In June 1995 Mercedes‑Benz presented the 210 series as a new model generation in the medium-size category. This new E‑Class was the successor to the 124 series, one of Mercedes‑Benz' most popular model series during the eleven years that it was produced. In a time of increasing uniformity in car design, the new models had quite an unusual appearance. With a striking front section with four elliptical headlamps and a coupé-like rear end, this model stood out from the others. It caused quite a stir and generally met with a very positive reception. But the new series was not just characterised by its distinctive design, it also boasted a sensational Cd value of 0.27. A total of more than 30 technical innovations were incorporated in the vehicle.
The concept of different design and equipment lines, which was realised in the C‑Class 202 series for the first time and was successful there, was now also introduced to the E‑Class. Three variants were available: CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE. Compared with the basic CLASSIC version, which was characterised by a deliberately low-key appearance, the ELEGANCE variant offered a number of additional features not only in the interior but also on the exterior. These included light-alloy wheels in a 10-hole design and chrome trims on the door handles, bumpers and the side protective strips.
AVANTGARDE was the technically progressive model variant, which also looked markedly different from the two other versions. The most striking feature of the AVANTGARDE was the different radiator grille with five instead of two horizontal chrome bars and unique high-gloss black painted louvres. A further difference was the B-pillar trim panel featuring a honeycomb foil in the body colour. The chrome trims on the door handles, bumpers and protective side moulding strips corresponded to the ELEGANCE variant. However, AVANTGARDE vehicles also boasted some additional technical features: they were lowered as standard and equipped with a sports suspension and wide tyres on 16-inch light-alloy wheels with a 5-hole design. The standard equipment furthermore included new Xenon headlamps with gas-discharge lamps and dynamic headlamp range adjustment - features that were optional for the other variants. In addition to the three design and equipment lines an AMG version was available for customers who wanted a vehicle with a particularly dynamic look.
All variants boasted a particularly extensive range of standard equipment, including two dozen extras that had not been available in the previous E‑Class, or had only been available as options. These included the electronic traction system ETS®, an electronic drive authorisation system, power windows at the front and rear, exterior temperature indicator, dust filter and an additional stop lamp on the parcel shelf.
The new E‑Class also set a new benchmark in vehicle safety. Thanks to an optimised body structure with large deformation zones and even more effective restraint systems in the interior, the overall design of the 210 model series made it one of the safest cars in its class. As the first car manufacturer worldwide Mercedes‑Benz fitted belt-force limiters in the E‑Class as a standard feature. Side impact protection was further perfected by a newly developed side airbag. Numerous further innovative systems making their début in the E‑Class included a rain sensor for the windscreen wipers, an air quality sensor for the automatic air conditioning and the "Parktronic" (PTS) ultrasonic parking aid.
The E‑Class model programme initially comprised eight models: three with a diesel engine and five with a petrol engine. The engine range largely consisted of established engines that had already proved themselves in the 124 and 202 model series and were fitted in the new E-Class in more or less modified versions. However, there was a real innovation among the diesel engines: a diesel engine with direct injection was fitted in a Mercedes‑Benz passenger car for the first time - the five-cylinder 2.9 litre engine OM 602 DE 29 LA, which also featured an exhaust turbocharger and chargecooling.
The new engine with conventional two-valve technology boasted much higher torque and lower fuel consumption than the six-cylinder 3.0‑litre naturally-aspirated engine with prechamber injection and almost identical displacement. The exceptionally high torque that was already available at 2000 rpm was achieved with the help of the exhaust turbocharger in conjunction with chargecooling without needing a high rated output. For Mercedes‑Benz the new engine represented the first step in the introduction of direct injection diesel engines in passenger cars aimed at customers with a focus on comfort. The E 250 Diesel was offered exclusively for export to Italy as a fourth compression-ignition variant with the established four-valve five-cylinder engine.
