MERCEDES 280 TE ESTATE
That famous Mercedes 3 pointed star makes for an instant recognisability which, in these days of rounded Euroboxes, few cars can lay claim to, a symbol which has become universally accepted as the marker of Mercedes' continual excellence in design, engineering, build quality, safety and comfort.
Slightly less well known than the saloons are the excellent range of estate cars, all based around the best selling, mid-range, W 124, body shell, a range of superb estates which share all of the features of the saloons from which they derive, add superb load carrying abilities for the extended family and a bear a minimal rate of depreciation to make other estate car makers weep. I'm still curious what the TE means though, it sounds like an exclamation from the Beano.
With the latest addition of 4 valve per cylinder engines the W 124 range now adds even greater flexibility to already impressive performance figures while gaining bonus points for improved fuel economy.
In all respects the Mercedes TE quickly demonstrated itself to be a luxurious load or people carrier with up to seven seats available in the cavernous interior.
There is little flashiness in terms of the fittings and trim, the car simply offers an understated elegance allied to the confidence that the driver is surrounded by mechanical excellence. Unfortunately the wood trim is still too highly polished for my tastes, a purely subjective comment from an unabashed Mercedes fan, it's a slightly jarring but tolerable fault in an otherwise faultless car.
Chunky yet aerodynamically sound, the design is very easy to live with, again understated elegance is the phrase that most easily comes to mind and the car offers great space for it's cossetted passengers, five being carried in ease and two more, smaller, occupants in the pair of seats which fold up and out of the massive load area floor.
Internally, the solid virtues continue with the use of muted fabrics, high quality fittings and large, comfortable seats with a very full range of adjustment. For the driver, the dashboard layout is a prime example of good ergonomics, only those controls and instruments which have a valid function being fitted, large clear dials, easy to use, shape coded, switches, all of which fall easily to hand.
Standard equipment levels are very high with power steering, ABS, electric mirrors [ now, at last, on both sides of the car ], remote central locking, a self dipping interior mirror, heated mirrors and washers, a drivers side airbag, a pair of powerful driving lamps, an electric tilt/slide sunroof and a very impressive Blaupunkt stereo.
The 2.8 litre, 6 cylinder, 24 valve, engine is typically smooth and, with some 197 BHP on tap, boasts an effortless surge of acceleration and a high top speed, all feats performed with the minimum of noise or fuss. The low wind, tyre and engine noise serve to remove all of the usual sensory indicators of speed.
Transmitting the power to the wheels is an equally smooth, switchable, sport or economy mode, 4 speed automatic gearbox which provides barely detectable changes. A 5 speed manual is a no cost option and a 5 speed auto is available as an extra.
Ride quality is a very impressive compromise between softness, with near perfect damping, and good handling characteristics, high speed cruising stability being particularly notable, all credit to the refined rear suspension.
Good handling is not often associated with estate cars, for many the extra length and weight induces a rear end looseness, a "tail wagging the dog" effect, which can be quite disconcerting, but the TE exhibits masterly control, feeling every bit as agile as it's saloon derivation.
The Mercedes TE is truly a car born for autobahn cruising, a prince among estate cars from a company with an outstanding record, as good an example of the car making arts of the late twentieth century as can be found anywhere and, with it's huge load carrying abilities, a car for the serious German holiday maker to carry any number of his own sunbeds to the beach.
First Published 1993 - Article © Graham Benge 2007