5 Great Mercedes' for the price of a new CLA!
Right then, as I write today, Mercedes-Benz are over at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (which is like Blackpool, but bigger, and with no beach) fluffing the covers and rehearsing their speeches in preparation for the launch of the latest-gen CLA, the coupe-esque A-Class based saloon which takes the concept of the big, expensive CLS and condenses it down into a more attainable package.
Now, I'm sure the new CLA is going to be a great car. Mercedes are on a roll right now, and with the only real competition in an admittedly small niche coming from the ageing Audi A3 Saloon the CLA stands a good chance of going right to the top of the class. If it looks as good as the teaser images suggest it will, I'll be watching it with great interest...
The only thing is, whilst the CLA will be more affordable than the CLS, no new Merc is going to be cheap. The chances are that once you've added a few choice options, and selected the AMG-Line trim (the one you want), the CLA will be a £35,000 car. That's a whole heap of cash, so what if you want to live the Mercedes dream on a budget? I thought it'd be a good time for another ferret around in the classifieds to see if I could find not just one, but five great used Mercs for the price of a middling CLS, say £30,000. Here's what I came up with...
1. 1992 Mercedes 500SEL (W126) £3,395 Remaining budget: £26,605
Lets kick things off by going old-school. The CLA is nice, but in the imperiousness stakes it has to play second-fiddle to this classic 500SEL from 1992. It may be approaching its 30th birthday, but this W126 model is by no means an asthmatic old relic. This is what we would know today as an S-Class, so it's packed with technology which would have been deeply impressive at the time, and it had the quality to match.
Even today, people regard this generation of Mercedes as the best built of them all, so it's no surprise that this example seems to have taken its 146,000 miles in its stride. More importantly the 5.0 litre V8 up front should ensure effortless performance with 322 bhp on tap ready to dispatch lesser (read poorer) motorists. The price of this bona fide modern classic? Around a tenth of what you'll need for the CLA, at a mere £3395. Stick a couple of flags on the bonnet and drive around pretending you have an Air Force at your disposal.
2. 2008 Mercedes CLS320 CDI £6,550 Remaining budget: £20,055
If the 500SEL is too much of an old crate for you then how about a classic from Mercedes' modern era? The original CLS is the car that allegedly resulted when a young Stuttgart-based designer asked what a Jaguar might look like if it was made by Mercedes. When it first appeared back in 2004 it kicked things off for the slinky saloon market and caught Mercs rivals napping. It was several years before Audi or BMW had anything to match it. Indirectly, it also led to the downsized CLA. So why have a smaller imitation when you can have the real thing for less?
For some, the first-gen CLS is still the best looking, and in profile especially it still turns heads. Based on the rather more staid W211 E-Class, the original CLS is generally reliable, and doesn't suffer from the rust issues that affected other Mercedes in the early 2000's. Equipped with a 3.2 litre V6 turbodiesel motor, and pushing out a healthy 221 horsepower, this 2008 CLS320 looks like great value with only 76k on the clock and having been looked after by Mercedes dealers all its life. Ten years ago, this CLS would have set its original owner back over £40,000, which makes today's sale price of £6,550 all the more tempting!
3. 2003 Mercedes CLK55 AMG Convertible (C209) £7,750 Remaining budget: £12,305
A genuine drop-top AMG for less than £10k? Surely not? Well, it's true readers! After 15 years and 141,000 miles of muscle-bound V8 cruising, this 367 bhp CLK55 rag top can be yours for less than a base-spec VW up!
Alright, so the CLK was never the last word in driving dynamics, and early 2000's Benz products aren't without their gremlins, but if you're willing to overlook some minor character flaws this CLK is perhaps the cheapest route into Affalterbach-born lunacy in the country. It's a convertible too, so who cares if it's not as honed as an M3. Just wind the roof down, and hit your favourite boulevard listening to that wonderful naturally aspirated V8 soundtrack, they don't make 'em like this anymore!
4. 1994 Mercedes CL600 (C140) £6,995 Remaining Budget £5,310
Let's face facts. Not much out there says "I'm a big fuckin' deal" like an massive dog-knob red V12 Benz. Pull up in this and what are you saying without saying it? "Yea, I could've bought an S-Class but I don't need four doors, I just want my car to take up as much of the road as possible."
Whether or not that appeals, you can't deny that this strident-looking CL600 is a car with BDE if ever there was one. If you don't know what BDE means (no, not the Cosworth engine), then Google it. On second thoughts, don't.
Erm, anyway. This particular CL has recently come out of storage and looks ready to roll. Essentially a coupe version of the W140 S-Class of the nineties, you can expect modern luxuries such as double-glazing, parking sensors, ESC and perhaps even an optional in-car fridge. You can also expect to tell your mates that your seven-grand Merc shares its basic engine with the Pagani Zonda, because it does.
5. 2004 Mercedes SLK350 (R171) £5,000 Remaining Budget: £310
This probably won't be everyone's choice, but it's here anyway for no other reason than I like it. The second-gen SLK, launched in 2004 was perhaps met with a less warm reception from some in the motoring press than the 987 Porsche Boxster which was also launched that year, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore the pretty little SLK.
The original 1996 version was a bit wooden to drive, but this mark two effort is much improved, especially when endowed, as the one we have here is, with the 272 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 engine. So equipped, the SLK350 can launch from 0-60 in just 5.5 seconds and tops out at a limited 155, more than enough to keep that Boxster honest in a straight line (if not perhaps through the bends). Four-cylinder models were also available for those of a more parsimonious attitude to fuel stops.
Besides, what the reviewers forgot was that most people have no interest in pasting it around like they're being chased by the boulder from Indiana Jones. Lots of people just want a nice little convertible, and that's exactly what the SLK is, nice.