Several alterations were made to the petrol engines as against the predecessor models. The engineers had derived the 2.3‑litre four-cylinder engine from the established 2.2‑litre variant. The capacity enlargement resulted first and foremost in higher torque rather than higher engine power output. The optimised fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and combustion noise served to increase the compression to 10.4 and improved the combustion-chamber geometry. Displacement and compression remained unchanged in the 2.0‑litre variant, although the combustion-chamber geometry was also optimised here. To reduce the number of variants and standardise servicing, like the 2.3‑litre version and the six-cylinder engines, the 2.0‑litre engine was given a modified fuel injection system with an HFM system with a hot-film air-mass sensor instead of the previous microprocessor-controlled injection system with pressure sensor (P-engine control). The injection system of the 4.2‑litre V8 engine was also switched to HFM engine management; control functions for injection, ignition and electronic accelerator were now combined in a Bosch Motronic 1.0 controller. This also enabled the electronic transmission control of the new automatic transmission, fitted in the E 420 from the start of the series, to be integrated in the engine management.
Six months after the market launch of the E‑Class a particularly sporty version was added to the sales programme. Type E 50 AMG had a 255 kW (347 hp) 5.0‑litre V8 engine developed by AMG based on the established 4.2‑litre engine, plus extensive sports equipment including sports suspension, light-alloy wheels with wide tyres and AMG styling. Like the E 420, the E 50 AMG - the legitimate successor to the E 500 from the 124 model series - was exclusively available with the new electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission, which was also fitted in the eight-cylinder and twelve-cylinder models of the S-Class and SL range.
In June 1996, a year after sales of the 210 series started, the new electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission also replaced the four and five-speed automatic transmission with hydraulic control in the four and five cylinder models. The new transmission generation enabled lower fuel consumption, enhanced comfort with regard to engine noise and the number and quality of gear changes, a further increase to reliability and service life and ultimately reduced maintenance costs.
In June 1996 the 2.0‑litre four-cylinder engine was also fitted with the adjustable intake camshaft familiar from other petrol engines. Although the rated output and maximum torque remained unchanged, thanks to an improved torque curve noticeable improvements were made to the idling quality, starting behaviour and pulling power.
In June 1996 a further E‑Class diesel model became available: the E 200 Diesel. However, this model was not available on the German market. Equipped with a 65 kW (88 hp) 2.0‑litre four-valve engine which, apart from the reduced displacement, corresponded to the well-proven 2.2‑l itre engine, the power-reduced 210 series model was only exported to Portugal where it was marketed in place of the E 220 Diesel for tax reasons. In June 1996 a special taxi version of the E 220 Diesel was also launched. It also had a derated engine delivering 55 kW (75 hp) and was exclusively available as a bio-diesel version.
In 1997 the E‑Class engine line-up was thoroughly modernised and the new engines were presented on two dates. To start with, the E 280 and E 320 were launched in March. Both models were equipped with V6 engines, which as the first representatives of the new M 112 series replaced the established six-cylinder in-line engines with the same displacement.
The completely redesigned V6 engines were produced in the state-of-the-art engine plant in Bad Cannstatt and boasted a number of groundbreaking innovations. Intelligently selected lightweight materials enabled a weight saving of 25 percent compared with in-line engines, and the first light-alloy cylinder liners to be used worldwide contributed to reducing fuel consumption thanks to their particularly low-friction surface. Three-valve technology and twin-spark ignition enabled a considerable reduction of pollutant emissions. The omission of an exhaust valve reduced the heat loss in the exhaust gas flow and also created enough space for a second spark plug that was conducive to short flame travel and optimum combustion control. All in all these measures helped the new models to achieve a reduction in fuel consumption of between 9 and 13 percent. A further premiere for the V6 engines was the active service system ASSYST, which constantly analysed the oil quality in the engine. This function now enabled maintenance intervals as necessary corresponding to the actual conditions of operation, and allowed the maintenance intervals to be extended from 15,000 kilometres to 22,500 kilometres on average.
Both new six-cylinder models were also available as an all-wheel drive variant with the designation 4MATIC that was already familiar from the 124 model series. But despite the same name there were major differences between the two drive systems. Designed as permanent all-wheel drive, the new 4MATIC was combined with the electronic traction system ETS, which replaced the standard differential locks of conventional all-wheel drive vehicles. ETS switched on automatically when at least one wheel spun on slippery terrain and increased the brake pressure on this wheel until a specified speed difference was reached. This increased the drive torque on the wheels with good road adhesion and achieved maximum traction.
