E for epoch-making – The history of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class

10.
August 2020
Stuttgart
  • A tradition of innovation, design and variety in the upper medium-size category
  • Ten model series families that have been central to the brand since 1947
  • Since 1993, the upper medium-size category of Mercedes-Benz has been called the E-Class

Stuttgart. The history of the E-Class has its place at the heart of the Mercedes-Benz brand. It is a tradition of a family of innovative, fascinating and diverse cars in the upper medium-size and premium categories. The roots of this heritage go back almost 120 years and since 1947 alone there have been ten generations of the E-Class and its immediate predecessors. Since 1993, the upper medium-size category of Mercedes-Benz cars has been called the E-Class. The enhanced E-Class of model series 213 celebrates its premiere in the summer of 2020.

The original Mercedes-Benz brands paved the way for the success story of the E-Class right back at the beginning of the 20th century: customers were impressed by cars which were positioned below the luxury and premium categories but above the small car category and which formed a focal point of the model range.

When the two companies merged in 1926 to form Daimler-Benz AG, the influence of both brands combined to shape the upper medium-size category. One of the first passenger cars produced under the new Mercedes-Benz brand name was the model type 8/38 PS (W 02), which was named the Stuttgart 200 after its redesign in 1928. Just like the 10/50 PS Stuttgart 260 model (W 11, 1928), it can be considered an E-Class predecessor. Models 200 (W 21, 1933), 230 (W 143, 1936) and 260 D (W 138, 1936 – the world’s first production passenger car with a diesel engine) also followed this tradition.

The beginning of the economic miracle, 1947 to 1955: Mercedes-Benz 170 V to 170 DS (W 136/W 191)

One forerunner of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class signalled the beginning of the brand’s passenger car production after the end of the Second World War: from 1946, model 170 V, which had been produced in 1936, provided the basis for vehicles for rescue services, the police, tradespeople and commerce. In 1947, the corresponding saloon was launched as the first post-war Mercedes-Benz passenger car. The 28 kW (38 hp) 170 V (33 kW/45 hp from 1950) with a fully synchronised four-speed manual transmission became the mainstay of the Mercedes-Benz passenger car range – as it had been in the 1930s.

The strengths of this car were acknowledged by the Swiss “Automobil-Revue” in the 12/1950 issue, amongst other publications. It read: “The Mercedes-Benz Model 170 V has long since outgrown the motoring equivalent of the adolescent stage. But is it not a vehicle which, in terms of its performance, modesty, economy, safety, its durability and – last but not least – its beauty, can still stand comparison with the latest chrome-plated creations of car fashion?”

In this way, during the difficult post-war years, Mercedes-Benz set out on the road towards the economic miracle. Consistent further development also contributed to the success of the model series. In 1949, the engineers derived the 170 D diesel-powered car (28 kW/38 hp, 29 kW/40 hp from 1950), which was powered by a compact four-cylinder engine with indirect prechamber injection, from the saloon with its 1.7-litre petrol engine.

Also in 1949, the more luxurious 170 S Saloon with an all-steel body complemented the model range – the 170 S (38 kW/52 hp) was also available as Cabriolet A and Cabriolet B versions. Until the launch of the six-cylinder models 220 and 300, the 170 S, as the new top model, serviced the upper end of the segment and made inroads into the premium and luxury categories. In 1952, the efficient 170 DS diesel version (W 191, 29 kW/40 hp) was launched. As the final development stage in the W 136 model series, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 170 S-V and 170 S-D models in 1953. The spacious body, high standard of driving comfort and a dignified appearance were the attributes embodied by the model series until production ceased in 1955. These are the strengths that still characterise the Mercedes-Benz E-Class today.

Modern times, 1953 to 1962: Mercedes-Benz Ponton (self-supporting chassis-body structure) saloons with four-cylinder engines (W 120, W 121)

This model was the first of all “mule” test vehicles: in 1952, the “das Auto, Motor und Sport” magazine published a photo of a prototype of the Mercedes-Benz 180 and accompanied it with a parody of Goethe’s “Erlkönig” ballad. This is how the term “Erlkönig” came to be used as standard term in German for a camouflaged prototype vehicle. The saloon had indeed deserved this attention – it signalled the beginning of a new era in 1953. The “pontoon-style”, ultra-modern three-box design with fully integrated wings and a rectangular layout, which also reduced air resistance and, as a result, fuel consumption, underlined the change.

The design matched the integral body construction innovation – the first time this had been applied to a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. The role of the model 180 (38 kW/52 hp, from 1957, with a 1.9-litre engine with 48 kW/65 hp, and later with 50 kW/68 hp) as a technical and aesthetic pacesetter became evident in 1954 when Mercedes-Benz presented the models of the Mercedes-Benz premium class: the bodies for the six-cylinder models were closely modelled on the successful four-cylinder saloons. The 180 D diesel variant was also launched in 1954, originally with 29 kW/40 hp, then, from 1955, with 32 kW/43 hp and, from 1961, 35 kW/48 hp. The third model – the 55 kW (75 hp) Mercedes-Benz 190 rolled off the production line in 1956 (from 1959, it had an output of 59 kW/80 hp), while the 190 D with 37 kW (50 hp) debuted in 1958. A total of around 443,000 customers around the world opted for a four-cylinder Ponton model.

