When GP surveyed readers about cars, the results showed that the most aspirational make is a Mercedes. They certainly last. I once hailed a Greek Mercedes taxi that had covered 1.5 million kilometres.
My own four-year-old 320CDi cost £13,500 second hand. In it and its two predecessors, I have covered 200,000 miles, cruised all day on autobahns at three-figure speeds, and achieved 1,500 kilometres in a day. Perilous ventures on icy roads, foggy motorways and hostile environments are approached with confidence because you are as safe as you can be in a car.
Tough, discreet and powerful, Mercedes stands out because of the lack of noise, vibration and road drama. Good engineering, insulation, and solid bodywork suppress insidiously stressful low-frequency vibrations.
The latest 320CDi is restricted to an astonishing 155mph. Fully laden journeys to our children’s universities, fast holiday runs south to the Med and trips round the M25 with a roof rack full of furniture are tackled with a calm aplomb that makes Volvos and Discoveries look clumsy. Handling is sinuous and responsive, with bottomless grip in the dry belying the car’s weight and matching its surging performance.
Overall fuel consumption was around 35mpg, and nearly 40mpg on cruise-controlled motorway runs. Crisp fighter-aircraft-type dials tell you what is going on. The multifunction computer displays satnav, radio, fuel consumption, speed, direction, outside temperature and inboard phone data. The computer-controlled autobox sweeps through its seven speeds faster than I could change gear manually. Anticreep braking enables easy hill starts, and a powered luggage tray saves your back when loading the boot.
The downside is the £100 per hour service cost. Although today’s engines may go on forever, the cost of repairing ancillaries such as hydraulic suspension, catalysers and electronics makes this class of car economically irreparable.
While previous models suffered from an embarrassing blip in reliability post 1995, and rust is not completely unknown, this latest model has been extensively developed in so many areas that it seems impertinent to even mention past mechanical failures.
As confirmation, this model set an endurance record of 141mph over 100,000km. Can you tell I like it?
Dr Stefan Cembrowicz is a GP in Bristol
Mercedes E320CDi estate
Engine size: V6 3.2 Litre Turbodiesel, auto 224bhp
Acceleration: 0–60mph 7.3 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
Insurance group: 17
MPG: Urban 26.7/ex-urban 47.9/ combined 37.2
What Car? rating: 4 stars
Real cost: (three-year/36,000 ownership cost based on fuel, depreciation, insurance,services)
What Car? verdict: Elegant, with the haulage abilities denied BMW Touring or Audi Avant buyers. Looks great, drives well, can work for its living. The E-class loses no driving polish by becoming an estate. Expensive, however, at £1,250 over the saloon and the 3.2 litre turbodiesel is a bit noisy. The E320CDi has an extra 20lb/ft of pull from the engine it replaced but Mercedes’ most powerful V6 diesel was smooth and refined to begin with.