Mercedes-Benz threw the piggy bank at the W212’s mid-life facelift. No, I can’t see where the money went either.
The Mercedes E-Class represents the quintessence of Daimler’s saloon car range. It’s been their heartland model, the one from which they made their post-war name, so it’s incumbent upon Mercedes’ engineers and stylists they don’t screw the pooch. Yet screw it they did, 1995’s W210 and 2002’s W211 instrumental in tarnishing the three pointed star’s hard-won reputation for solidity, build integrity and reliability. W212 had it all to do in 2008.
While Daimler’s engineers appeared to have got the fundamentals right, the car’s styling proved divisive. The W212 styling theme might have passed without comment but for three glaring visual flourishes. The poorly executed bonnet to front wing shutline (of which we’ve spoken previously), the ‘Ponton’ wheelarch flares at the rear three quarters and a more rectilinear variation of the twin headlight motif which characterised its two immediate predecessors.
These features signified a move towards a more graphic visual vocabulary, but opinion was strongly divided over the success of the E-class’ new look and it appears, early sales were not as healthy as Daimler bosses hoped. But having already crossed a Rubicon by carrying out a questionable nose job on the R230 SL, it was deemed expedient to task design chief, Gorden Wagener with inducing a similarly striking visual transformation.
Autumn 2012 – (an unprecedented three years into its lifespan) – the W212 facelift made it the first Mercedes saloon ever to require such drastic surgery. Attributed to Michael Frei, the restyle saw a variation of the current more expressive Mercedes-Benz nose grafted to the existing mid-section, leaving a good deal of facial scarring in the process. A situation amplified by the decision to push the ‘sport’ grille in favour of its more dignified alternative.
Further aft, the removal of the ‘Ponton’ flares left Frei with something of a problem in that the front door pressings were to be retained. His solution, creating two forlorn-looking feature lines running counter to one another before fading out pointlessly saw W212.2 emerging an even clumsier looking thing than its immediate predecessor.
A further three years have passed and having sold in more encouraging numbers W212.2 is due to be replaced, joining the ever-growing ranks of throwaway Mercedes designs. Daimler likes to portray an image of serene and aloof competence, be it in engineering, design or business practice, but the fact that it’s now thirty years since the definitive W124 series bestrode the sector suggests the boys in Sindelfingen have been engaged in a similar headless chicken dance to everyone else.
Meanwhile, the new W213 E-Class débuts at January’s Detroit motor show, dragging Mercedes’ heartland model kicking and screaming back into line. Perhaps they’ll finally get it right, but after all this time, is there any excuse?
A final observation. The W212’s 2012 sojourn under the scalpel cost Daimler a gobsmacking €1bn to execute, some describing it as the most expensive facelift in automotive history. If true, has so much ever been been spent on so little?