Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI

Beneath this German saloon's unassuming exterior is a diesel engine faster than even the legendary Mercedes 450SEL. David Wilkins is shocked


Mode: Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI Elegance automatic
Price: £33,272
Engine: 2.15-litre diesel
Performance: 0-60mph in 8.6secs, 42.1mpg
CO2: 177g/km:
Worth considering: Audi A6 2.0 TDI, BMW 520d, Citroën C6 2.2HDi

Back in 1975, Mercedes-Benz launched a mighty beast of a car. It is sometimes said to be the best Mercedes ever made. The model in question was the legendary 450SEL 6.9, which, as its name suggests, was a variant of the S Class, fitted with an enormous 6.9-litre V8 petrol engine. Supercar and saloon in one, it incorporated a host of advanced technical features. Such was its sporting appeal, the British Formula 1 champion James Hunt became a notable fan.

According to my copy of Werner Oswald's Deutsche Autos 1945-1975 – Eine Typengeschichte, the standard reference work for post-war German cars, this magnificent machine had a top speed of 140mph and could accelerate from rest to 62mph (100km/h) in 8.5 seconds.

But not everyone who drove a Mercedes in the mid-Seventies had this sort of go at his disposal. Take the average German taxi driver in a 220D, for example. That car produced a miserable 60 horsepower, just enough for a 0-62mph acceleration time of 29 seconds and a top speed of 83mph. I don't think many racing drivers ordered one of those.

This week, our readers test the direct linear descendant of the old 220D. Like its predecessor, the E220 CDI has a four cylinder, 2.2-litre diesel engine and is the German taxi trade's workhorse of choice. Of course, you won't be surprised to learn that turbo-charging, common rail technology and other advances mean that today's car is a lot quicker than the 220D.

But here's the shocker. When fitted with a manual gearbox, the E220CDI is quicker than the legendary 450SEL 6.9 as well; by a tenth of a second to 62mph and by one mile per hour in terms of top speed. I can think of no more vivid illustration of the strides made by diesel technology in the last few decades. The automatic version tested by our readers this week is just a tad slower.

It's not all progress, though. Last year, Mercedes made a long list of detailed, under-the-skin changes to the E Class – partly, I assume, to reassure modern car buyers who might suspect that today's Mercs aren't quite as toughly built as either of those 1975 cars.

The E220 CDI also gives away a bit in terms of sharpness and agility, especially where its steering is concerned, to the smaller C Class. With its high levels of comfort and refinement, though, the E Class remains an excellent car in which to cover long distances. But I can't quite forgive the E220CDI, a taxi, for knocking the 450SEL 6.9 off its pedestal. Somehow, it just doesn't seem right.

Kenny McCartney, 38, software engineer from Edinburgh
Usual car: Vauxhall Zafira

I like to think that I'm fairly green, but I loved driving this! My first (and lasting) impression was how effortless, comfortable and quiet it was to drive, especially on motorways, but it was also surprisingly good fun on smaller roads. The low driving position meant that visibility was a bit limited, and the apparent lack of parking sensors seemed like a curious omission. My biggest gripe, though, was the rear-view mirror. It's electronically controlled, but this means it's a big block of a thing. I found myself stretching to look around it a couple of times, especially at junctions. Owen and Lewis: "There were lots of places to hide things in the back seats."

Neil Jones, 60, freelance writer and journalist from Montrose
Usual cars: Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon, Ford Freda camper

I thought it was more elegant than most other Mercedes. My immediate impression was that the interior was smaller than I expected and the back seat space in particular rather parsimonious. It's a kind of reverse Tardis – big outside, but small inside. I thought it drove tolerably well; one of the challenges of modern cars is that to start exploring the handling on public roads you would need to be a hooligan. The steering wasn't as sharp as I expected. I found the single stalk a bit complicated but loved the dashboard – its layout was extraordinarily clear and it is a fantastic piece of Art Deco-ish design.

Steve Jones, 46, human resources officer from Plymouth
Usual car: Skoda Octavia estate VRS

Being an inverted badge snob, you would expect me to be unimpressed by a Mercedes – and you would be right. It's a bland mid-range executive saloon. As a big car on the outside, it felt slightly claustrophobic inside, especially as a passenger. The driving position and controls, however, were better than I had anticipated, with the instrument cluster being exceptionally clear. I'd expected a rear-wheel drive car to be more responsive, but the steering didn't really give me confidence. Having yet to be persuaded by the diesel revolution, however, once on the move I found this car starting to make me think about the possibility of diesels in the future.

The Verdict

If you would like to take part, email or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas