Mercedes-Benz W124 300E sedanEnlarge Photo
Coming home from a long bike ride today, I kept looking at the cars parked on the side of the road, looking for something that stood out. And out of all of the cars that caught my eye, there was a 1992 (or so) Mercedes-Benz E-Class in very good condition--not bad for a car that is almost 20 years old. And I thought for the umpteenth time; that is the finest Mercedes-Benz ever, which is quite a claim to make given their immense automotive history.
I know this is a highly subjective and emotional topic, but after much soul-searching and contemplating and pontificating, and maybe a beer or two, I have concluded that the W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the best Merc ever.
What? Heresy, you say? Maybe a certain 300 SL Gullwing pops to mind? Maybe an AMG or two can blow the doors off it, you say? What about the massively awe-inspiring 300 SEL 6.3 from the late ‘60s--especially in that deep maroon? What about an S-Class or two? None of these was ever a taxi, and many of them had better performance and pedigree within the Mercedes-Benz empire.
Look, I could quote production numbers, and such. Such as the 2.5+ million W124s that were sold across the globe over an 11-year period. Granted, many of those were diesel taxis, but that doesn't detract from the stunning sales for a luxury car. I could also go into the numerous performance versions with heart-stopping V-8s, the, sheer longevity of the turbodiesels, or even the stately station wagons that are still in demand as used cars across the globe. But none of those points really makes my argument (well, maybe the production figures do, but that’s only part of it).
What I believe made W124 E-Class the mid-size luxury vehicle to have was that it was one of the most complete Mercedes-Benz cars to incorporate everything that is the Mercedes-Benz brand--and that encompasses a lot. It's about solidity, longevity, safety, luxury, engineering excellence and of course, prestige.
The W124 was developed by perhaps one of the best designers ever to lay pen to paper, Bruno Sacco. Two other designers had a helping hand, Joseph Gallitzendrfer and Peter Pfeiffer, and should be recognized for creating a truly timeless, elegant, solid and brand-enhancing set of lines, inside and out. From the beveled edges, to the elevated trunk that cut drag coefficient, to the masculine sides and perfect proportions between front and back, there hasn't been a Mercedes-Benz that has had this kind of design impact and longevity.
The interior isn't to be forgotten either. There is a visual structure in the cabin. Its layout is balanced and driver-focused. It has excellent ergonomics, great seats (I got a ride in this vehicle on multiple occasions, so I can attest to that), and a kind of German design sensibility that made it stand out from its peers in this market and still does in my opinion.
It terms of solidity, safety and engineering excellence, this was the stiffest vehicle in its class by a wide margin and set off a series of other claims by rival manufacturers as to the stiffness of their chassis. It incorporated offset crash crumple zones and superb aerodynamics into its design for a low (0.29-0.32) drag coefficient--still very good by today's standards. It also had optional 4Matic, stability and slip control (novelties back then) and a cool feature that I love to this day, the one-armed windshield wiper that covered more area than any other.
And don't forget the engines. From four- and five-cylinder diesels to V-8 monsters that could chase down a 911 on the Autobahn. The six-cylinder engines were superbly balanced, the diesels are still running to this day, and the V-8s are all refined, controlled muscular mayhem.
Imagine that--a luxury car that could be a sedan, convertible, station wagon, and with the right engine, a sports car. What a wide breadth of talent and skill. It's all of these factors together that lead me to make this claim: it's the finest Mercedes-Benz ever in my opinion, and I still want one.