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Clarty New Reader
3/5/12 3:39 p.m.

Weird thread title, huh? Here's the deal: I've always been a fan of German and Swedish cars--those that are built like tanks. But my '03 Passat rattles like a 30-year-old Chinese taxi, and that got me thinking. I want something different.

One approach is to go for what I consider the utter zenith of recent car build quality, a Mercedes-Benz W123, W124, or the King Mother: the W126. These cars are crafted as if out of a solid piece of steel rather than an assembly of parts, and I have read so many of the parts (such as window switches) that do go bad can be repaired rather than needing to be tossed and replaced. What I think would be so satisfying about driving one of these cars everyday is the things you touch every time you drive--door handles, switches, seats, doors...) are of such quality they'd make me feel good every time I used them. Someone once told me "quality is joy," and I think that rings true. Whenever I drive an inexpensive or cheaply make car it leaves an unsatisfying impression with every input, every door closing, every time I operate a switch.

Yet, one of the most recommended makes on GRM forums is Subaru, and I do like them. But I sat in one yesterday, a exceptionally clean lower-trim Forester with just under 100,000 miles. It's an automatic, so I can't buy it, but the impression I got from the interior and the entire car, was one of cheapness. Switches operated with a junky-feeling, noisy click, and nothing had the heft I tend to associate with a really well-made car.

I wonder: am I alone here? Has anyone who really likes Benz-like build quality moved to a Subie, Toyota, Ford? And how did you like it? Did the difference in build quality and materials start to grate on you, or not so much? I'm used to Volvo-level quality; I'm not that impressed with my current VW (my 6th Volkswagen).

I'm thinking the Mercedes, if I can find a nice one, would really be great.

Javelin SuperDork
3/5/12 4:01 p.m.

I'm assuming you mean old Benz's, because newer ones have crap quality on all of the things you mentioned.

As for interior quality, it really doesn't bother me personally as much as say, FWD torque steer, or DBW throttle hesitation, or even poor ergonomics. I do know what you are talking about and can really appreciate it, but you aren't going to find that quality in anything in the "plastic era".

The best interiors I have ever been in were in older American cars. A 1959 Buick Electra has no plastic inside, the switches are real metal. THAT's a quality "feel". The 66 Caddy was probably the best one, but I also loved the 57 Hudson Hornet, 59 Rambler Ambassador, and 69 AMC Ambassador.

The best "modern" interior I've personally dealt with was probably 997 GT3 I rode in. Looked really nice, but was still all plastic to the touch. Mazda 3's have decent interiors. E46 BMW's, new Toyota's, and the 09 Forrester were all crap (family's cars).

Clarty New Reader
3/5/12 4:15 p.m.

In reply to Javelin:

Yeah, the W123, W124 and W126 are of the built-to-a-standard era of Mercedes-Benz. The last W126 came here in 1991; the last W124 in around 1995.


Thanks. I'm not talking so much about an absence of plastic, although the older American care were pretty good. i'm talking more about whether you miss the quality feel--I mean my 2000 Golf, which I bought new, I thought had great build quality, even though it was no W123. But the Forester I was in, and a Mazda 5 I tried both had a real cheap feel.

Heck, my uncle's '73 AMC Hornet Sportabout had a nearly all-metal dash, but I don't think any of us would say it was all that well-built.

Sultan Reader
3/5/12 4:19 p.m.

I looked it getting a MB of the same vintage but I am concerned that the COO will be a death nail.

I will be following this thread closely

benzbaron Dork
3/5/12 4:20 p.m.

Mercedes design and build quality from the 70s and 80s is pretty much as good as it gets. Sure they might have a few quirks but for the most part these cars are user serviceable. I love hearing people here bitch and moan about their 30year old british and italian cars falling apart, when for the same price you can own something made to german standards. Not only did mercedes build decent engines but they also made transmissions made to last past 100k miles. Oh and mercedes was able to use a paint system that actually worked, ford, gm, jaguar, toyota etc are still figuring that one out.

92CelicaHalfTrac SuperDork
3/5/12 4:21 p.m.

I've said this before.... but i don't know what Mazda made the 88-92 MX6/626 interiors out of, but that E36 M3 will not break, and it all feels solid. There's a few on this forum that will agree with me.

I wouldn't really cross-shop one with a Mercedes, though.

Clarty New Reader
3/5/12 4:21 p.m.

In reply to Sultan:


mad_machine SuperDork
3/5/12 4:33 p.m.

in many ways cad/cam was the death blow to quality. While things could be fitted tighter than ever before and it allowed the engineers to know exactly how much material each part needed.. it also allowed the accountants to know that information too.

That was what killed the era of overbuilding..compare a BMW E30 interior to an that of the E36's. The E30 was to what an engineer thought was good.. the E36 was built to what an accountant thought was perfect

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess SuperDork
3/5/12 4:33 p.m.

LS400. I had a 220D. Yeah, solid except for the parts that kept falling off.

Otto Maddox
Otto Maddox SuperDork
3/5/12 4:50 p.m.

A Lexus LS is the only car (within reason) that approaches the feel of an old overbuilt Mercedes. And as a bonus, you don't have to replace electrical stuff all the time.

kevlarcorolla Reader
3/5/12 4:57 p.m.

I had an '08 imprezza,never really broke down but it always felt like it should if you know what I mean,if you like your engines to run rough enough to stir your coffee in the morning than these are the hot ticket.

Sultan Reader
3/5/12 5:30 p.m.
Clarty wrote: In reply to Sultan: COO?

