The discerning buyer who needs to fit many dogs in the back and four people up front in the lap of, mid-range, luxury. That is who buys a Mercedes 300 wagon. Fitted with a turbo and adorned with the finest vinyl to keep the backs of the occupants firmly adhered to the MB-Tex as to avoid falling out of the seat. Mercedes knew the side bolsters wouldn't keep them in place through the bends, and you're sweating because the A/C doesnt work so well. That is what the Mercedes 300 Wagon will do for you, but now you must ask, what will you do for it?
(Full disclosure: Mercedes-Benz wanted me to drive the 300TD Wagon so badly that I was told to make out a check for about 6,000 dollars and hand it to a man who I don't believe has any affiliation with Mercedes-Benz. I also received a title to the car in the process, I guess I get to keep it now. Right guys? Some spare parts and unpaid easy pass tolls came with the deal.)
I was contacted by Mercedes-Benz in a rather unorthodox manner, through the way of a service called Autotrader. Upon becoming aware of the vehicles presence I was flabbergasted that Mercedes-Benz, by the way of a random man, had me drive this car for the purposes of a review.
The 300 wagon is something of a departure from Mercedes's usual offering of powerful luxury saloons, suvs, and wagons. For this car, while still a Mercedes is not what you would expect from the automaker today. The car is wildly comfortable, somewhat quick, and not too nimble. All traits you would expect from a standard W123 Mercedes from this era. Yet this car has one more trait, something all other consumer Mercedes to this day lack to this day. Sheer utility, utter practicality, one more trait I'll save until the end.
The Mercedes 300 wagon features classic lines and a look that everyone recognizes. The little pieces of aluminum brightwork that line the doors shine in the sun, the rubber and metal trim that swoops along side of the body gives the glorious metal work a more pronounced curvature. The only problem keeping this car from getting a 9/10 is the American bumpers and headlights. Otherwise, this car is a masterpiece of pure practicality wrapped in beautiful body work by the genius Bruno Sacco.
About as often as I have to top up the oil on the 300, I read a review on a new car and invariably there are complaints about the quality of interior materials. All I have to say about that is Mercedes had got it right the first time around. Even the W116 and W115 feature impeccable interior materials. The steering wheel is laughable in size but you will be happy about it in the unlikely event of power steering loss. The seats, while there, are woefully un-supportive and at 300,000 miles they have lost much of their firmness. Despite the mileage and age, the MB-Tex Vinyl is as soft as ever and there is not a single crack in it. Truly stands the test of time.
The dash simple and the binnacle serves it purpose. The A/C controls are equally straight forward. A spinning wheel controls the supposed temperature of the air coming out. There are four buttons that all seem to serve the same purpose, make air come from the vents. Lastly, there are three buttons on the right that control how much noise the blower motor makes; loud, louder, and loudest. The radio works, just and is more complicated than a graphing calculator.
"Don't pull out"
That is a term you will get very used to if you let friends drive your car, especially if said car is a om617 based Mercedes passenger car. I love giving my friends the experience of driving the wagon, it is truly a pleasure to behold. Despite this car being the top-of-the-line turbo model it is still geologically slow. Yet, it still seems to handle the New York City traffic just fine and if you time if right you can pull out into traffic. You won't win any stop light drag races but you can cruise on the highway all day long without it breaking a sweat or requiring a direct tap into the Keystone XL.
Brake fade is an understatement. See those letter on the gear selector? If you think there is a hill coming up and you have you go back down it you better put on your trucker hat and call yourself the "Snowman" because get ready to engine brake.
Yeah, engine brake...
-You'll cook your brakes faster than you can ask for a smokey report on channel 19, don't expect a response there friend.
On a more serious note, the brakes work very well but only if you have not been riding them hard for about 15 minutes beforehand. They have wonderful feel and are easy to modulate, but being un-ventilated solid disks they heat up quite a bit. Otherwise I love them.