The innovative details of the Ponton also included the single-joint swing axle at the rear with a low pivot point, which was introduced in 1955. From 1959 on, the passive safety of the saloon was enhanced by an interior designed so as to reduce injury hazards in accidents with a padded instrument panel and elastic, partially recessed controls, as well as a steering wheel with a padded boss and the wedge-pin door lock with two safety detents. The heating and ventilation system, which could be individually regulated for the driver and front passenger, was designed to enhance comfort.

New perspectives, 1961 to 1968: Mercedes-Benz Tail Fin Saloons with four-cylinder engines (W 110)

Distinctive direction fins, or sights, on the rear wings distinguished the upper medium-size category Mercedes-Benz generation launched in 1961. This design detail earned the model series its nickname “Tail Fin” – just as it had done two years earlier in the case of the premium category saloons of the W 111 model series, because the upper medium-size category models largely shared the same bodies. The shorter bonnet and round headlights distinguished the predecessor of the E-Class from the ancestors of the S-Class. Both model series had the pioneering safety body which Mercedes-Benz launched with these model series as a contribution to automotive engineering.

It was Béla Barényi, vehicle safety mastermind and employee of the Stuttgart-based brand, who invented this body construction which incorporated a safety passenger cell and crumple zones at front and rear. A patent application was filed on 23 January 1951 for the design and it celebrated its premiere in 1959 in the W 111 model series.

Technical highlights featured in the “small tail fin” in terms of driving safety included a dual-circuit braking system with a brake booster and disc brakes at the front from 1963 and, from 1967, safety steering with a telescopic steering column and impact-absorbing boss.

The W 110 model series debuted with the four-cylinder 190 and 190 D saloons. In 1965, the 200 and 200 D models, improved in terms of equipment level and technology, were launched. At the same time, the brand presented its model 230, a six-cylinder car in the segment that had until then only seen four-cylinder engines. The performance range started at 40 kW (55 hp) in the 190 D, and extended up to 77 kW (105 hp) in the 230 model, and the output of that model was then increased in 1966 to 88 kW (120 hp). As usual, Mercedes-Benz also offered the upper medium-size category models as a chassis with a partial body. The 200 D and 230 were also available as long-wheelbase versions. Starting with these base chassis, independent body manufacturers produced a wide range of special bodies such as ambulances and estates.

From 1966, the “Universal” estate cars built by Belgian company IMA played a special role in this respect, because they were sold through the distribution network of the Daimler-Benz sales organisation in Germany. Two generations later in the history of the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz launched its own estate in the 123 model series – developed specifically for lifestyle and transport activities.

As early as the mid-1960s, the Tail Fin models provided their occupants with numerous optional enhancements. For example, there was the automatic transmission developed in-house (from 1962). The German magazine “Motor Tourist” wrote about the Mercedes-Benz 190 equipped with this transmission in its 3/1963 issue: “The overall result is whole-hearted agreement. Driving a car like this is fun, and even long-distance journeys become a pleasure.” The extensive range of optional extras also included a steel sunroof (1962), power steering (1964), a heated rear window (1964), air conditioning (1966) and electrically operated windows (1966).

The revolutionary million seller, 1968 to 1976: The Mercedes-Benz “Stroke/8” (W 115/W 114)

In January 1968, this elegant, modern W 114/W 115 model series produced a special ’68 revolution in the Mercedes-Benz model range: officially called the “New Generation”, the model series soon became popular under the name “Stroke/8”. That nickname was based on the suffix “/8”, which referred in the type designation to the year of the launch, 1968, and was used especially within the company to distinguish the model from its predecessors. The new model series marked the final farewell to the standard body for the upper medium-size and premium categories as it had been used for the Ponton and especially the Tail Fin. The manufacturer underlined the impressive appearance of the independent design in October 1968 with the debut of the Stroke/8 Coupé. For the first time, a sporty, elegant two-door model was available as a direct predecessor of the E-Class. Another body variant that appeared in 1969 was the long-wheelbase limousine with seven or eight seats, depending on the configuration. The success of the model series confirmed that the concept was a winner as the Stroke/8 was the first model made by the brand with the star to sell more than a million. By 1976, more than 1.8 million saloons and an additional 67,000 coupés had been built.

All the four-cylinder and five-cylinder models were grouped together in the W 115 model series while the models with six-cylinder engines were assigned to the W 114 model series. Initially, the models ranged from the 200 D (40 kW/55 hp) to the 250 (96 kW/130 hp). At the coupés’ premiere, the 250 CE with its 110 kW (150 hp) engine with the electronic Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection system shot straight to the top of the model range. In April 1972, it was the turn of the six-cylinder models 280 and 280 E to shine with their top-of-the-range 118 kW (160 hp) and 136 kW (185 hp) engines. The American trade journal “Road & Track” enthused about the Mercedes-Benz 280 in February 1973: “[T]he combination of its superior handling characteristics and steering makes it – despite its innocuous image – the most satisfying car to hurl about a winding road or to drive fast in a straight line.”

Even at first glance the Stroke/8 strikes an impressive figure with its clear and harmonious design, created by Paul Bracq in the Styling department headed by Friedrich Geiger. The coupé, technically closely related to the saloon, stood out due to its design. In the sporty, elegant touring cars, the windscreen and rear window were inclined more than those of the saloon and, together with the roofline, which was 45 millimetres lower, and the frameless, fully retractable side windows at the front and rear, created a dynamic silhouette.

