DT E-i-C Vince: The following story consists of words by DT Contributor K2 Mystery Car and illustrations by my 8 year old son Alex.
Nothing is absolute, with the debatable exceptions of this statement and death. – John Ralston Saul
I sleep like a rock. Maybe it’s a reflection of my IQ or maybe it’s connected to my shoe size but when my head hits the pillow, I’m out like a light. And I dream. Oh boy, do I dream. Now, they’re very rarely some risqué jive. No, mostly they’re intricate, detailed short films that contain characters I’ve never met or are vaguely familiar on some sort of adventure. Sometimes they’re frightening, occasionally they’re full of action and sometimes they’re awe inspiring.
Of course, they often reflect something from my past or maybe an event or experience from my current life. I’m sure a psychiatrist would say something along the lines that they’re an expression of my subconscious. But I’ve learned to pay close attention to them because they often guide my conscious life, providing direction when I need it and warning of impending doom.
I like to think it’s the universe steering me through life but that’s probably just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. So it came as no surprise when I was greeted by six gods seated on marble thrones as I traipsed through the gate of dreams. Caught by surprise but unable to express myself in any such way because I’m an adult male from a culture that prizes know-it-alls for some reason, I nonchalantly tossed a quick head nod and said, “Yo, what up?”
The dude in the middle, the one with the long, flowing beard and the eyebrows you could rest a beer stein on, intoned mightily, “We are the gods of German cars and we understand that you have been blaspheming our impeccably good name!”
I stammered, “Uh, yeah. You guys produce really nice cars but your long-term reliability and the cost of maintenance stinks.” I was always one for tact and subtlety, as you can tell. I’ve never heard such harrumphing and mumphing in my entire life. These old geezers were going to blow a gasket, “How dare you insult our rock-solid build quality, our tight shut-lines and the solid thunk when the door closes! Heathen! You cannot question that we are the best! Infidel! The riffraff are lucky that we do not charge many times more for our cars than we already do! Heretic! Our ways are unquestionable and impenetrable to your tiny brain!”
“You can say that again,” I mumbled under my breath.
“What’s that you say? Speak up, you tiny grain of dirt upon the bottom of my platinum croc!”
“Moron says what?” I replied.
“What?” said the one on the right, who was promptly shushed by the others who explained, “Heinrich, do not respond to the peon for he is toying with you.”
After they calmed down, Mr. Poofy Hairdo God to my left inquired haughtily, “You are like so many car enthusiasts that base their rock-solid, unshakeable opinions on a select few cars or random anecdotal information instead of fact. Your mind is closed to any and all other information and you’re stuck in your ignorance!”
This caught me by surprise because it was true. Indeed, I was a typical car enthusiast that based my information on a narrow range of experience and information. “Well, I uh...you know, you’re right. If you can show me proof that there are reliable German cars, maybe I’ll chew the schnitzel differently.”
The god second from the right, who looked uncomfortably like Donald Trump, declared, “Then go forth and seek out the goodness and perfection that are the birthright of the mighty German car!”
I was starting to wake up but before I did I yelled out one last question, “But which model year 2000 or newer German car is actually reliable?”
As I emerged from my slumber I heard the gods chime together, “Seek the Seedy Eye! The Seedy Eye is the one you seek!”
That was five years ago and I still didn’t know what they were talking about. They must have been smoking the wacky tobacky or something. What in all that’s holy is the Seedy Eye? Is that a car or some oracle who lives in a cave that can guide me to what I seek – the mysterious, reliable German car. Or was it just a ruse planned by those kooky gods to mess with my head and there was no such thing.
And then, like a Frisbee from another planet, it struck me; they were talking about the Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI produced from 2005 to 2009, also known as the diesel version of the W211. There was no “Seedy Eye”; it was the model of E-Class that they were chirping on about.
This nearly two-ton sedan features a turbocharged, intercooled, iron block with an aluminum head inline 6-cylinder with a rather novel direct fuel injection system and while the 201-horspower rating won’t capture many hearts, the 369 (2005-2006) to 400 (2007-2009, rebadged Bluetec) foot-pounds of torque will make many a gear head declare, “Shwing!” [Tech. Ed. CFlo: while the 2002-05 cars had the inline six, 05-09 switched to a diesel V6] The result is a 0-60 in roughly seven seconds (some reports say slightly less) while enjoying 23/33 mpg. With a 21.1 gallon fuel tank and West Coast diesel prices hovering around three bucks, a fill up will cost you a little less than $65. Not bad for a mid-size luxury car. A regular E320 would cost you a little less at a tad under $60 but you must factor in the smaller 16.4 gallon tank and roughly $3.50 a gallon West Coast gas prices.
