Mercedes E55 AMG (W210) estate | The Brave Pill

V8, seven seats, not an SUV – winner!

By Mike Duff / Saturday, July 24, 2021 / Loading comments

As anyone who has given an unfiltered opinion on a significant other’s newly bought (but ill-chosen) outfit knows, honesty isn’t always the best policy. Yet when it comes to buying heavily used cars, it’s certainly appreciated.

In the olden days of newsprint classifieds, the gulf between claims and reality was often massive. I once travelled to the rough end of Slough to see a very cheap Rover 800 on the basis of a single blurry picture and the advert’s breezy promise that the car “drives great.” It may well have done; it was certainly lighter than any other 820i. I arrived to discover that both the text and a phone call with the vendor had failed to disclose that, beyond a driver’s seat, it didn’t have an interior.

The arrival of t’internet quickly sent things to the other extreme. A well-known auction site’s frequent warnings that bids were final and established a binding contract required a far higher level of disclosure if winners weren’t going to do a runner when Baywatch turned out to be closer to Crimewatch.

Adverts for even the cruddiest cars were soon featuring dozens of pictures of knocks and blemishes from a multitude of angles, often accompanied with voluminous descriptions that started with the birth of the designer’s grandmother and slowed down from there. Of course, there was still a significant risk of the gearbox falling off on the way home, or discovering a crack in the engine block fixed with Araldite.

The private seller of this week’s Pill takes a middle course. The advert for this enticingly cheap E55 AMG estate features only six photographs (we’ve asked very nicely for a few more from the seller – MB), four of the interior. But the description is commendably forthright, listing issues including the permanent illumination of the traction control and ABS warning lights, plus rust in the driver’s door and front wing. Forewarned is forearmed, and this is the cheapest AMG E-Class in the classifieds by a considerable margin. Plus, as the vendor points out, being a seven-seat wagon makes it considerably rarer than the saloon.

The acknowledged presence of corrosion is likely to create a punch-up in the comments, as it did when we last featured an (even leggier) E55 AMG saloon back in January last year. This Pill dates from a time when Mercedes took rustproofing about as seriously as Lancia did in the 1970s, or Lada did in the 1980s, and some earlier examples of both the bug-eyed W210 E-Class and W202 C-Class were showing obvious evidence of rot before the millennium had turned.

Yet the strange thing is that this cancerous affliction never struck every car. There are plenty of theories as to why out there; some paint colours and years do seem more (or less) susceptible. But there have always been identical but unrusted counter-examples to disprove any attempt to create a hard and fast rule.

Time is also rapidly turning the debate moot. Any W210 that has survived this long is unlikely to be one of the truly grotty ones; even the youngest examples are now 19 years-old. A glance at the MOT history behind our Pill’s obscured plates does reveal a fair number of brake, tyre and suspension related advisories, but there has been no mention of any body corrosion since 2011 when a tester noted ‘not excessive’ rust around suspension mountings, presumably now fixed.

The good news is that if rust isn’t going to kill an E55 then not much else is. AMG’s version of Merc’s triple-valve V8 was much more solidly engineered than the base car’s structure, with its sonorous but under-stressed 350hp being more about mid-range muscle than a screaming top end. The E55 is one of those cars that accidentally beats the wheel scrabbling hatchback away from the lights on no more than quarter throttle. It is a supremely relaxed cruiser, barely breaking sweat at 100mph and – beyond limited fuel range when pushed – able to compress longer journeys as well as almost anything else.

Dynamically the E55 was always more spoon than knife. Steering feels numb under cornering loads and the joyless stability control intervenes hard and fast if you try to do anything too immature with the engine’s torque and the rear axle. Yet these shortcomings felt more obvious in the saloon, which lived almost all its life in the considerable shadow of the E39 BMW M5. The huge estate had no direct rivals – it only overlapped for a couple of months with the C6 generation Audi RS6 Touring.

The first buyer of our Pill ordered it with the rear-facing third-row seats that Merc used to offer in all versions of the E-Class estate. (I got way too excited when I found these fitted to the W211 E63 wagon that featured here last April.) Having had these in two lesser E-Classes I can honestly say they are brilliant; kids will fight each other for the novelty of sitting backwards and either waving or flicking the vees at passing HGVs. When not in use they fold away and leave the boot as massive as ever.

The fullness of the advert’s disclosure reports a ramped-and-stamped service history up to 168,000 miles – a benchmark the car seems to have passed about ten years ago – and that it has been self-serviced since. That policy has clearly been reasonably successful given the car’s continued existence, and this is definitely a part of the market where condition is more important than paperwork. That said, most potential buyers would doubtless prefer the seller to fix the illuminated warning lights rather than having to do it themselves.

Ongoing spend will be obviously higher than it would be for a lesser W210. Regular maintenance isn’t too scary, but staying on top of the consumption of brakes, tyres and suspension components will keep your wallet fit and your current account lean. At this age and mileage there is an increased risk of a big, expensive fault stopping the music altogether. But you’d be hard pressed to find an alternative that combines performance and practicality for anything like this money.

Last year’s E55 saloon Pill was being offered for just £4,000, albeit with a slightly higher mileage. This estate is up for £5,750, with that supplement reflecting both the greater rarity of the wagon, especially with seven seats, but also the fact that prices for the cheaper AMG models have been steadily creeping up as the numbers thin out and people realise they won’t be around for much longer. This is a final V8 fling that the whole family can enjoy, although maybe not the dog.

See the original advert here

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