If money is looking tight at the moment, take heart: you don’t need to fork out tens of thousands of pounds to get a slice of luxury in your life. Even with a budget of only£5,000, you can still afford something comfortable and well-equipped. Something with a touch of class. Something, even, with the prestigious three-pointed star on the nose.
Yes, it’s still eminently possible to buy a very usable and satisfying Mercedes for that sort of money. There is a slight catch, however; given the quality issues prevalent at Mercedes-Benz in the early 2000s, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of – at this price, some Mercs are most definitely better than others.
As always, our advice is to do your homework, rather than buying any old Benz; make sure you read our run-down of the best, first.
5. R-Class (2006-2012)
No, we haven’t lost our marbles. The R-Class might be one of the least attractive Mercedes in recent memory, but its desirability – or rather, lack of it – is to the used car bargain hunter’s advantage. It means prices have tanked, so the R-Class now looks like terrific value.
Let’s not forget this is a vast MPV-cum-estate, with loads of room inside for whatever family pursuits you might have in mind, and the sort of plush interior you’ll have come to expect from a Mercedes. Depending on which age you choose, you can have it in five-, six- or seven-seat configuration, and it’s extremely comfortable, with big, supportive seats and a cosseting ride.
In short, if you’re after a Mercedes that’s big enough to cart around the whole family – and whatever detritus may need to come with them – you’ll find little better for the cash.
We found: 2009 R320 CDI SE auto, 87,000 miles, full service history, £4,495
Watch out for: Engine warning lights, oil leaks, and a reluctance to start on V6 diesels can point to expensive problems. Timing chain rattles.
4. SLK (2004-2011)
The first-generation SLK from 1996 might have made waves with its folding hard-top but it’s actually this, the second-generation model, that makes the better used buy.
For one thing, its sleek looks are even more svelte than the original’s, and for another, it’s a much nicer car to drive, with sharper handling and a wider range of engine options.
Mind you, don’t expect the SLK to rival a Porsche Boxster for thrills; it’s still more of a boulevard cruiser, although to give it its due, in that role it performs well. With that in mind, we’d suggest plumping for an auto, and avoiding the rather ungainly manual gearbox.
Either way, the SLK is a fabulously glamorous two-seater, ideal for some fun in the sun, that you can now buy for surprisingly little cash.
We found: 2007 SLK 280 auto, 84,000 miles, full service history, £4,995
Watch out for: Sticking/sluggish roofs, leaks from roof seals, rust, easily chipped red paint.
3. 190 (1982-1993)
You might wonder what a car as old as the 190 is doing in the company of these much newer alternatives. But don’t let that deter you, because despite its age this is still a dependable and characterful way to get around.
Granted, you’ll have to live without some of the mod-cons you’ll get in a more recent model. But the 190 offers advantages its modern stablemates simply can’t. For one thing, it comes from an era when Mercedes-Benz build quality was a cut above; even now, well cared-for 190s make reliable and robust daily drivers, and because they’re mechanically very simple they’re cheap to fix on the rare occasions they do go wrong.
For another, the 190 is fabulously comfortable, with a wafty, cosseting ride that the owners of most modern cars can only dream of. It’s now about as cheap as it’s going to get, too – which means that, unlike any other car here, that it’s absolutely depreciation-proof. But unlike many other modern classics, values haven’t risen to the point at which the 190 is unaffordable; our budget will still buy you one of the nicest around.
We found: 1992 190 2.0E auto, 102,000 miles, full service history, £4,495
Watch out for: Rust, rattling timing chains, knocking suspension, sluggish or jerky automatic gearboxes.
2. CLS (2005-2011)
Its curvy styling was undoubtedly dramatic – and, it’s fair to say, not universally adored – when it came out, but the CLS has stood the test of time incredibly well. Today it’s as eye-catching as ever, and because it isn’t quite as well-known or as practical as the E-Class, it represents a much more glamorous alternative for no extra cost.
You’ll also find the cream of the crop of Mercedes engines here. Most CLSs came with thumping V6 petrols and diesels, while a very few got the excellent 5.0-litre V8; there are no four-cylinder engines to be found here.
And with air suspension as standard, the CLS is one of the most comfortable and cosseting cars you can find for the money. It’s beautiful inside, too, with a gorgeous slab of wood trim stretching across the dash, while the frameless doors make it feel just that little bit more special. The only downside? The CLS is strictly a four-seater, but that will not be an issue for the majority of buyers.
We found: 2007 CLS 350, 63,000 miles, full service history, £4,995
Watch out for: Engine warning lights, oil leaks, and a reluctance to start on diesels, worn balancer shaft sprocket problem on pre-2006 3.5-litre petrols, worn air suspension.
1. C-Class (2007-2014)
The third-generation C-Class is shaping up as a canny used buy, with a solid reputation for reliability, smart looks and a comfortable driving experience.
Don’t expect the sportiness of its arch-rival, the BMW 3-Series, however; the C-Class is a little more laid-back than that, with a smooth ride and reassuringly stable motorway manners.
It’s also relatively affordable to run, with efficient engines, but most of all you’ll appreciate the sense of solidity. Mercedes was starting to get its build quality mojo back when this era of C-Class was introduced, and it shows. And while it is a little dour inside, all of the controls are well placed, and there’s plenty of space both in the front and the back.
All of which leaves the C-Class looking like a sensible, practical way to spend five grand – and one with just enough luxury on board to elevate it above more mainstream motors.
We found: 2008 C280 Sport, 70,000 miles, full service history, £5,000
Watch out for: Rattly timing chains on CGI engines, dodgy electrics, splitting ‘Artico’ faux leather, injector problems on C220 CDI causing misfires.
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