One of the technical innovations in the Stroke/8 was the rear diagonal swing axle. This semi-trailing arm rear axle with its rubber auxiliary springs and anti-roll bar as standard equipment enabled the engineers to achieve their aim of combining the brand’s hallmark ride characteristics with further improved driving comfort. The title of the 4/1968 issue of the “auto motor und sport” journal described this Mercedes-Benz upper medium-size category car like this: “Well-calculated perfection.” Central locking, five-speed manual transmission (from 1969, on the six-cylinder models) and light-alloy wheels (for the 280/280 E from 1972) were also available as optional extras.

In September 1973, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the facelifted Stroke/8 models. These discreetly updated saloons featured, amongst other things, dirt-repellent trim elements on the A-pillars, which kept the side windows clean even in adverse weather conditions. In addition, there were profiled, low-dirt rear lights and a gutter on the rear window. Earlier in the same year, the upper medium-size category models were fitted with the four-spoke safety steering wheel familiar from the SL of the 107 model series and the S-Class of the 116 model series. Head restraints and inertia-reel seat belts at the front were now included as standard equipment in the W 114/W 115 model series.

In July 1974, the Mercedes-Benz 240 D 3.0 celebrated its premiere and was the first passenger car in the world with a five-cylinder diesel engine. Its output of 59 kW (80 hp) was quite remarkable for a passenger car with a diesel engine at that time.

Dream cars, lifestyle estates and rally winners, 1976 to 1986: Mercedes-Benz model series 123

As diverse and versatile as never before: the next upper medium-size category car from Mercedes-Benz from 1976 onwards gave people good reason to dream thanks to its state-of-the-art body design and exemplary equipment level. In total, Mercedes-Benz built around 2.7 million of the 123 model series up to the beginning of 1986 – more than any other generation in the history of the E-Class. The demand for the model series was so great that the cars in the first production year were sold out soon after the launch – some customers had to wait up to a year for their cars. Model series 123 was so popular right from the outset that its resale price stayed high for the duration of its biography. In September 1976, the “mot auto-journal” published its prediction regarding the 200 D: “No comparable car can boast such low depreciation.”

Diversity was a key characteristic of this generation. Model series 123 was the first to produce an estate (1977) and, once again, there was a sporty but elegant coupé and the seven or eight-seater long-wheelbase limousine. When the limousine was launched in January 1976, Mercedes-Benz also offered a choice of nine different engines with outputs ranging from 40 kW (55 hp) to 130 kW (177 hp). The range of petrol engines covered the 200, 230, 250, 280 and 280 E models and the diesels were the 200 D, 220 D, 240 D and 300 D. One particular detail of the trial driving launch in the south of France emphasised the tremendous choice of variants available when this model series was launched on the market: in order to transport all 33 test vehicles with their different engines and trim lines to the Côte d’Azur, the company chartered an entire special train from what was then German Federal Railways.

The concept cars made for the saloons also included futuristic visions with angular lines, massive rear roof overhangs, steeply raked rear windows and bulky rubber panels around the body. However, the most audacious of these designs remained safely in the drawer and, by 1973, the classically elegant lines of the model series had largely been defined. It also characterised the coupés (40 millimetres lower, 85 millimetres shorter, with a stretched, dynamic silhouette) and the estates (the first E-Class estate produced in-house).

The estate came out in September 1977 and set standards for estates as family-orientated lifestyle and leisure cars, especially with the automatic hydropneumatic level control system as standard equipment. Called the “T-Modell” in German, the T stood for “tourism and transport” and emphasised the dual role of this versatile vehicle from the upper medium-size category. With its estate car, Mercedes-Benz launched – for the first time in Germany – a passenger car with a diesel engine and exhaust-gas turbocharger in 1980, the 92 kW (125 hp) 300 TD Turbodiesel. For export to North America and Japan, this engine configuration was also available as a saloon. The American magazine “Road & Track” wrote this about the estate in April 1981: “Undoubtedly the Mercedes 300 TD is the finest station wagon offered in the U.S. today and it is certainly the classiest.”

Not only the design but also the technology inherent in the 123 model series were state-of-the-art. These cars had double-wishbone front suspension with a zero scrub radius, and they had a safety steering column incorporating a corrugated tube in line with Béla Barényi’s design. A further passive safety feature was the collision-protected fuel tank located above the rear axle. In the 123 model series, Mercedes-Benz offered cruise control as an optional extra plus, from 1980 on, the anti-lock ABS braking system and, from 1982, the driver airbag – available for the first time in this vehicle category. Power-assisted steering became standard equipment from 1982. Tests with alternative drive systems in model series 123 vehicles such as hydrogen, electric motors and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) were a clear reference to future developments. This generation took the success story of the brand’s upper medium-size category models to new sales records: around 2.7 million cars were built, almost 2.4 million of them saloons, around 200,000 estates and nearly 100,000 coupés.

It was the London–Sydney marathon in 1977 that allowed the 123 model series to demonstrate very clearly its sporting endurance and performance as well as its comfort and reliability: two Mercedes-Benz 280 E cars won what was at the time the world’s toughest rally, and two other saloons of the same model also finished in the top ten. The brand with the star mainly used standard-trim saloons for this spectacular endurance race. The 280 Es were only fitted with different wheels, had a few chassis modifications and sturdy dust shields instead of the standard bumpers.

