Weekend Reissue : E is for Expressive

Ten years since ‘the car that killed sobriety’ was announced. Time for a backward glance.

(c) autoremes

The 2009 (W212) Mercedes-Benz E-Class is unlikely to go down in history as an indestructible exemplar of marque values like its W123 forebear, or indeed as a design landmark, like its W124 descendant. Indeed, it probably won’t even be remembered with the acute embarrassment which characterises the risible W210 series from the mid-’90s.

Instead, the W212 will be recalled largely for its ‘Ponton’ haunches – a piece of retro styling contrivance aimed at evoking a period when the three pointed star had nothing to prove and no awkward questions surrounding its durability in service to answer.

Is that all there is to the car? Not quite. The ‘212 is significant more for what it represented than for its abilities or its stylistic attributes, such as they were. Mercedes had a job to do, in order to address serious reliability deficiencies in the model’s immediate predecessor – a matter for which it appears to have been broadly successful.

Less so however was the car’s appearance, which not only was subject to considerable criticism (not unusual during this phase of Mercedes’ design evolution), but also became subject to perhaps the most expensive facelift of the time.

Illustrating today’s introductory preamble is the concurrent C207 Coupé model, which launched the same year. For the two previous model cycles the mid-sized Mercedes Coupés were based upon the architecture of the more compact (and cheaper) C-Class model, each receiving their own CLK moniker.

For the C207, this conceit was abandoned, the model once again affixed to the E-Class’ lineup, despite retaining the lesser car’s underpinnings. Some might call that deceptive, others expedient. I will leave that for you to judge.

Stylistically, the C207 cleaved to the saloon, from which it was conjoined, also sporting the pronounced rear three-quarter haunches, which were no better a visual metaphor in this application. Allegedly attributed to amongst others, Mercedes designer, Carl Heinz Bauer, who was certainly on hand to defend the car at launch, it was, despite the ascension of Gorden Wagener to the top job at Sindelfingen, very much a Peter Pfeiffer car.

Clumsy details abounded (most shared with the saloon), one of the more annoying being the awkward shutline in the rear quarterlight, added to facilitate the sideglass to retract. But shutline management was already a noted Mercedes bugbear by then – a matter from which they still grievously suffer. Interestingly, the Coupé and its convertible sibling only partly benefited from the styling alterations which graced the saloon at the 2013 facelift, being allowed to soldier on with their bingo-wings unsullied. Clearly the costs were not deemed worth it.

But rather than go into a forensic examination of the W212/C207, I will leave that to co-contributor, Christopher Butt (who knows about these things), who has already subjected the model to his gimlet-like gaze. And given that the ‘212 marks its first decade upon this spinning globe we call home, it seems appropriate to revisit his words here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Weekend Reissue : E is for Expressive”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. The “ponton” rear wings and chintzy four-headlamp front end of the W212 and C207 are so egregious that they have eclipsed further design failings that would otherwise have been the subject of criticism then and now. I’m pleased to note that you have highlighted that ugly split in the rear side window, a defect that continues to blight the E-Class coupé to the present day:

    In fact, I think it’s even worse on the current model, where the quarter light window is more obviously visually separated from the rear side glass by its blacked-out edges. Normally, this technique isused to conceal the underlying framing but, given that the rear side glass doesn’t have corresponding blacked out edges top and bottom, why is it necessary here?

    Bruno Sacco would never have tolerated such a lash-up. He would either have either have insisted upon a wider C-pillar or, more likely, have come up with an elegant, articulated mechanism that would have allowed a single-piece rear side window to be lowered . (If the fuel filler were relocated, there’s plenty of room within the rear quarter panel to accommodate the glass using a combined “lower and rotate” motion.)

    Given the other crimes against good design committed by the W212 and C207, the crude and utilitarian treatment of the A-pillar base and bonnet to wing shut line almost escapes attention. This treatment might be just about acceptable on a mainstream MPV or economy model, but has no place on a car that is supposed to espouse elegance and sophistication.

    1. I view the current E coupé’s horrendous side window treatment as a fitting tribute to the mantra that ‘Mercedes never makes mistakes, but establishes new traditions’. The previous generation’s misguided SLC tribute was bad enough, but instead of self-effacement, they do their usual thing (which involves plenty of elbowing).

      You’d be surprised by the number of lash-ups Sacco had to content himself with during the latter part of his career. Being the gentleman he is, you wouldn’t find many records of him complaining. But in the case of the first-generation ML at least, he eventually let it be known that it was such a substandard piece of design, because it was done by the commercial vehicle branch, very much against his own will.

  2. Eoin, thanks for this. Coming to this a couple of days late, but have to comment. I agree that the W212 sedan (oops, saloon) had its awkward moments, to say the least, but-somewhat akin to the E60 5-series- it has grown on me, post and even pre-facelift. Yes, the earlier pontoon fenders are contrived and the front lamps were a very strange way of evoking the separate headlamps of its predecessors, but it has a tautness to it that seems right, and very E-Class, compared to the new ones. I find I have to look very closely at the bland and flabby W213 E-Class to distinguish it from a W205 C-Class (which here in Toronto seems to be everywhere) and it’s amazing, frankly, that MB has decided that consistent design “language” now means everything has to look the same. Even an S-Class is hard to tell apart from its lesser siblings until you get close and can see the obvious size difference. Back in the day, all Mercedes looked like Mercedes but not like each other. A C-Class buyer will no doubt be thrilled that his or her new car looks so much like the bigger models, but does it work in reverse? I doubt it, but I guess it goes to show that the power of the three-pointed star trumps all of it.

    1. I have to somewhat agree with you, Peter. As much as I hated the retro styling of the W212 (ponton fender, extreme RWD proportions – very obvious on the estate), it has grown on me (just like the E60!) in the meantime, and now it looks like a positive exception between all its predecessors and successors. Nowadays, I agree, it’s all just one single, flabby mess, and I have long given up to identify which of the various lines of saloons or SUVs I have in front of me.

    2. Likewise, Peter, I agree that Mercedes-Benz really has overdone the “same sausage, different lengths” approach with its current generation of saloon cars. Moreover, there’s so little to pique one’s interest in the design(s) that I really cannot be bothered to work out which is which:

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