Mercedes-Benz History: the W 210 E-Class Models

Words John Clark | April 13, 2010
In June 1995, the Mercedes-Benz mid-series E-Class was given an entirely new appearance with a new face and rear section
Words John Clark April 13, 2010

In June 1995, the Mercedes-Benz mid-series was given an entirely new appearance: its future-oriented new face, incorporating four elliptical headlamps, had been presented for the first time in the Mercedes-Benz coupe study car at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1993. Two years later, the dynamic front section entered series production in the W 210 E-Class models.

It was not only the face of the W 210, but also its flowing rear section reminiscent of a coupe, that ushered in an excitingly new language of form. The new E-Class was immediately awarded the renowned design prize “Roter Punkt” (red spot); over the course of its seven-year production period, the E-Class received more than seventy awards in all – above all for occupant safety, design, environmental compatibility and efficiency.

The E-Class as innovation leader

The new E-Class included over thirty technical innovations. The standard features of the W 210 included the electronic traction system (ETS), electrically operating front and rear windows, exterior temperature display, dust filter and a third brake lamp on the rear sill: these had previously either not been available at all in the E-Class or only as optional extras. The rain sensor for the windscreen wiper unit, an air quality meter for the climate control system, and the PARKTRONIC (PTS) parking aid based on ultrasound were first realized in the new E-Class. 1997 saw the addition of the driver authorization system ELCODE, operated by means of an electronic key for the doors and ignition, along with Brake Assist (BAS), which recognizes emergency braking maneuvers and automatically builds up the maximum available brake booster force as required.

The sedan is particularly impressive with its excellent drag coefficient (Cw) of 0.27 and its high standard of inherent safety, which was achieved with large deformation zones and even more effective retention systems in the interior. In the W 210, Mercedes-Benz was the world’s first brand to incorporate belt force limiters as a standard feature. Newly developed side airbags further improved lateral impact protection. The W 210 series, which superseded the successful W 124 in 1995, thus stands uncompromisingly in the tradition of the Mercedes-Benz mid-series as innovation-bearers.

The mid-series as a model of success

The history of the mid-series can be traced back to the Mercedes-Benz 170 V from 1947 (W 136 series). The 180 and 190 models from the W 120 and W 121 series, which became known as the “Ponton” Mercedes, followed in 1953 before being superseded in 1961 by the W 110 “four-cylinder tailfin”. From 1968 onwards, the W 114 and W 115 series, known as the “Stroke Eight”, set their hallmark on the brand’s mid-series, and for the first time the range also included a long-wheelbase sedan and a coupe.

The next model series from the medium category was the W 123, introduced in 1976. For the first time, the Mercedes-Benz product range included a so-called T-Model (T for “touring & transport”) – a station wagon. The W 124 was finally launched on the market in 1984, and the range was extended in 1991 to include an elegant four-seater convertible. The W 124 was also the first Mercedes-Benz to bear the new “E-Class” designation following the 1993 model update.

“Classic”, “Elegance” and “Avantgarde”: three variants for the E-Class

The concept of offering a model as standard in different variants known as “lines”, thus catering for individual customer wishes, had already proved successful in the W 202 C-Class. The E-Class W 210 also appeared in 1995 in three distinct guises, differing in design and appointment details. Customers could choose between the three variants “Classic”, “Elegance” and “Avantgarde”. Each line was available with a choice of any engine, without restriction.

“Classic” is the basic version of the new E-Class, a fully equipped Mercedes-Benz automobile with numerous technical innovations; the exterior design is somewhat more reticent. The “Elegance” line includes light-alloy wheels in ten-hole design along with extras such as wood trim, leather shift-lever and steering-wheel covers and ventilation for the rear seat area. This design and appointment variant is clearly distinguished from the “Classic” line by its chromed door handles and bumpers and its lateral protective strips.

The “Avantgarde” models set themselves even more clearly apart from their siblings: with an exclusive radiator grille incorporating five horizontal chrome bars, this line has its own characteristic profile. It also includes xenon headlamps featuring gas discharge lamps and dynamic illumination range regulation. These automobiles have a standard lowered body, a sports chassis and wide tires on 16-inch light-alloy wheels in five-hole design, which are also available on request for other variants. The exclusive AMG variant of the W 210 was launched on the market a year after the series launch. The E 50 AMG was available only with eight-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

E 200 or E 420, E 220 diesel or E 290 turbodiesel: the W 210 models

In 1995, the W 210 sedans were initially available with a choice of eight engines, five of which ran on gasoline: the E 200 and E 230 four-cylinder models, the E 280 and E 320 six-cylinders and the E 420 eight-cylinder. These were complemented by the four-cylinder E 220 diesel and six-cylinder E 300 diesel models, along with the E 290 turbodiesel.

Most of these engines were based on power units that had already proved highly reliable in the 124 (old E-Class) and 202 (C-Class) series and were installed as modified versions in the new E-Class. An entirely new development, on the other hand, was the five-cylinder OM 602 DE 29 LA engine (displacement 2.9 liters) with direct injection, exhaust turbocharger and intercooler. In the E 290 turbodiesel, this engine concept was installed in a Mercedes-Benz passenger car for the first time. In comparison with the six-cylinder induction engine with an almost identical displacement of three liters, the newly developed power unit with conventional two-valve technology was characterized by considerably higher torque and lower fuel consumption. The new engine constituted Mercedes-Benz’s first step in the introduction of direct-injection passenger-car diesel engines for comfort-oriented customers.