The first E-Class, 1984 to 1997: Mercedes-Benz model series 124

Unveiled in 1984, this model series was the first vehicle family from Mercedes-Benz to bear the name E-Class, from 1993 onwards. Consistently applied lightweight design and optimised aerodynamics resulted in increased fuel economy and improved performance compared with the predecessors. This generation of the E-Class was more diverse than ever before and offered no fewer than four body variants: in November 1984, the brand from Stuttgart unveiled first the saloons (W 124). These were followed by the estate (1985, S 124), the coupé (1987, C 124) and, for the first time in the recent history of the E-Class, a cabriolet (1991, A 124). The cabriolet played a special role in the development of the Mercedes-Benz model range. After a hiatus of 20 years, it was the first four-seater open-top car produced by the brand with the star. The long-wheelbase saloon (V 124) and chassis for special bodies, launched in 1989, rounded off the model range.

When the 124 model series was launched on the market in 1985, three diesel versions (200 D, 250 D and 300 D), the model 200 with a 2-litre carburettor engine as well as four petrol-engine models with petrol injection (200 E, 230 E, 260 E and 300 E) were available. Output ranged from 53 kW (72 hp) in the 200 D to 140 kW (190 hp) in the 300 E. The American magazine “Road & Track” wrote this about the first top-of-the-range model in April 1986: “[T]he 300 E is the kind of car that will outperform its direct competition, provide acceleration and handling characteristics to challenge many high-priced sports and GT cars, and do it all with that invaluable record of durability and reliability that is unmatched by any other marque. Add to that the prestige or status, if that sort of thing is important to you, and the sum is a 4-door sedan that can provide tremendous value for the enthusiast driver – not to mention a hell of a lot of fun.”

The 124 model series broke completely new ground in 1990 when the Mercedes-Benz 500 E made its debut – the first eight-cylinder model in the history of the E-Class. The 240 kW (326 hp) high-performance saloon differed from the other models in the 124 model series only in terms of its flared wings, a slightly lowered body and a modified front spoiler with recessed fog lights. The discreet appearance made this car, whose performance was at sports car level, and which was assembled at the Porsche facility, all the more spectacular. The “auto motor und sport” magazine said this about the handling of the 500 E in the 25/1990 issue: “As good-natured as a fairy-tale uncle, as agile as a nimble sports car and, to top it all, comfortable as well? Indeed, that’s the most surprising feature of this chassis.” The top-of-the-range model in the 124 model series was the E 60 AMG (280 kW/381 hp) which was launched in 1993. This was the first high-performance car in the history of the E-Class to be developed in collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and AMG.

With its 124 model series, Mercedes-Benz achieved an unprecedented technological leap in engine and body development in the brand’s upper medium-size category. Consistently applied lightweight design and optimised aerodynamics (drag coefficient, depending on the model, from cd = 0.29) resulted in increased fuel economy and improved performance. Outstanding driving safety was provided by the innovative multi-link independent rear suspension and the shock absorber strut independent front suspension with anti-brake dive functionality. At the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September 1985, the brand from Stuttgart presented the “Mercedes-Benz vehicle dynamics concept”, a three-stage electronic dynamic handling control system: the automatic locking differential (ASD), acceleration skid control (ASR) and the 4MATIC automatically activated four-wheel drive system available exclusively in model series 124.

The four-wheel drive system was the most technically sophisticated system in the concept. Besides the control electronics, it included complete additional front-wheel drive with a transfer case and differential. Mercedes-Benz then launched the 4MATIC system on the 260 E 4MATIC and 300 E 4MATIC saloons and estate models available from spring 1987, as well as the 300 D 4MATIC, which was only available as a saloon. The 300 D Turbo 4MATIC followed in the autumn of 1987 as a saloon and estate. The ABS anti-lock braking system was incorporated as standard equipment from 1988, followed by the driver airbag and central locking in 1992. From autumn 1986, all petrol-engined models came with emission control using a closed-loop three-way catalytic converter, which had been available as an option from 1985.

In June 1993, having been revised for a second time, model series 124 was given a new name, the vehicle family now being known as the E-Class, in line with the S-Class and the newly launched C-Class. The letter E indicated the assignment to the vehicle class and preceded the three-digit designation which also indicated the engine size. Although the vehicle name still included various body styles, these were no longer separately identified by the model inscription on the boot lid. Thanks to its wide choice of variants, the 124 model series even surpassed its successful predecessor, the 123 model series, with 2,737,000 vehicles built: the record figure included 2,213,000 saloons, around 340,000 estates, 140,000 coupés and 34,000 cabriolets.

Twin headlamps for the E-Class, 1995 to 2002: Mercedes-Benz model series 210

In 1995, the next upper medium-sized model series from Mercedes-Benz introduced the four-eyed look – it sported elliptical twin headlamps. The design of the saloon implemented a number of ideas that the brand had first unveiled in 1993 with a concept coupé at the Geneva Motor Show. This generation of the upper medium-size series was instantly awarded the “red dot” design prize. In the 11/1995 issue, the “auto motor und sport” journal described this design, which also included a coupé-like rear end design, as “the most courageous styling leap in the history of the Mercedes company”.

The estate in the 210 model series followed in 1996. This was a truly capacious estate and boasted the largest load compartment in its class – 1975 litres. The automatic level control on the rear axle was standard equipment. As an optional extra, there was an additional bench seat mounted facing backwards in the load compartment and incorporating three-point seat belts, making the estate a seven-seater. Unlike its direct predecessor, the E-Class in the 210 model series was not available as a coupé or cabriolet. This segment was continued by the corresponding CLK versions of the 208 model series from 1997 onwards.

