After much hemming and hawing and pros and cons and what about this and that, I think I've finally found the car to replace my reliable but boring highway DD, a 2002 Impala LS.
This car should need no introduction around here. But I'll give ya one anyway: the Mercedes-Benz E-Class W124 chassis, made between 1985 and 1996. Some say that it's one of the last Mercedes that was "build to a standard, not a price." This is the car people mean when they talk about "German engineering".
Over-engineered, in fact. The engine is bomb-proof - literally. British car show (and perennial 2nd place competitor to Top Gear) Fifth Gear bought a used W124 and subjected it to various tortures to determine if what they say is true about this car. As part of their test, they put a couple sticks of dynamite in the engine bay and lit the fuse.
After the smoke cleared, it still started up. I was well-aware of the bullet-proof reputation of the M103/104 inline six, but bomb-proof? Do watch the rest of that Fifth Gear segment on the W124, it's the car version of Top Gear's famous "Killing a Toyota".
I'd prefer a wagon, of course. Some people don't quite get the wagon love, and I do understand. It is a bit...weird. I think it's a generational and nostalgic thing, that many Oppos and car writers grew up in station wagons when they were kids in the 60's, 70's and 80's. Nevertheless, a longroof is more practical, and practical in a car is always a good thing. This Merc in wagon form also looks better than it does as a sedan, I think. Better proportioned (not that the sedan is unattractive by any means).
A brief glance of the local listings reveals you can have a car that once cost something like $80,000 for anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000. Few people - quite sensibly - do not want to get involved with a 20 year old German car. This pushes prices down. In fact the car has probably reached its maximum devaluation, and would actually increase from here. The W124 is a future classic.
I know I'm probably preaching to the choir about this car, but dissenting opinions are always useful in cases of growing car lust. And no doubt Oppo has, collectively, quite a bit of experience with this car. Comments welcome!
It might be useful to know as well that my circumstances (downtown condo, no garage), my mech knowledge (very basic) and my lack of tools beyond screwdrivers and pliers and such means I must go to a specialist, but I think have a good connex in that department, an independent Merc garage within walking distance from home. Mercs are, of course, pricey to repair and maintain but if the car never really breaks once you've gotten it sorted, who cares? A less reliable car with cheaper labour and parts isn't an advantage if it breaks more.