Shed of the Week: Mercedes S320 CDI

It's good to be aware of your shortcomings, Shed is certainly aware of his - Mrs Shed has complained about them often enough...

The vendor of this week's Shed is not only aware of, but also honest about, his car's shortcomings too. He can afford to be. The car he's selling is an example of one of the best cars ever made: the W220 Mercedes S-Class. Which means that, even with the odd problem, this 15-year-old S320 will almost certainly still be a better way to get around the place than 99 per cent of other cars on the road in 2018. Especially when the cost of getting your name on the V5 is a mere fiver short of £1,500.

This 'one of the best cars ever' thing isn't just Shed's opinion. It's a commonly-held view among a goodly percentage of motoring journalism's longest-serving and most respected scribblers.

We'll probably never know who was responsible for the rust that, in the late '90s and early 2000s, so comprehensively botched up the carefully-constructed reputation of Mercedes-Benz as a builder of fine automobiles. Some say it was down to M-B's adoption of water-based paints, although many discount that idea as most manufacturers were switching to those paints at the same time. A more credible sounding theory is the one that suggests Mercedes adopted cheaper steel without any rust-inhibiting copper oxide in it, on account of copper being quite expensive at the time.

In the lofty manner of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, Mercedes has never commented on the matter. If they had, it would have cost them even more money to sort out than whatever it did end up costing them. Whatever the truth might be, that - along with quite a few reliability issues - turned long-time Mercedes owners against the brand forever and put a steaming cow pat on chief designer Bruno Sacco's legacy.

You can bet that Bruno Sacco and the other designers and engineers behind the W220 are probably still spitting feathers about this dark episode in Mercedes' history. After a glittering 40-year career in Stuttgart, nearly 25 of them as head of styling, Sacco retired in 1999 just as the first rust-blighted cars were starting to come off the line. Now aged 84, he lives in the lovely northern Italian town of Udine, presumably sipping the odd contemplative cappuccino in the town square of an evening. The W220 was his final car. Still looking graceful today, and a whole lot less slabby than the preceding W140 - a magnificent beast of a car that wouldn't have looked out of place in an Eastern bloc military parade - the W220 would probably have been his finest achievement, if only the procurement department hadn't let him down.

The good news about this particular car (apart from its highly desirable full service history) is that, although some corrosion is present in the usual place, ie the wheel arch, it's a 2003 car. While that may not quite put it into the era of proper galvanisation and nano paints, it does distance it from the most unreliable and most rusty W220s, which were the early pre-2002-facelift cars.

It went through the MOT in February with no advisories, and the history leading up to that gives no special cause for concern: just the usual smattering of play in some of the suspension hardware, some brake pipe oxidisation, and some disc rust, all of which appear to have been addressed.

If you decide to go along and look at it, it's still a good idea to check the suspension turrets for rust, and while you're there look for any signs of the Airmatic air suspension leaking. One of the pics with the ad indicates that the system is functional, which is a reason to be cheerful. As is the garage guy's comment about this car's quality. Most powerfully-built PH types should be able to live with the broken boot lid springs, another very common W220 problem.

The electrical drain issue is a bit more worrying, as the root cause of it doesn't seem to have been uncovered yet. The vendor tried disconnecting the satnav, with no luck, but Shed's own research points to plenty of other possibilities on this complex motor, including the alarm system, the voltage regulator, faulty electric seats, or summat amiss with the Comand system. Or it could be something as simple as loose battery wires, dodgy earth straps, or just an old battery that needs replacing. The comment about fritzing parking sensors is interesting too, maybe that's the culprit. Or wet carpets could be shorting out something important. Or there could be a problem with the keyless ignition, if the car has it, as issues in that department are not unknown.

Anyway, it's all fixable, and there is great online support for these cars. In its time, the 320 Mercedes diesel lump was regularly hailed as one of the best combinations of power and economy you could get. Another of the ad pics shows 50.8mpg on the info screen. That's easily achievable.

Torque converter issues rarely affect S-Classes with under 200,000 miles on the clock. Lumpy gearshifts can often be fixed by changing the transmission fluid.

There are those who will tell you that a cheap Mercedes will be the worst Mercedes you ever buy, but surely it's worth a £1500 gamble to experience what it feels like to drive one of the world's best cars?

Here's the ad.

With huge regret I'm selling the comfiest car I have ever owned. The air suspension and quietness means journeys fly by.

The spec includes full leather, electric seats passenger+driver, COMAND APS DVD satnav, MP3 playback, 10speaker audio, parking sensors front & rear, electric sunroof, auto climate control, speedtronic cruise control, 18" alloy wheels, electric steering column, airmatic 3 mode suspension etc.

Good points
New MOT with no advisories
New tyres, brand new on the front
Recent brake discs and pads
No warning lights or messages
Drop links have been recently replaced, no squeaky suspension
Dashboard cluster was rebuilt, a common fault on these
It drives really well, the garage says it's a particularly good one

Bad Points
Some rust on the near side wheel arch
Boot lid springs are broken
Parking sensors are tempermental, they work fine in the rain!
There was a discharge on the car. It's often the sat nav, so I disconnected it. Turns out it wasn't that so it needs plugging back in.
The stereo isn't working, it apparently needs a new gateway

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (117) Join the discussion on the forum

  • dvs_dave 16 Mar 2018

    The W220 is without doubt the worst S-class ever. It’s just so clearly built cheaply. The switchgear, interior materials, thin paint and bodywork, not to mention horrendous electrical reliability.

    1500 quid is cheap though. So cheap its barely even worth selling which makes you wonder why the owner is. What’s lurking?

  • Flumpo 16 Mar 2018

    MOT and service history don’t mean anything these days. All that proves is the lights and seatbelts work and it’s had the oil changed once a year.

    Even if it has the last service print out sheet it doesn’t tell you anything else other than what the service did. Which I’m willing to bet it hasn’t got a merc one, if he’s pulling the sat nav out himself I doubt it’s just been main dealered. So his mate Dave has likely done it, not exactly Stuttgart’s finest.

    It’s clearly got a number of electrical problems that will likely cost more than 1500 to fix and that’s just the problems you can see on a test drive. Often sellers use that as a technique of covering proper mechanical problems by being your best mate and pointing out any faults, cos he’s an honest guy.

    So, if you want a car without a radio, sat nav, temperamental parking sensors and maintained on the cheap. Here it is. For bonus points for the first 3 weeks before it breaks down, you get to look like a low grade drug dealer.

  • ReaperCushions 16 Mar 2018

    Ignore the naysayers... BEST SHED EVER!

  • berlintaxi 16 Mar 2018

    ReaperCushions said:
    Ignore the naysayers... BEST SHED EVER!
    No chance, it wasn't even a decent car when new.

  • Rensko 16 Mar 2018

    Extreme Shedding at that level of complexity and cost. One small issue and the car would be uneconomical to repair!

    I'd take a punt on it at that price. Would be good fun whilst it lasted! biggrin

View all comments in the forums Make a comment