T124 vs T210 vs W203 Hatch vs XC90 vs Outback
Odd list, I know. Here's the short story:
I am looking for a car for my wife. I am trying to find something that is extremely safe but not particularly expensive- because I know she is going to crack it up (she doesn't deny this, either) now that she is just learning to drive. It must have reliable air conditioning, and can't cost me tons of money to run. Me enjoying driving it from time to time would be a plus. I'd like ESP or an equivlent, but if the car is stable enough, I can live without it. My wife cleans houses so I'd like a decent cargo bay. The models I am considering are Mercedes' 95 E320 wagon, a 2002ish E320 wagon, a 2003ish C230K Sport Coupe, an early Volvo XC90, and a 2005ish Subaru Outback. Other cars are up for discussion if they fit the basic parameters.
The long story:
I am looking for a car for my wife. I have been a Mercedes owner since I was 17 and I found a swiss-cheese /8 240D for $200 with the key feature about it being neither brand nor model, but simply price and the word "runs". That car got into a god-awful accident six months into extremely reliable ownership (slow, noisy, and smelly, but reliable) that I walked away from and other driver didn't. Since then I have had a succession of Mercedes-Benz cars as such:
1976 240D -> 1982 240D -> 1984 300D -> 1985 300TD -> 1995 C220 -> 1995 E300 Diesel -> 2005 ML350 Special Edition.
Along the way, I also owned a 1979 300SD as a toy more than a regular car, a 2000 Ford Econoline 250 as a work truck, and a 2001 GMC T6500 which replaced the Ford when it got too small.
I loved every Mercedes I owned except the C-class (which was ok, but too small and I really do prefer diesel) and the ML350, which I never liked, but bought to consolidate my car and truck into one vehicle after I moved into a fixed location and no longer needed a 24' box truck to carry around my merchandise. I still hate it.
I bought it in 8/12 with 67k miles on it. It now has 163k miles on it. It handles like a Benz, sure. It rides like a truck (I can accept that- it is, after all, an honest to goodness BOF truck). And my first repair was 2 months in wherein a failed bearing necessitated replacement of the entire front axle. I have since replaced several emissions related sensors, a window regulator, and the auxiliary fan. It also lost its remote locks, the rear hatch latch works sometimes, the fuel filler latch froze (I cut off the loop it fits into), the washer tank is shot, and dashboard lighting sometimes requires a good whack to work. In addition to that the engine is weeping oil from the VCG, it has collapsed engine mounts, and the rear springs are corroded. Car has always been dealer serviced. I am going to trust this car was a lemon.
I solved that problem, though. I have an order down on a largely loaded 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris passenger van (check the Metris Forum for the details, if it interests you- same user name). I know its not a Mercedes passenger car, and I'm not expecting one. I'm expecting something that can do my business work for me and double as a regular car. Sorta what the ML350 was supposed to do, but erring to the work vehicle side more than the luxury car side.
So on to my wife. She's 26 years old and as of yet still doesn't have a license, although we are finally working on it in earnest. She is ditzy, with a few disabilities related to attention span and spacial memory. Don't get me wrong- she is extremely bright. But I do have a feeling that accidents are inevitable.
I have been a Mercedes guy my entire life. I am loyal to the brand, extremely. Safety is a major reason for that. I cracked up more than my share of cars in my life (most of those older cars in the list up there were retired because of accidents).
My wife has a problem dealing with heat, so working air-conditioning is a must- it will have to be repaired if it breaks. A/C has never been a concern of mine- I assumed that if a car I was looking at had it working, that was a temporary condition- with the exception of the ML350 (the only bloody thing on the car that has not yet broken!) all of them had their AC fail or already had it fail. My solution is as recommended by my Service Advisor- "Roll down the window."
My first choice, based upon the overall excellence of the design, is a T124 wagon, probably a late model E320. I don't mind repairing little niggles, and with the exception of the AC, I would probably just let things fail as they fail. There are a few problems- my dealer says sourcing parts is not always easy. Also, the newest ones are 21 years old now. And I know from experience that this was from before the era of Mercedes figuring out how to produce a reliable HVAC system.
My second choice is the T210. My service adviser has advised me that these are fairly robust and reliable- much more so than the W211 (not hard!). He told me that the later models are decent, and they do have ESP. He indicated that so long as the car had a sound body, its a fairly good choice. My biggest concern with is the price and the A/C unit.
My third choice is the the CL203. I know the W203 is not Mercedes finest hour. My question is: is a CL203 better than T210, in terms of reliability, durability, and safety? Also HVAC reliability. I am unsure as to when Mercedes finally figure out how to build a reliable A/C unit. If this is one of the first models to have it, its a big plus.
My wife is not a brand snob. But after 8 years of me beating into her head that the Mercedes-Benz line of cars are the best engineered, most durable, most reliable, and above all safest in every possible way, in the whole world, she tends to feel that they are preferable.
The alternative cars that I've been looking at, mostly because of price, fear of A/C problems, and repair expenses. (I've owned enough Mercedes to know that repairs are part of life with a 10+ year old car. I don't hold it against them, but at this point in life we are transitioning, and money is not always readily available!)
I was thinking second generation Volvo V70/XC70. But I looked at a Moderate Overlap crash test of the largely identical S80 and scratched it off the list. But I did look at the XC90, which aces side impact, moderate offset, and small offset crash tests, has all the airbags one expects, and is a comfortable, good handling cruiser. I would be thinking first or second model year, which the IIHS says has the same basic safety complement. I know almost nothing about Volvos, besides surveying them in junkyards over the years and getting a generally good impression of design and build.
The other car, a left field entry for me, is the Subaru Outback/Legacy Wagon. I don't need the off-road stuff, but the Outback is a lot easier to find than the non-outback. Its safety scores, for a Japanese car, are impressive. Especially the 2013 models rather good performance in the small offset. And I tend to think that a Subaru would be less expensive to repair than a Mercedes, and I could get a much newer/lower mileage offering for the money.
What do you all think?