The new 4MATIC models were developed in cooperation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik GmbH (SFT), and were produced at the company's factory in Graz. The scope of production at SFT comprised adaptation of the body-in-white, painting with water-based paint and full vehicle assembly. The body-in-white, engine, transmission, rear axle and interior appointments were provided by Daimler-Benz, whilst the all-wheel drive components were produced or procured by SFT. The joint German-Austrian project was based on more than 20 years of successful cooperation in the development and production of the 460 to 463 series all-terrain vehicle (G‑Class). The new 4MATIC models were introduced on the market in two stages: the E 280 was available from February 1997 following the start of sales in December 1996 and the world premiere at "AutoRAI" Motor Show in Amsterdam, whilst deliveries of the higher displacement variant with a 3.2‑litre engine started in June.
At the same time as the two V6 models, in March 1997 a new diesel engine was also introduced in the E‑Class: the 130 kW (177 hp) 3.0‑litre four-valve turbodiesel with chargecooling familiar from the S-Class and all-terrain vehicle replaced the naturally aspirated engine with the same displacement and made the E 300 Turbodiesel the most powerful and fastest diesel passenger car to date. Despite considerably improved performance the fuel consumption and pollutant emissions were noticeably reduced as against the predecessor model. With the introduction of the new engines the electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission also became available for the six-cylinder E‑Class models. It was available as an option for the E 280 and a standard feature for all other six-cylinder models, including the 4MATIC models.
March 1997 not only saw the introduction of new engines for the E‑Class; at the same time a whole host of improved equipment and features were introduced for the entire range of models in the 210 series with the exception of the V8 models. Features worth mentioning here include the driver authorisation system ELCODE, which perfected theft protection and comfort and was operated via an electronic door and ignition key, and brake assist BAS, which was able to detect emergency braking and build up maximum brake servo assistance more quickly than before.
At the International Motor Show in Frankfurt in September 1997 three further E‑Class models were presented: the E 240 had a 2.4‑litre V6 engine corresponding to the concept of the variants introduced six months previously with displacement of 2.8 and 3.2 litres. In the domestic sales programme the 125 kW (170 hp) E 240 was the successor to the four-cylinder E 230 and offered E‑Class customers cost-effective entry to the six-cylinder segment. However, the E 230 was still produced for export and for ckd deliveries in individual parts at Mercedes-Benz assembly plants.
The E 430 replaced the successful E 420 and like this model it was powered by a V8 engine. The new 4.3‑litre engine, which was assigned to the M 113 series, was developed together with M 112 series V6 engines and therefore featured the same innovative construction details such as three-valve technology, twin-spark ignition and low-friction light-alloy cylinder liners. This engine was also produced in the Bad Cannstatt engine plant.
At the same time as the E 420, a successor to the E 50 AMG was introduced. The previous top model of the series was replaced by the E 55 AMG with a 260 kW (354 hp) 5.5‑litre V8 engine developed by AMG. Like the 4.3‑litre engine it belonged to the new M 113 generation of engines.
What's more, September 1997 saw a new addition to the E‑Class family. However, the new E 200 Kompressor and E 250 Turbodiesel models with engines familiar from the C‑Class were not offered for sale in Germany. They were exclusively exported to Greece, Italy and Portugal, where they were available instead of variants with higher displacement for tax reasons.
In June 1998 the E‑Class range of diesel models was expanded to include two new variants: the E 200 CDI and the E 220 CDI. Both models were given variants of the 2.2‑litre CDI engine already deployed in the C-Class that differed in terms of output and torque. The 75 kW (102 hp) E 200 CDI replaced the previous E 220 Diesel with a prechamber naturally aspirated engine, and the E 220 CDI rated at 92 kW (125 hp) was added to the model range. In addition to excellent torque characteristics and good performance the new engines boasted low fuel consumption and low exhaust emissions. With the launch of the CDI models, the previous E 220 Diesel was now only available as a derated taxi variant with 55 kW (75 hp) and exclusively as a bio-diesel version. At the same time production of the E 200 Diesel export model was discontinued.
Following a decades-old tradition at Daimler-Benz, chassis with partial bodies were also offered for 210 series vehicles and were then completed as ambulances, crew buses or other special versions by body manufacturers in Germany and abroad. Like their predecessor models from the 124 model series, these chassis were based on the corresponding estates. For the first time a variant on a normal wheelbase was no longer available; only the longer model was supplied, which had become increasingly important over the years compared with the short chassis. The wheelbase extension of the chassis with the internal designation VF 210 was 737 millimetres compared with the estate it was based on.