The new E-Class was launched in 1995 with the E 200, E 230, E 280, E 320 and E 420 as well as the E 220 Diesel, the E 290 Turbodiesel and the E 300 Diesel. The output ranged from 70 kW (95 hp) in the E 220 Diesel to 205 kW (279 hp) in the E 420. In September 1995 at the International Motor Show (IAA) Mercedes-Benz presented the E 50 AMG top model with 255 kW (347 hp). In July 1996, the magazine “Road & Track” included this high-performance saloon in the tradition of the legendary 500 E of the 124 model series: “On the road the E 50 has a dual character. At mild throttle openings it drives just like an E 320 [...]. However, when you really put your foot deep into the long-travel throttle (which is tuned for graceful launches, not snapping heads), the spirit of the 500 E rises up and turns this 4-door sedan into a rocket.” Throughout the entire lifetime of the model series, the drive units continued to be adjusted, and further models were added to the range – including the innovative E 220 CDI in 1998 with common-rail direct injection and the supercharged E 200 in 2000. From 1997 on, the M 112 and M 113 V-engine model series with three valves per cylinder joined the E-Class. After the 1999 facelift, the E 55 AMG (260 kW/354 hp) then took over as the top-of-the-range model.

For the first time, the model series 210 E-Class offered a choice between three design and equipment lines: CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE. Compared with the base CLASSIC version, which was characterised by its deliberately restrained appearance, ELEGANCE offered a range of additional equipment on the interior and exterior. Points worth mentioning here were the ten-hole light-alloy wheels and chrome plating on door handles, bumpers and side protective strips. AVANTGARDE was the technically progressive model variant that stood out noticeably from the other two versions. These vehicles were additionally lowered as a standard feature and equipped with sports suspension and wide tyres on 16-inch five-hole light-alloy wheels. Standard equipment also included innovative xenon headlamps with gas discharge lamps and dynamic headlamp range control, which were available as an option for the other versions. For customers who were particularly keen to emphasise the dynamic appearance of their car, an AMG version was available in addition to the three design and equipment lines. The 1999 facelift sharpened the individual character of the three lines even further.

All in all, Mercedes-Benz introduced around 30 new technical features in model series 210. From the outset, the highlights ranged from belt tensioners with belt force limiters for driver and front passenger as standard equipment and the ETS Electronic Traction System. Over the following years, a number of items were added to the standard equipment: side airbags and BAS Brake Assist System (from 1996), the ASR traction control system (from 1997), air conditioning (from 1998) as well as window airbags and the Electronic Stability Program ESP® (from 1999). Other innovations such as a rain sensor, xenon headlamps with automatic headlight range adjustment, five-speed automatic transmission with electronic control, PARKTRONIC parking aid and APS navigation system (both from 1996), the COMAND control and display system and luxury seats with ventilation and seat heating (from 1999) were available as extras. The next generation of the 4MATIC system as a permanent all-wheel drive with ETS made its debut in 1997 in the E 280 4MATIC and E 320 4MATIC models. The all-wheel drive variants were based on two models with the new V6 engines in the M 112 model series. In the autumn of 1997, the range of models equipped with 4MATIC was expanded to include the E 430 and, two years later, the E 55 AMG.

Special armoured variants as high-protection and highest-protection versions supplemented the model range of the 210 model series from 1995. The models E 320 and E 420/E 430 were available in special protection class B4. The E 420/E 430 was also available in special protection class B6 – the only vehicle in this segment worldwide that had this standard of protection. Externally, the special-protection vehicles hardly differed from the standard saloons. Between 1995 and 2002, Mercedes-Benz built no less than 1,374,368 saloons and between 1996 and 2002 more than 257,000 estates in this generation of the E-Class.

Classically modern, 2002 to 2009: Mercedes-Benz model series 211

The E-Class in model series 211 rolled off the line in March 2002. The twin-headlamp look was carried over from its predecessor model series 210 but with a refreshing sportiness and the model series set new standards in terms of vehicle safety, comfort and driving dynamics with numerous technical innovations. The 211 model series cars were also available in the three design and equipment lines CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE. The body design made full use of high-strength sheet metal alloys and consistently applied lightweight construction methods. Thanks to even larger crumple zones in the front, this E-Class met the world’s most stringent safety tests. One year after the saloon, the brand presented the estate, in which the designers had crafted a particularly impressive combination of a generous load compartment and dynamic elegance. One of the innovations was the EASY-PACK system which provided an asymmetrically split rear seat. The bi-xenon active light function also made its debut at the same time as the estate: the saloon and the estate were the first models to be fitted with this technology.

At the start of the 211 model series in 2002, there were three models with petrol engines and six or eight cylinders as well as two diesel variants with common rail injection. The output ranged from 110 kW (150 hp) in the E 220 CDI to 225 kW (306 hp) in the E 500. In the following months, the range of engines in the E-Class was further expanded to include the E 200 KOMPRESSOR (120 kW/163 hp) with a supercharged four-cylinder petrol engine and other CDI engines with four to eight cylinders. The direct-injection diesel engines were second-generation CDI engines and offered a considerable improvement in terms of noise and vibration comfort. The standard equipment alone was extensive: it included the electrohydraulic SBCbraking system, a sensor-controlled automatic air-conditioning system, light-alloy wheels, a rain sensor and the Audio 20 car radio. The top-of-the-range E 55 AMG (350 kW/476 hp) also debuted in the 2002 launch year. During the development process, AMG’s designers incorporated their experience from the world of racing in the sports saloon. From autumn 2003, the 4MATIC permanent four-wheel drive system was also available in saloons and estates with six-cylinder petrol engines.