Reducing fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and combustion noise even further is also a prime objectives in the development of diesel engines, such as the new 2.3-liter four-cylinder unit. The larger displacement of this engine, based on the previous 2.2-liter power unit, is put to use above all to generate increased torque. The engine’s higher compression ratio and modified combustion chamber geometry reduce both consumption and noise. This power unit, with a displacement of two liters, was also given a new combustion chamber geometry along with a modified injection unit incorporating a hot-film air mass (HFM) sensor. The injection unit of the V8 engine (displacement 4.2 liters) was also given HFM management. Both this E 420 model and the E 50 AMG were available exclusively with the new electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission.

Continuous further development

Throughout the production period, the engines for the various W 210 models underwent constant improvement and received numerous innovative features. Particular mention should be made, for instance, of the two V6 engines presented in 1997. The E 280 and E 320 models were powered by engines from the new M 112 series, which replaced the proven six-cylinder in-line units of the same displacement. The new engines were one-fourth lighter than their predecessors. Fuel consumption and noxious emissions were drastically reduced thanks to lightweight materials and further innovations such as three-valve technology and twin-spark ignition.

In the long manufacture period of this successful model series, the E 430 – powered by the V8 engine from M 113 series – was the production vehicle with the largest engine, with an output rating of 205 kW (297 hp) at 5,750/min. This V8 unit, incorporating three-valve technology, twin-spark ignition and low-friction light-alloy cylinder liners, included the same innovative design details as the six-cylinder units from the M 112 series. Nevertheless, the most powerful E-Class vehicle of all came from AMG: the E 55 AMG, presented in 1997, developed an imposing 260 kW (354 hp) from its 5.5-liter V8 engine.

With the E 200 CDI and E 220 CDI automobiles, two engine variants were released on the market in 1998 whose diesel power units were fitted with common-rail direct injection; these cars replaced older models powered by prechamber induction engines. Finally, in 1999 – three years before the market launch of the next E-Class generation (W 211) – the series was subjected to extensive model update measures.

4MATIC: four-wheel drive for the E-Class

The E-Class models with the 4MATIC four-wheel drive system were already familiar from the W 124 series. However, the drive concept was subjected to fundamental further development. The permanent four-wheel drive was now combined with the electronic traction system (ETS), which replaced the differential locks familiar from conventional four-wheel drive vehicles. ETS cuts in automatically as soon as at least one wheel shows a tendency to spin on a slippery surface. The brake force on this wheel is steadily increased until the speed difference between the wheels falls below a predetermined maximum. The drive moment at the wheels with good ground contact is thereby increased and traction maximized. The new 4MATIC models were developed and manufactured in traditionally reliable cooperation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik GmbH in Graz, Austria.

The E-Class station wagon and special versions

One year after the market launch of the sedan, Mercedes-Benz presented its mid-series station wagon (S 210) in 1996. This vehicle had a larger rear overhang than the sedan. Its load space was considerably larger than that of its predecessor from the 124 series. Like the sedan, the station wagon is also manufactured in the “Classic”, “Elegance” and “Avantgarde” design and appointment variants. In addition to the sedan models, AMG produces top-quality, high-performance sporty E-Class station wagons.

Also based on the station wagon are the chassis with partial body (VF 210), which are offered for subsequent completion as ambulances or for other special versions – such as the long-wheelbase E-Class sedans. The VF 210 chassis is 737 millimeters longer than that of the station wagon. These chassis with partial bodies are produced by the Binz company in Lorch. A highly exclusive E-Class variant was built for the royal court of Thailand in 1996: an E 320 with a full third row of seats, and with a wheelbase 970 millimeters longer than that of the station wagon.

In 1995, Mercedes-Benz also began to offer the new E-Class in a special-protection version – the first time in the brand’s history that mid-series models were ordered directly ex-factory in a bulletproof version. This introduction was warranted by increasing demand. The special-protection variant of the E-Class is intended above all for those customers who have need of enhanced protection, but who prefer to drive their own vehicles.

The first such automobile to become available was the special-protection variant of the high-performance E 420 model. In 1997, a less comprehensively protected version in accordance with protection category B4 was added to provide all-round protection against small arms; this model was available with a choice of eight- or six-cylinder engine. In addition to Mercedes-Benz’s many years of experience, it is above all the fact that the protective elements can be integrated directly into the body during the manufacturing process that speaks in favor of production of factory-made special-protection models. Mercedes-Benz can thus provide a standard of safety ex-factory that cannot be attained with subsequently fitted protection packages.

However, exclusive special models such as these cannot detract from the fact that the W 210 series E-Class is following in the tradition its predecessors: as the most successful vehicle of the upper medium category, this sedan, presented in 1995 and produced up until 2002, secured an even greater market share than its predecessor. In all, 1,374,199 sedans and 279,238 station wagons had left the production line by the time the 210 series was superseded by the 211 in 2002.