For the first time, chassis with a partial body were no longer directly manufactured at Daimler-Benz. The system supplier was the company Binz in Lorch, which procured estate body shells from the Sindelfingen plant, extended the wheelbase including the necessary reinforcements, and then equipped the extended partial body with mechanical and electrical components and interior appointments. The finished chassis were then either sent to the various body manufacturers via the Sindelfingen plant, or they stayed in Lorch, where they were turned into Binz ambulances, or since September 1996 also into the Binz long versions of the estate.
The companies Miesen in Bonn and Visser in Leeuwarden, Holland, were further body manufacturers that had cooperated with Daimler-Benz for many years and also offered ambulances based on the VF 210. The same applied to the hearse sector and the body manufacturers Pollmann in Bremen, Rappold in Wülfrath, Stolle in Hanover and Welsch in Mayen.
In July 1996 the E 290 Turbodiesel with a 95 kW (129 hp) five-cylinder direct injection engine was the first variant of the VF 210 to become available. The E 250 diesel model introduced shortly afterwards was exclusively for export to Italy, where it was offered instead of the 2.9‑litre model for tax reasons. In March 1997 a much more powerful version with a petrol engine supplemented the chassis sales programme: the E 280 featured a completely new 150 kW (204 hp) V6 engine, which was also fitted in the E‑Class saloon. Finally, in June 1998 the E 220 CDI with a 92 kW (125 hp) common-rail engine expanded not only the saloon and estate range of models, but also the range of chassis - although initially only for export. In the same month production of the E 250 diesel chassis was discontinued. In Italy the higher-capacity E 290 Turbodiesel variant became increasingly important after a change to tax regulations came into force at the beginning of 1998.
A particularly exclusive E‑Class variant was completed in March 1996. Following a request from the Thai royal dynasty, within the shortest time imaginable a unique long E 320 was created, jointly developed by Binz and Daimler-Benz as a six-door vehicle with a third full seat row and a wheelbase extension of 970 millimetres. At Daimler-Benz series production and inclusion in the official Mercedes‑Benz sales programme were not initially considered as marketing capacities were tied up elsewhere due to the product drive with numerous new model series that had been consistently pursued since 1995.
In order to nevertheless satisfy the demand - especially from abroad - from the end of 1996 the long version of the E‑Class was produced by the company Binz itself. This continued a 30-year tradition for the body manufacturer from Lorch: longer models of Mercedes‑Benz medium-size saloons had been jointly developed and produced by both companies since 1966. The Binz long version of the 210 series was presented in November 1996 at the international taxi show in Cologne and the first production vehicle was delivered in March 1997. Since then Binz has produced long versions of all five- and six-cylinder models with petrol and diesel engines. In addition to the six-door version with three seat rows in the direction of travel, a four-door version was alternatively available with vis-à-vis seat arrangement at the rear.
From April 1995 a further very exclusive variant of the 210 series was built in a separate department at the Sindelfingen plant: E‑Class saloons were largely hand-finished as models offering special protection. This meant that for the first time in the history of the company bulletproof vehicles from the mid-size model series were also available ex works. This variant met the rising demand in the upper executive car segment and fulfilled the requirements of customer groups who felt a need for more safety whilst wanting to drive the car themselves. In order to achieve the desired performance despite the considerable extra weight of the protective elements only the most powerful types were offered. To start with, this was the E 420 with maximum ballistic protection class B6, superseded by the E 430 in September 1997. In addition, from March 1997 a version with a lighter protection concept became available. It met protection class B4 and offered protection from handguns to the greatest possible extent.
This variant was not only available as an eight-cylinder model; from the autumn of 1997 it was also offered with a 3.2‑litre V6 engine. The basis for the effectiveness of the safety concept was not only the special protection technology developed over decades and proven in numerous tests; the decisive aspect was that - as with protection class B6 vehicles - the special protection elements were integrated seamlessly in the body structure during the ongoing production process. This enabled a standard of safety to be realised ex works that could not be achieved by retrofitting special protection features.
In July 1999 the top-selling W 210 was presented after a facelift with a refined design and further perfected engineering. By then the Stuttgart automaker had already sold around a million 210 series vehicles in a four-year production period, making this E‑Class generation the world's most successful car in the upper executive market segment.