Date registered: Mar 2003
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In all honesty, I'd say the early model 200D - 240D's with manual everything. They are really easy to work on, nothing ever breaks if maintained, but they aren't much for power.
The newer, more powerful turbocharged diesels are a little bit more difficult to work on, but the engines last just as long, and mechanically they are every bit as bulletproof.
The most recent diesel models, with age, will be no more reliable than any gasoline car, when time marches. The old diesels, of which I've spoken about, have no ECM. As you may already know, an ECM electronically governs the air and fuel ratios, emissions controls, electronic linkage, oil quality, etc.
The old diesels made do with a mechanical injection pump, an EGR (that could be bypassed), mechanical linkage that you could adjust, and an oil dipstick. All things that do NOT exist on current Mercedes diesels.