This fourth generation of the E-Class, codenamed the W212, was first introduced in 2009. Back then it was one of the safest executive saloons and its four-cylinder diesel engines were among the most frugal in class. A significant facelift followed in 2012 with the main exterior differences being the new one-piece headlights that also offered full LED technology for the first time in class as an option.
Inside the W212 E-Class you’ll find one of the most luxurious and well-built interiors in class, with highlights including an analogue clock and real metal trim pieces. Passenger space is class leading with lots of rear legroom. The boot is bigger than the class average and features remote opening from the key fob.
The E-Class can’t match the 5 Series for driving thrills, but it’s more comfortable thanks to a near-perfect suspension setup. Very little outside noise makes its way into the vault-like cabin making it one of the best motorway cruisers out there.
There are plenty of engine options to choose from but the best bet for most is one of the diesels and, in particular, the 2.1-litre in the 250d model. It has lots of pulling power and low running costs, but can be a bit noisy when compared to the diesels from BMW and Jaguar.
Equipment levels are good with entry-level SE cars getting artificial leather upholstery, alloy wheels and electrically adjustable heated front seats as standard while the AMG trim concentrates on making the E-Class sportier.
The W212 E-Class is a very dependable used car with owners reporting high reliability and few serious problems – this older version of the E-Class won in its category in the 2016 J.D Power Vehicle Dependability Study. That said, some owners are reporting faulty injectors on the earlier diesel engines, but that’s about it in terms of common issues.
The E-Class cabin is a high-quality, spacious, quiet and well-built environment. It may not have the gizmos or flair of the latest E-Class, but it’s definitely a place where you’ll be happy to spend a lot of time.
Controls are logical apart from the gear selector on high-power automatic models which is located behind the steering wheel – something that takes a short amount of time to get used to.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) infotainment
The standard infotainment system is closely related to the 2005 S-Class’ one, so don’t expect the snappiness or sharpness of the latest systems. The optional Comand online sat-nav though is nearly as good as the newer models, only missing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) passenger space
All occupants get plenty of head and legroom. The front seats slide a long way back and forth, so even the tallest driver and front passenger can be comfortable. The steering wheel also has plenty of adjustment and it’s all done electrically.
The driving position is also much better (less offset) than previous E-Classes while the seats are very comfortable if not body-hugging. Split-folding rear seats were, surprisingly, optional on the W212 E-Class, so make sure the car you’re looking at has them.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) boot space
The E-Class has a big body, which results in a 540-litre boot that offers more than enough space for luggage. It can pack more than the BMW 5 Series with its 520-litre boot, but is a bit smaller than the A6’s 565 litres and is the same size as the Jaguar XF’s boot.
The E-Class simply glides over most road imperfections, yet never rolls too much in corners. Mercedes has managed to combine a cosseting ride quality with precise handling.
It’s on the motorway where the E-Class hits its stride where little wind or road noise can be heard at the national speed limit. This refined cruiser is also decent in fast corners, especially when equipped with the optional sports suspension, but it won’t put a smile on your face like a sports car – unless you get the V8 AMG model.
The pre-facelift version of the W212 E-Class was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2009 and unsurprisingly this slab of German metal scored the full five stars. The optional autonomous braking in the W212 E-Class called Pre-Safe impressed safety testers so much they even gave it an award. The system became part of the standard equipment after the 2012 facelift.
Engines and running costs
At launch the W212 E-Class had a huge range of engine starting from a 134hp diesel and ending with the bombastic E 63 AMG S with 577hp. However, the best sellers were the small diesels and, inevitably, those hold their value the best. Of course, if you can stomach the running costs of the AMG models, hardly anything sounds or accelerates better in the class.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) diesel engines
Diesels are considered better options than the petrols, at least lower down the range. Some can be a little noisy – the E220 diesel does rattle at low revs but this dissipates somewhat once it gets going. While it does deliver brisk acceleration (0-62mph in 7.7 seconds), the gruff sound constantly reminds you that you’re driving a diesel – not what you would want from such a car really.
The V6 diesel in the E350 is much more refined and has a silky smooth power delivery that’s more in tune with the relaxed nature of the car. With huge reserves of pulling power, it’s effortlessly quick – 0-62mph taking less than seven seconds – and if you spend most of your time on the motorway, the official fuel consumption figure of 40mpg will be easy to achieve or even surpass. Depending on the engine you choose annual road tax will cost between £20-£110.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) petrol engines
Less popular are the petrol choices because most E-Classes will spend their time on the motorway, where the diesels make more sense. Nonetheless, the mid-range 211hp E250 is very refined and decently quick while still managing 48mpg, whereas the E400 has quite a pleasing sound thanks to its 3.0-litre V6.
The V8-powered E500, on the other hand, makes the E-Class the ultimate understated continent-crosser. The ability to travel on an unrestricted autobahn at 155mph all day long translates in the UK to the engine barely above ticking over at the national speed limit letting you ‘waft’ along effortlessly like in a Rolls-Royce. The aforementioned engines will cost between £130 and £290 a year in road tax.
The 5.5-litre V8 in the facelifted W212 E63 and E63 S is arguably a better engine than those in the contemporary BMW M5 and Audi RS6 Avant. It replaced the old 6.2-litre V8, but thanks to a pair of turbos the 5.5-litre engine has huge low-down torque and will sprint to 60mph in 4.1 seconds. However, this engine’s also the least fuel efficient returning 28mpg and costing £490 in annual road tax.
Which one to get
In terms of trim levels, the choice is simple – a comfortable SE or a sporty AMG Line edition. Optional extras were expensive and weren’t grouped into packs like in the new one so make sure your car has desirable extras such as the Comand online infotainment system, the panoramic sunroof or the cosseting air suspension.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) SE
The entry-level SE trim realistically has all the kit you need in a mid-size executive car – sat-nav, cruise control, DAB digital radio, USB and Bluetooth phone connectivity are notable highlights.
Mercedes E-Class (2009-2016) AMG Line
The AMG Line, as the name suggests, tries to add that bit of sportiness that’s missing from the entry-level car. It adds sports suspension, large 18-inch alloys and a stylish sportys steering wheel. It also holds its value better than an SE model thanks to the more attractive exterior.
No matter the model you go for, every E-Class is built to a high standard with superb attention to detail and the motorway credentials are hard to ignore. If you value sporty handling over a comfortable ride, head straight for the BMW 5 series. Similarly, if you want more of a tech-fest, the Audi A6 serves that purpose well, but as an all-rounder, the Mercedes E-Class W212 is hard to fault.