers to be somewhat cool to the model.
2001 update: they have changed their mind, and there is now an S600 with the new design.
Even the 320SEL (now renamed S320) is said to have startlingly good performance. I drove it in my 2001 search for a new car and can confirm this; it is quite sprightly. One interesting disadvantage: it marks Mercedes heavy turn to electronics, so your backyard mechanic can no longer keep it running; you have to go to more professional mechanics or your dealer. If you're used (as I am) to someone who can keep repair costs down by scrounging, maintenance on one of these can be a big shock.
The Coupe versions have been renamed CL500 and CL600. For a while, they were labelled S500 and S600, so you could not easily distinguish them from sedans unless you were looking at them from the side. Understandably, owners of these $ 97,000 plus vehicles weren't keen on the lack of differentiation, and this was eventually fixed.
S500, S430. At long last, the 2000 S-Class has emerged. I saw it at the 1999 Auto Show in January and here is a full report with pictures. The performance figures of the 8-cylinder S500 are indeed comparable to the S600's, due to the substantial decrease in weight enjoyed by the new model. Despite this, the new car is said to be even roomier inside than the old version. [2 April 1999]
Car magazine (UK) has given it a most flattering review. The S-Class now returns to its familiar "Best car in the world" status, after a 10-year hiatus with the previous model.
On 13 May 2001, I went to the Mercedes-Benz PowerTrip and actually drove a S430. I must say that it exceeded my already high expectations - I was extremely impressed by how well it drove, even compared to my just-bought 1991 420SEL. An awesome car for sure. See my link for the full report.
Smooth, safe, sporty - and with one of the highest resale values of any car. Except for the gullwing, all these cars are convertibles.
300SL Gullwing. [1950s] Very rare. Paralyzingly expensive ($ 300-500k). Known as one of the best cars ever built.
230SL/250SL/280SL. Predecessors to the 450SL. According to Craig Tiano, they "were basically the same car, but with ever increasing displacement. The 280SL is fuel injected, so tends to be more reliable and significantly more expensive. Many say that the 280SL was the last true "sports" SL. Most 230SL's are manual transmissions, BTW."
450SL, 380SL, 500SL, 560SL This car has one of the longest production runs in history, from the early 1970s to 1990. When it exited stage right, it was still generating healthy profits for the company. Resale value is stratospheric; even clapped-out models go for $ 6k or so. Early 450SLs arrived from Europe with 350SL badges, and many users never replaced them. So your '350SL' is likely to be a '450SL' in reality. (Thanks to Craig Tiano for this information).
600SL, 500SL, 300SL, 320SL [1991-2002]. Buy a 500SL. You won't regret it, despite its stratospheric price tag. I've seen a used 500SL for as little as $ 35k (June 1998). The 600SL is said, oddly enough, to be only slightly faster than the 500 and not that much fun to drive. The 300SL is a bit slow; get the larger engine if you possibly can. This car was a technological tour de force, lauded by just about everyone who's seen it. A bona-fide hit for MB. List on the now renamed SL500 was reduced to $ 79,000 for the 1998 model year, and the somewhat sluggish 6-cylinder models have been dropped. Hopefully (from the buyers' perspective), this will cause used SL prices to drop.
500SL . A few of these have appeared as a 2003 model year car. Car magazine (UK) has posted a very flattering review of the vehicle, including their rarely given 5-star rating ("Drive before you die").
I have already seen a couple of them around the streets of LA. A very impressive looking car, but easy to confuse with the CL500, since both now have a hard top. I wonder if there's much point to the CL500 given the new model's performance and hard top.
This is said to be a much better car to drive than the old SL, and Car magazine claims quality is back up there, after slipping with the new S-class and some of the cheaper models.
SLK [1997-]. This is a brand new car, said by many to be far in flair to the traditional SL, at a price that definitely puts the SL to shame. Unfortunately, they appear to be extremely difficult to find. At $ 38,000 list, only 5,000 of them were cautiously released into the US market, so it's a seller's market, much like the Mazda Miata craze. I haven't seen any in the dealers, but I did see one on the road. (On Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, naturally). The cool feature is the automatically retractable hardtop, the advantages of a solid coupe and a wind in the hair convertible seamlessly combined. Although the engine's has just four cylinders, it's supercharged and performance is said to be great, with 0-60 coming up in a little over seven seconds. Curiously enough, the American Car & Driver magazine tested the SLK, the new Boxer and the BMW 6-cyl roadster. They rated the BMW first, Porsche second and SLK third. Car magazine of the UK, normally not a real fan of Mercedes, ranked the Mercedes first, Porsche second and BMW third. That shows how closely matched these cars are; you probably want to choose which one you want based more on your personality than the merits of the cars themselves. According to Car magazine, a 6-cylinder SLK is coming soon.
600, 1965-1980. A little dear for most of us. Craig Tiano says:
The 600 of 1965-1980 is another model I think you may have missed. This was the flagship car. Available in "standard length" (also called short wheelbase or SWB) or "limo length" (also called 6 door or LWB), the car weighs in OVER 6000 pounds without passengers. Hydraulic door openers, air suspension, dual air conditioning, leather interior, no holds barred luxury. Engine is the 6.3 litre, with only reasonable performance due to the weight of the car. Rarely do these trade hands. "Nice" cars go for $30-40k, and at least one I have seen has an asking price of $140k, which the owner will undoubtably get since the car is 100 points and only 15k miles.Some Links
I'd like to add a few Mercedes-related links here; drop me a line with yours.
A similar list to mine, with an ample supply of pictures, but little text. A nice compliment to this listing. [10 November 1998]
Mercedes Spy Photos and new model information, including information on the spectacular new S-Class.
David's W140 S-Class Web Page
Tod's lovely W108 page with some great photographs and a gorgeous green 250C for sale.
Visit my personal home page if you'd like to find out more about me. Or check out my Southern California Luxury Tour, where my ancient former car (RIP :-( ) and me take a tongue-in-cheek visit to some of the most fun parts of Los Angeles.
Last modified: Mon Jan 4 14:15:20 PST 1999
My Mercedes FAQ page has had quite a few visits since its creation on 19:07 29 October 1996.