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Used Mercedes-Benz 300 CE review: 1988-1989

Some may think them less stylish than today’s slinky models, but the cars Mercedes-Benz was making back in the 1980s oozed class. One of the classiest was the beautiful 300 CE, the coupe version of the E-Class. Its lines were thought to be conservative, even a little staid by some at the time, but others praised them for being elegant.

Under the sleek skin was a superb chassis and a smooth engine that delivered surprisingly spirited performance when asked to do so.

To buy a 300 CE when new you had to hand over almost $130,000. That put them out of the reach of most of us, but valued at around $25,000 on today’s used car market they’re quite affordable making them a tempting used prestige buy.

MODEL WATCH

The 300 CE coupe was based on the new W124 E-Class released here in 1986, albeit on an 85 mm shorter wheelbase than its sedan sibling.

The coupe’s styling was elegant and remains so today when other cars of the era have dated quickly. Almost 20 years after it was first launched the 300 CE is a good looking car oozing the solid prestige that came with the Mercedes-Benz badge back then.

Underneath it rode on the same competent W124 platform. A combination of coil springs and telescopic shocks at the front worked in tandem with a five-link independent rear suspension to give the 300 CE a solid foundation for responsive handling.

The handling was typical of ’Benz, starting out with understeer at low speeds before becoming more balanced as the speed climbs. The result was a supreme feeling of confidence in the road holding.

Powerful disc brakes slowed the heavy coupe with ease, and standard ABS added to the coupe’s braking prowess.

Under the imposing bonnet lay a silky smooth straight six-cylinder engine. With fuel-injection delivering the fuel, the 3.0-litre six had a single overhead camshaft with two valves per cylinder and put out 135 kW at 5700 revs with peak torque of 260 Nm at 4400 revs.

Mercedes only offered a smooth shifting four-speed auto transmission in the 300 CE. Under normal acceleration it started off in second gear, which made it feel sluggish, but if you buried your right foot into the carpet it came to life in a most unexpected way.

When stirred the 300 CE was quite a performer. It would take around eight seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h, and its top speed was 225 km/h.

Inside, the two-door body offered roomy accommodation for four adults in individual bucket seats. Air-conditioning was standard, along with power windows and mirrors, cruise control, central locking, power steering and a four-speaker radio cassette sound system.

IN THE SHOP

The 300 CE generally stands up well over the long term, but like any car things can go wrong when the kilometres climb into the 200,000 and above region where most 300 CEs now reside.

When shopping for a used prestige model wise buyers do so with their eyes wide open with the understanding they may face large repair bills if the car they choose happens to break down.

No car is absolutely bullet-proof, they all break down, so it’s important to understand the potential consequences of a breakdown before agreeing to a deal, even when buying a car with a three-pointed star on the bonnet.

The 300 CE’s single overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine is generally very reliable. It’s rare that they suffer any problems with the bottom end; if they have a weakness it’s in the cylinder head where they wear valve guides and eventually use oil.

Replacing the valve guides is a fairly minor job costing around $500 according to Mercedes engine specialist Greg Wood of Woody’s Engine Services. It also gives the engine a new lease on life.

Wood also recommends the timing chain be changed at around 125,000 km.

With odometers reading 200,000-plus it’s reasonable to anticipate an auto transmission rebuild, for which you should expect to pay around $4000.

Good build quality means the 300 CE generally stays tight and rattle free when lesser cars are falling apart.

Check for a service record, and it’s wise to seek out an expert and have a pre-purchase check carried out.

IN A CRASH

Primary safety is delivered through standard ABS and assured handling.

The 300 CE predated airbags so secondary crash protection is from solid body construction with controlled deformation through crumple zones.

OWNERS SAY

Bob Baker is a vary proud owner of a 1988 300 CE, which he says drives like new despite now being 16 years old. It has a timeless elegance, he says, with excellent standard features including four comfortable bucket seats, a large boot and is free of rattles or squeaks.

LOOK FOR

• elegant two-door coupe styling

• sweet six cylinder engine

• surprisingly swift

• high mileage brings increased risk of breakdown

• well equipped

• Mercedes prestige

THE BOTTOM LINE

Elegantly styled, smooth driving prestige coupe worth a risk even when showing a high mileage.

RATING

70/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
1989 $7,040 $14,410
1988 $7,040 $14,410

View all Mercedes-Benz 300 pricing and specifications

Pricing Guides

$7,240
Based on 3 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$6,990
Highest Price
$8,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CE 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $10,560 – 14,410 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 1988 CE Pricing and Specs
D 3.0L, Diesel, 4 SP AUTO $7,040 – 9,900 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 1988 D Pricing and Specs
E 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $6,990 – 8,990 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 1988 E Pricing and Specs
SE 3.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $9,020 – 12,760 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300 1988 SE Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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