The technical highlights of the 211 model series included the newly developed four-link front axle and multi-link independent rear suspension made largely of aluminium. It was possible to supplement the standard, electrohydraulically controlled brake system Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) and the Electronic Stability Program ESP® with the innovative air suspension system AIRMATIC DC (Dual Control) as an extra. Adaptive front airbags and, for the first time, two-stage belt force limiters, as well as automatic weight measurement of the front passenger, together with additional crash sensors allowed even more precise passenger protection tailored to the actual accident situation. Side airbags for the front passengers, large window airbags, high-performance seat-belt pre-tensioners, automatic child seat recognition, a roll-over sensor and crash-active NECK-PRO head restraints (from 2005 on) were further components of the standard safety equipment.

The model range of the E-Class in the 211 model series was continuously enhanced, and in 2004, the E 200 NGT, a natural-gas vehicle with a bivalent drive based on the E 200 KOMPRESSOR, was launched. Following the debut of the newly developed 3.5-litre M 272 V6 engine in the E 350 (200 kW/272 hp), there followed the E 280 in the summer of 2005 with a 170 kW (231 hp) variant of the M 272 with reduced displacement. At the same time, the E 280 CDI (140 kW/190 hp) and E 320 CDI (165 kW/224 hp) models were launched with the V6 diesel engines of the OM 642 model series, which had also been newly developed. Finally, the E 420 CDI was launched on the market in autumn 2005 with the world’s highest torqueing V8 passenger car diesel engine at the time. That engine provided an output of 231 kW (314 hp) and a maximum torque of 730 Nm.

In April 2006, Mercedes-Benz presented the facelifted E-Class of the 211 model series at the New York International Automobile Show. The designers had developed or improved around 2000 parts, around half of the engines were either new or had been enhanced, and the designs had also been revised to provide an even more dynamic and confident appearance than before. There were a total of 16 different saloons and 13 variants of the estate. They all came equipped with the preventive PRE-SAFE® system, which automatically activated protective measures for the driver and front passenger before an impending accident. The updated generation of the E-Class was the first car in the world to offer adaptive headlamps. This Intelligent Light System was available as an optional extra and included five different lighting functions. In addition, the DIRECT CONTROL package ensured even more agile handling, the ADAPTIVE BRAKE braking system enabled new safety and comfort functions through electronic control of the hydraulic dual-circuit brakes, and an automatic tyre pressure warning system was part of the extended standard equipment of the E-Class.

From 2006, the 378 kW (514 hp) E 63 AMG was the most powerful E-Class ever. The AMG SPEEDSHIFT 7-speed automatic transmission with three individual shift programs was the perfect partner for AMG’s naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 engine. The Mercedes-Benz E 320 BLUETEC demonstrated the efficiency of the BLUETEC diesel technology on an endurance trip from Paris to Beijing in 2006, and in 2007, BLUETEC technology started to be launched in Europe. In addition, that year saw the launch of the E 350 CGI with its innovative direct petrol injection system with spray-guided combustion.

An eye-catching quartet, 2009 to 2016: Mercedes-Benz model series 212 and 207

In January 2009, Mercedes-Benz presented the new E-Class of the 212 model series with its eye-catching design. The twin-headlamp front of the two predecessors had been completely reinterpreted: the headlights now looked like gems that had been precisely shaped as part of the wings. The radiator grille with its three-dimensional chrome frame underlined the overall impression. Once again, the E-Class was setting new standards in safety, comfort and economy in the upper medium-size and premium categories.

In addition to the saloon (W 212) and the estate (S 212) presented in August 2009, this generation of the E-Class again included two sporty, elegant two-door models: the coupé (C 207) and cabriolet (A 207) were the successors to the successful CLK models. With a drag coefficient of cd = 0.24, this model was the most aerodynamically efficient production car in the world when it was launched, and the saloon – the world’s most aerodynamically efficient saloon in the premium category – was only fractionally behind it with a drag coefficient of cd = 0.25.

At the date of launch of this E-Class, no less than twelve different models with diesel and petrol engines from four to eight cylinders and outputs from 100 kW (136 hp) in the E 200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY to 285 kW (388 hp) in the E 500 were on offer. The V6 models E 350 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY and E 350 as well as the eight-cylinder E 500 saloon were also available with the latest generation of the Mercedes-Benz 4MATIC all-wheel drive system as an optional extra. The system differed from previous technology in terms of higher efficiency, even better traction, lower weight and a more compact design. The E 63 AMG (386 kW/525 hp) followed as the top model soon after, in April 2009.

The engineers had made this E-Class even more efficient, with fuel consumption up to 23 per cent lower than its predecessor. In addition to the state-of-the-art engine technology, the functionality of the BlueEFFICIENCY package also contributed to this: in all fields of development, assemblies and components were optimised with a view to saving fuel through lower weight, new shapes, improved functions and efficient fuel energy management. BlueEFFICIENCY also included newly developed tyres with up to 17 per cent lower rolling resistance, the energy-saving control of the generator, fuel pump, air-conditioning compressor and power steering, as well as the ECO start/stop function, which switched off the engine of the E 200 CGI when idling. Displays in the speedometer informed the driver how much fuel was being consumed per 100 kilometres and when it made sense to shift up a gear for more economical, environmentally aware driving.