A used diesel E320 in good condition from a private party is worth around $9,000 (2005, KBB) to $16,000 (2009, KBB), a real bargain and there seems to be quite a few on the market. Of course, what’s available to you depends on your area and how far you’re willing to drive or have the car shipped.
My initial investigation of what owners had to say about the car, both good and bad, proved to be promising. Removing the rapid depreciation of a $55,000+ dollar car that’s worth roughly one-fifth ten years later, the cost of parts and dastardly dealer dealings, there didn’t appear to be much if anything that goes wrong with this particular model variant. On Edmunds, it received an overall five out of five star rating from owners, something I’ve rarely if ever seen, with the model years 2005 and 2006 getting the most comments. The impression I got was that there weren’t that many sold and that the majority of them have been so trouble-free that it was unnecessary to even discuss worrying about long-term reliability. Of course, there were outliers with owners who felt they’d gotten a lemon. These are complicated machines, so they probably did. But to base my presumptions on those few exceptions would be folly, as the German car gods pointed out.
On the NHTSA site, the results were also fascinating though I was unable to separate the CDI from its gasoline E-Class brethren. 2005 seemed to be the most problematic and yet still not that bad; there were zero recalls listed, 2 investigations, 34 service bulletins and 160 complaints...uh oh. Most of the issues seemed to be centered on the smell of fuel and owners reporting some issues with their brakes.
But the problems seemed to lessen as the years went on, with the 2009 model receiving zero recalls, zero investigations, 30 service bulletins and only 5 complaints. As a random comparison, the 2009 Lexus LS460 logging 2 recalls, 2 investigations, 2 service bulletins and 9 complaints, with the major concern being a leak caused by corrosion at the fuel pressure sensor.
So things continued to be rosy for the CDI. Not content with just accepting what I could find online, I called my local independent foreign car repair shop. The report came back that while they hadn’t seen many of them (a good sign), their experience was that they very rarely needed anything out of the ordinary.
It was high time I drove one and I found one locally for sale from a private party, a 2005 with just over a hundred thousand miles. Though it was a hideous shade of tan (it’s called sand, according to the owner) with a tan leather interior, the car had been clearly well taken care of, included all of the documentation and he was asking $11,500 for it. The solidity of the build quality was apparent to me, though unremarkable in comparison to similar vehicles. The interior was well designed but showed the occasional sign of cost cutting, particularly in the feel of some of the plastics and cheapness of the buttons. I’ve never been a big fan of Mercedes interiors, so this came as no surprise. The seats were as expected; of high quality. Out on the road, it felt like what it was; a big car with decent handling and steering. There was nothing athletic about the feel of the car and other than the monster torque; I didn’t note anything all that special about it. Once the car warmed up, it was basically impossible to tell it was a diesel it was so quiet. Gone were the fumes, clatter and dangerously sloth-like speed of the diesel Mercedes from my past. It felt like the kind of vehicle that would be great for setting the cruise on a long trip on a wide, open highway.
Other than the badge prestige and that lovely wave of torque, there wasn’t anything special about the CDI. Of course, look who’s talking. But there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a nice car and from all indications it might, indeed, be one of the most reliable German cars in the past 15 years. If you’ve got the urge to check one out for yourself, here’s one that appears to be a good candidate; a black over tan 2007 with 147K miles.
See a more reliable MY 2000+ German car for sale? firstname.lastname@example.org
DT E-i-C Vince: Thanks to K2 for an entertaining story, and big thanks to my son Alex who created the top two diagrams based on the following instructions:
"Draw a Mercedes Benz E-Class in one picture and in another draw six German car gods on thrones plus one guy with a cape with a Volvo symbol on it."
"Dad, what does a German car god look like?"
"Hmmm...that is a good question...perhaps they have a fancy crown or wear funny hats...just make something up."
"I got this."