The W211 generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class was built starting in 2002, right in the middle of the whole Daimler-Chrysler mess, so you would be correct to be wary. However, the E-Class was always the bread & butter of the Mercedes lineup and didn't get the same cheapen-till-they-buy approach of the lowly C-Class, nor the needless complexity-for-the-sake-of-it mass approach taken on the S-Class, so you might be able to drive a W211 around for a few years without refinancing your house to pay for maintenance. Find this 2004 Mercedes E500 4Matic Wagon offered for $8,900 in Memphis, TN via craigslist.
The truth is, the 2004 model year is probably one to avoid, because the Mercedes-Benz product were at the bottom of JD Power's initial reliability survey starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the mid 2000s, but this means the prices for those vehicles are staggeringly affordable. Pay now or pay later...I guess.
The E500 (and later E550) was the fastest E-Class you could find without dipping into the mad-sauce that is known as AMG. This wagon is equipped with a 5.0 liter V8 good for 302 horsepower and 339 ft-lbs of torque. Mated to a 5-speed slushbox, the heavyweight will hit 60mph in just a tick under 6 seconds, with or without the complexity of Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Given the choice, I'd take it without the 4Matic, but folks in snowy climates might appreciate the extra traction provided for all the hooning you'll do in this beast.
Of course you'd expect an extra set of seats in the back any good wagon (why would you buy a wagon if it didn't have those little jump seats in the back?) and this W211 doesn't disappoint.
See a better car for your growing family? firstname.lastname@example.org