Cost of ownership or Chief Operating Officer or Chevy Opera Offbeat.:-)

wbjones SuperDork
3/5/12 6:52 p.m.
benzbaron wrote: Not only did mercedes build decent engines but they also made transmissions made to last past 100k miles.

yeah, and my Impreza ( automatic) has 230k mi on it ... and no problems so far ( oh, and the engine uses less than a quart a yr ... change it twice a yr )

Javelin SuperDork
3/5/12 6:56 p.m.

I have a 227K mile all-original Porsche torque tube and transaxle in a 944. 100k transmissions should be cake-walks people!

mad_machine SuperDork
3/5/12 7:02 p.m.

yea.. the transmission in ti, a getrag, has 150,000+ and still shifts nice and smooth

T.J. SuperDork
3/5/12 7:35 p.m.

I bought a 2012 WRX. The interior is really nothing to write home about. It's not bad, but it is not anything that anyone would confuse with the zenith of quality. It is built to a price point. Leather seats, heated seats and a sunroof make it a nice place to spend time, but there is nothing that oozes quality. I guess if I got my kicks from the feel of a dashboard switch or the thunk of a overly heavy door closing, maybe I would be more interested in an older merc.

I like my WRX, but it does have a cheapish interior and it is ugly as sin and it has the entire engine ahead of the front wheels and gets crappy mileage on premium fuel. Would I trade it for any other car under $30k, nope.

93EXCivic SuperDork
3/5/12 8:30 p.m.
benzbaron wrote: Mercedes design and build quality from the 70s and 80s is pretty much as good as it gets. Sure they might have a few quirks but for the most part these cars are user serviceable. I love hearing people here bitch and moan about their 30year old british and italian cars falling apart, when for the same price you can own something made to german standards.

I like the old Mercedes but they aren't as fun as the old British or Italian cars.

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess SuperDork
3/5/12 9:01 p.m.

333K miles on the 4 speed in my RN Truck. I've changed the oil a couple times. Shifts like butter.

Flogger00 New Reader
3/5/12 9:03 p.m.

My DD is a '97 E320. It's a W210, so it's a little different from the W124 and a little more modern looking, but I specifically shopped for this year so as to get the M104 inline6 engine instead of the V6 of the later years. I'm not a fan of any MB newer than the W210. A big part of that is for precisely the reasons stated elsewhere in this thread. Oh, and the only truly grassroots way to own one is to be a decent mechanic and turn your own wrenches. Most parts aren't priced too badly, but dealer and even 3rd party service rates are very high. I like the ergonomics of it, and everything feels solid. It makes for a very satisfying ride - even more so knowing I've maintained and repaired it myself.

Sultan Reader
3/5/12 9:36 p.m.

Flogger00 What is your thoughts on the W201?

mtn SuperDork
3/5/12 9:49 p.m.

My parents holy grail for reliability and build quality is the 1993 300E that they had (W124)--this was a better car than Nissans, Hondas, and Toyotas that came after it. After they sold it, everything was compared to it, nothing favorably. Then we were looking for a car for my older brother and test drove a Subaru on a whim, a car company that we had NEVER considered. This car was a used LL Bean (?) edition Outback, and the next day they were at the Subaru dealership buying a new Outback for Mom. This was the only car that they felt compared favorably to the old W124.

The only difference I can think of is that the Outbacks in question for us were top of the line models.

curtis73 SuperDork
3/6/12 12:00 a.m.

I had a 99 W210 (E300TD) and IMO that was the last of the truly great MB cars. With the exception of one tiny vibrational buzz in the dashboard that I couldn't find, it was rock solid up to 300k. Even the leather on the seats showed almost no wear.

I'm with you, though. I would rather drive a solid car with a couple reliability issues than a reliable car that doesn't "feel quality."

I am also an old-car freak, so I constantly bash my head trying to make them feel like they have the quality assembly like a german car. I probably had 200 lbs of sound-deadening in my 73 Impala wagon just trying to get it quiet enough to talk to someone at 65 mph.

Klayfish Dork
3/6/12 6:24 a.m.

Clarty, It's interesting you mention "the feel", and I think that's what a lot of it is. Perception. That's very important aspect of cars, it should feel a certain way. So even if a car isn't solid, it should have that feel in it's switchgear, turn stalks and things. Not saying there's anything wrong with that, I like a certain feel sometimes too, but you have to look beyond just the feel.

The Japanese cars interiors may not always have the most solid feeling trim pieces inside, but most of them are very well built and last a long time. The older German cars were nearly bullet proof. The newer ones have horrendous build quality, even if they feel solid.

BTW, I agree with you that old Swedish cars are very reliable. My DD is a 16 year old Volvo, but it has its' share of squeaks and rattles.

racerdave600 Dork
3/6/12 8:34 a.m.

I recently went from a G35 to a Cooper S and it was a huge jump down in quality, especially interior materials.

I've long maintained that feel does not equate to quality though. I've been around German cars all my life, and forever you hear about how good they are because they "feel" good, but it simply isn't true. Every one I've ever been around has had far more issues than their Japanese counterparts, and that includes comparing say a 510 to a 2002.

While the Germans used to be very good and fit and finish, it didn't always equal trouble free motoring.

93EXCivic SuperDork
3/6/12 8:56 a.m.

I think on the interior of a car I notice the materials that make up the driver's side door panel and the ergonomics more then anything else in a car. If those are decent I won't notice anything else. I could care less how the switches felt.

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