Mercedes-Benz enhanced the long-distance comfort typical of the E-Class in the saloons above all through innovative body technology with up to 30 per cent greater rigidity, further improved seats and a newly developed chassis whose shock absorbers automatically adapted to the respective driving situation. The optional air suspension worked together with a continuously variable, electronically controlled damping system. Active multi-contour seats with luxury head restraints and two-stage driving dynamics support and massage functions were also available as extras.

One of the innovative assistance systems was the ATTENTION ASSIST fatigue detection system fitted as a standard feature. Its highly sensitive sensor technology permanently assessed more than 70 different parameters relating to the driver’s attention and warned him or her if signs of fatigue were detected. Optional extras in the E-Class included the Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist and PRE-SAFE® brakes with autonomous emergency braking.

Seven airbags as standard equipment, belt tensioners, belt force limiters, active head restraints and ISOFIX child seat attachments ensured an exemplary level of passive safety. A new feature was the active bonnet with which Mercedes-Benz continued its long-standing commitment to pedestrian safety. In the event of an accident, a spring system lifted the rear of the bonnet by 50 millimetres within milliseconds, thereby increasing the deformation space. Thanks to intelligent mechanical systems, the driver could reset the active bonnet himself or herself after it had triggered, so a visit to the workshop was not necessary. The E-Class also came with the preventive PRE-SAFE® occupant protection system as a standard feature. In accident prone situations, it instantly activated precautionary protective measures for the occupants so that belts and airbags could be deployed to their full protective effect in the event of an impact.

Mercedes-Benz continued to develop the E-Class of the 212 and 207 model series. In 2010, for example, a long-wheelbase version of the E-Class for the Chinese market with 140 millimetres more foot space in the rear made its debut. In 2011, the E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID (the first diesel-hybrid passenger car from Mercedes-Benz) and the E 400 HYBRID were launched.

In 2013, the extensively modernised E-Class model range appeared sporting a new design language, new efficient engines and Intelligent Drive, a package of eleven new or optimised assistance systems that combined safety and comfort. In the E 350 BlueTEC, the world’s first nine-step automatic torque converter 9G-TRONIC made its debut. For the first time, the E-Class was now offered with two different fronts: the standard version and the ELEGANCE design and equipment line relied on the traditional radiator grille with the Mercedes star on the bonnet, while the AVANTGARDE line was characterised by the sporty front design with a central star. The top model was the E 63 AMG S 4MATIC. That high-performance car (430 kW/585 hp) was available as a saloon or estate with performance-orientated all-wheel drive, which distributed 33 per cent of the engine torque to the front axle and 67 per cent to the rear axle.

In 2014, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated the outstanding efficiency of the 212 model series with a record endurance drive from Tangier (Morocco) to Goodwood (Great Britain): the E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID completed the 1968-kilometre route with just one tank of fuel. The E-Class took an important step towards universal connectivity in 2015 with its internet connection via the COMAND Online multimedia system. This system allowed unlimited use of the Mercedes-Benz apps “Mercedes-Benz Radio” and “Service Mercedes-Benz” while driving.

The family of the most intelligent business saloon, since 2016: Mercedes-Benz model series 213 and 238

The latest generation of the E-Class in 2016 paves the way into the future. The 213 model series offers extensive accident-preventing systems as well as functions for semi-automated driving. The optional Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC automatically maintains the distance set by the driver to vehicles in front on all road types and follows them at speeds of up to 210 km/h. The E-Class also assists the driver with active steering. The Active Lane Change Assist helps the driver to change lanes when the direction indicator is active for at least two seconds. Standard equipment includes the Active Brake Assist, which brakes autonomously if necessary, ATTENTION ASSIST with adjustable sensitivity levels and Crosswind Assist. All in all, these E-Class systems enable comfortable and safe driving at a previously unattained level with a new dimension of driver assistance.

The world’s first fully integrated Car-to-X solution makes communication with other vehicles and the infrastructure via secure cloud functions possible. Connectivity solutions also include multifunction telephony with inductive charging, near field communication (NFC), the CarPlay® (Apple) and Android Auto (Google) infotainment systems and the use of smartphones via NFC as a digital vehicle key. A smartphone can also be used to control automatic parking in tight spaces via the Remote Parking Assist function. And COMAND Online offers a switchable subfunction of the active Speed Limit Assist to enable the car to adjust its speed to match detected speed limits.

Amongst the innovative systems available to boost vehicle safety are PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side and PRE-SAFE® Sound. While PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side performs a preventive sideways movement of the driver or front passenger in the event of a detected and imminent side collision, PRE-SAFE® Sound generates a short noise signal to protect the eardrum in the event of a detected risk of collision and the considerable crash noises anticipated. The high-resolution MULTIBEAM LED headlamps with 84 individually controlled high-power LEDs per headlamp ensure precise, automatically controlled light distribution. The 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment in the E-Class, while the AGILITY CONTROL suspension and DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL suspension, also standard equipment, can be optionally supplemented with AIR BODY multi-chamber air suspension.

The exterior and interior design of the most intelligent business saloon is clear, sensual and characterised by high-quality materials. The optional widescreen cockpit consists of two high-resolution displays, each with a 12.3-inch diagonal, which visually merges to form what appears to be a free-floating display. Touch-sensitive controls in the steering wheel make it possible for the first time to operate many of the car’s functions in a manner similar to the touchscreen of a smartphone. The interior lighting with LED technology can be extended to create ambient lighting with 64 colours as an extra.