This is where the Mercedes shines. Whether you have the boot packed full of 1,500 pounds of cheese or 1,500 pounds of feathers (cheese is heavier, duh) the car rides like a dream. Don't worry about bottoming out either as the rear suspension is fitted with the magical SLS system and always rides level. Axle travel on this car rivals many soft-roaders on the market today, the springs are soft and the shock absorbers up front are what Mercedes describes as comfort shocks.
The last winter season in NYC wrecked the roadways but it was an odd situation because I saw the holes but I never felt them. The axle travel, 14 inch wheels, and forgiving suspension basically yielded all pot holes null and void.
Yes I have it, I have some to spare as well. Care for a bit of body roll? Seriously have some, because I have too much. Please, please take some... Ok thanks bye...
Its seems in this day and age no body cares for a bit of body roll. I'm not saying Mercedes 300TD wagon levels of body roll but a bit makes the driving experience a bit more fun. The wagon rolls like a rolly polly, uncontrollable roll that rearranges your idea of the way a seat is supposed to be sat in. That said, the car does not really handle up to par with today's standards.
Give it about 30 minutes to warm up and it is the smoothest transmission you will ever experience. Yes it is an Automatic and yes, I love it.
Once you get the vacuum system sorted out and make sure there are no leaks in the web you will experience automatic transmission nirvana, circa 1984. The transmission is flawlessly smooth, it is surprisingly responsive, and has great gear ratios that give you solid pick up at any speed. Fourth gear goes from 50 mph to 100 mph, yeah there pretty tall.
Here is some butter, because that is what the transmission feels like.
That score is only accurate if you A/C works, so I am being optimistic here.
You have a radio that can tune to both FM and AM frequencies, you have cruise control that removes the pedal from underneath you, A/C that works in the winter, and power steering. What more could you ask for in a car? Oh wait, did I mention it has a turbo...
The radio seriously sucks, but that doesn't matter since you can hear it above 75, nor can you carry on a conversation with anyone in the back seat. Unless that person is Barry White.
The Engine note however is surprisingly pleasant, a lobey 10 valve diesel is the last car I would ever think has an engine sound that is remotely acceptable.
There are other station wagons that will do the job that they Mercedes does but will you be in a Mercedes, no. You may ask, why am I including brand exclusivity in the value of the car? Well I am actually not because car comes from an era of Mercedes that were built like well... the way a Mercedes should be built. Cars from this era of Mercedes set the standard that they are is still trying to live up to this very day. A Toyota will be more reliable and a BMW will be more sporty, but neither will ride like the Mercedes or give you a wonderful feeling inside your gut saying "This is something special."
The longevity of the Mercedes plays a big part in the value score, you can neglect this car beyond belief and it will still treat you well. Since buying the car I have not touched a drive train component. The practicality of this wagon is has no comparison, when the rear seats are folded flat you have enough room for a refrigerator. With the seats up you have enough space for five passengers and all their clothes for a week of travel. If you want you can even pull out the rear facing third row and put seven people in this car, seven people and all there junk. If you want more space you'd need a extended cab pickup truck.
All in all, I recommend the W123 wagon to all people I know, It has no modern alternative that gives you more and has no modern alternative that will last as long as the Mercedes 300TD wagon. One more factor that is intangible and entirely non-physical is soul. This wagon has more soul than the distilled essence of every episode of Soul Train combined. It wants to be driven, it wants to haul big heavy stuff it probably should not because it may over-cumber the delicate hydraulic suspension, it wants to take that corner and all the body roll that comes with it, the wagon wants to brake hard and deal with fade later, it wants to go fast on the highway even though the engine is turning 4000 revs. Yet those are all activities that you have to do, it won't do them by itself.
What can you do for the Mercedes 300TD wagon...
Engine: 3.0 Litre L5 Turbo Diesel
Power: 125 Horsepower
Transmission: 4 Speed automatic transmission
0-60 Time: 19.9 seconds
Top Speed: N/A
Drivetrain: Rear wheel drive, open differential
Curb weight: Roughly 3,400 pounds
Seating: Seating for 7