Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - S-Class - 300SE sedan
Feels absolutely special to drive, be in and own
Room for improvement
Costly to maintain
20 Jun 2003
MERCEDES-BENZ was one of the world's first car-makers and for almost a century the company has nurtured its image as an aristocrat of the industry.
The name Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with quality and prestige - only Rolls Royce has a more upmarket image in the field of large luxury sedans.
The Mercedes-Benz model range can be confusing as the company tends to mix engines and body styles into a bewildering number of combinations.
For example, the W126 body of our subject car, the 300SE, which has a 3.0-litre engine, is also used with a 4.2-litre V8 in the S class 420SEL and a 5.6-litre V8 in the 560SEL.
The 300E model uses the same engine as the 300SE in a smaller, lighter body.
The 300SE is placed in the mid-luxury class, competing against the BMW 7 Series and the XJ Jaguar. Although small in volume, this segment is highly profitable and keenly contested.
Typically, these cars would be driven by company directors, which ensures servicing and maintenance is generally done correctly by authorised dealers, giving confidence to the used car buyer.
A 3.0-litre, straight six, overhead camshaft engine drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.
The auto differs from older Mercedes models in that it uses all four gears, improving launch feel.
Previously, first was only used if the car was fully laden and then only briefly. The gearshift has the traditional Benz gate design.
Suspension is all independent by upper and lower control arms and coil springs at the front, and trailing arms with coil springs at the rear. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear.
Brakes are power-assisted discs all round, ventilated at the front.
Steering is by power-assisted recirculating ball, a departure from the more normal rack and pinion.
Wheels are alloy 7.0 X 15 inch, originally fitted with Michelin MXV 205/65 VR 15 tyres.
As expected, the 300SE is well equipped. Air-conditioning/climate control, leather trim, cruise control, power windows, sunroof, power mirrors and a high quality sound system are standard.
The combination of polished wood on the dash and leather upholstery gives a distinct feeling of luxury.
Inside, the seats are big and comfortable with plenty of room for five adults.
There is electric adjustment for the front seats by separate controls that are simple to use.
The traditional hard feel of Mercedes seats has been softened, giving excellent comfort on a long trip.
Full instrumentation is fitted and the turn signal indicator stalk is on the right-hand side of the column - unusual for a European car. Sound system and heater controls are mounted in the centre console.
The view from the driver's seat, which is slightly offset from the pedals, includes a long bonnet and the three-pointed star radiator emblem.
On the road, the big limousine is a little sluggish off the mark but soon gets into its stride, as one would expect of a car designed for German autobahn driving.
For such a large car, the handling is quite agile with a firm ride, more in the sports mould than a luxury saloon. The power steering is on the heavy side, with limited road feel.
Interior noise is low with excellent isolation from tyre and road inputs.
The automatic transmission shifts are quite noticeable, particularly on hard acceleration.
Fuel economy is not a strong point of a large car weighing 1550kg, as the 90-litre fuel tank indicates. Expect to consume about 14 litres for every 100km of average driving.
The 300 SE Mercedes-Benz is a luxury limousine with superb appointments and impeccable road manners.
It offers true prestige motoring and the quality of the construction means the car will still be in good condition 20 years from now - just look at how many old Benzes are on the roads today in excellent condition.
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