Half a year after the saloon (W 213) was launched, the Stuttgart-based brand presented its estate (S 213) in September 2016. The coupé (C 238) followed in March 2017 and, in June 2017, the cabriolet (A 238). Model series 213 started off with six engine options with outputs ranging from 135 kW (184 hp) to 245 kW (333 hp). Three of those were petrol engines, two were diesel-powered vehicles and one was a plug-in hybrid. Mercedes-Benz continued to develop the range, so that, in the same year, performance models from AMG with outputs from 295 kW (401 hp) to 450 kW (612 hp) were launched.

In 2020, Mercedes-Benz is presenting the upgraded E-Class using the slogan “Intelligence is getting exciting”. Many aspects of the E-Class have been updated – ensuring the vehicle category will continue the tradition well into the future.

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E-Class, E 270 CDI Classic, driving shot from in front, driving dynamic, landscape
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The four-seater Mercedes Cabriolet (A 124 model series) produced between 1991 and 1997.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class: Interior appointments for the ELEGANCE line include a fine burr walnut wood trim.
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Mercedes W 210 model series from 1995
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class, E 350 CGI, estate
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Pioneer: The Mercedes-Benz 240 D 3.0 from the W 115 series is considered a pioneer of the modern, high-performance diesel passenger car.
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Mercedes-Benz "Stroke 8" coupé from model series W 114; exterior
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Beautiful silhouette against a homely backdrop: Mercedes-Benz 170 V from the W 136 series, built from 1947 onwards
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The "Ponton" on a trip to the mountains: The Mercedes-Benz intermediate class (120/121 series) pictured against a mountain backdrop in the early 1960s
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Star of the Heimatfilm (sentimental films in idealised regional settings popular in the 50s): "Ponton Mercedes" saloon (Mercedes-Benz 120/121 series, 1953 to 1962) against a half-timbered house backdrop.
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In the countryside: Mercedes-Benz from the "tailfin" W 110 series (1961 to 1968).
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Idyll with tailfin: Advertising photo of a saloon of the Mercedes-Benz W 110 series (1961 to 1968).
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First-night car: 4MATIC all-wheel made its debut in the Mercedes-Benz 124 series in 1985.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class, design
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The tradition of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. From left to right: Ponton Saloon (W 120/W 121), Tail Fin Saloon (W 110), Stroke/8 (W 114/W 115), model series 123, model series 124, model series 210, model series 211 and model series 212.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupé, E 500 with AMG sports package, exterior
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate, E 500 with AMG sports package and E 350 CDI 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY, AVANTGARDE
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, E 500 with AMG sports package, design
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, exterior
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class, E 350 4MATIC, model year 2013
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Mercedes-AMG E 43 4MATIC (W 213), Outdoor, 2016, exterior: obsidian black, interior: leather black
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Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Coupe, rubellite red, AMG nappa leather, two-tone - black/classic red
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Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ Cabriolet, designo hyacinth red metallic; AMG nappa leather - black/red topstitching
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Mercedes-Benz E 300 de Estate, iridium silver metallic, Leather black
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Mercedes-Benz coupé from model series C 123.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class of the model series 210 (1995 to 2003). The estate was introduced in April 1996.
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Benz 24/40 PS Landaulet, year of construction 1907. Studio shot. The Benz 24/40 PS was a prime example of an early Mercedes model in the upper medium-size category, which – just like the premium and luxury categories – has always been the domain of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
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Mercedes-Benz 8/38 PS Stuttgart 200 (W 02), Saloon, year of construction 1930. Studio shot. The Mercedes-Benz 8/38 PS was one of the very earliest Mercedes-Benz brand cars and was a prime example of a model in the upper medium-size category, which – just like the premium and luxury categories – has always been the domain of the Mercedes-Benz brand. The facelifted version launched in November 1928 was called the 8/38 PS Stuttgart 200.
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Mercedes-Benz 10/50 PS Stuttgart 260 (W 11), Saloon, year of  construction 1928. Studio shot. The Mercedes-Benz 10/50 PS Stuttgart 260 was a prime example of a model in the upper medium-size category, which – just like the premium and luxury categories – has always been the domain of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
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Mercedes-Benz 170 V (W 136), Saloon. Cover of the German 1950 brochure with a drawing by Walter Gotschke.
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Mercedes-Benz Saloon from model series 123. Genre photo from 1982. The forged light-alloy wheels were optional extras.
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Mercedes-Benz Estate from model series 123. Genre photo from 1977. The Estate set standards for leisure and family vehicles.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class in model series 210, cockpit.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Class Saloon from model series 210. Genre photo.
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Mercedes-Benz E 55 AMG 4MATIC (Baureihe 210), Limousine, Fahraufnahme. Mercedes-Benz E 55 AMG 4MATIC (model series 210), Saloon, moving vehicle.
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Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse der Baureihe 211, Limousine, Genrefoto. Mercedes-Benz E-Class in model series 211, Saloon, genre photo.
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 Mercedes-Benz E-Class in model series 211, Estate, moving vehicle, 2004.
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Mercedes-Simplex 28/32 PS touring car, year of construction 1904. Studio shot. The Mercedes Simplex 28/32 PS was a prime example of an early Mercedes model in the upper medium-size category, which – just like the premium and luxury categories – has always been the domain of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
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Mercedes-Benz 180 Ponton (W 120), year of construction 1958. Studio shot.
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Mercedes-Benz 220 Stroke/8 (W 115), year of construction 1973. Studio shot.
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