I've owned my '99 E320 for 15 months now and could not be more satisfied; I purchased it used with only 78k miles and now have 86k on it. This sedan is a testament to the quality of German engineering and performance! People may claim the car is expensive to repair, but show me a car from this era or later that isn't (and I've had great luck with getting parts at reasonable prices from Rock Auto). The 3-valve V6 has excellent power - it will leap to 60 in 7 seconds flat while returning 25mpg (30+ on the highway). Laser-accurate cruise control, great seats, a 21-gallon fuel tank, and typical German highway prowess enable it to leap tall states in a single bound. The suspension has the magic ability to soak up road imperfections and then firm up in the curves - body roll is almost nonexistent. I was also lucky enough to get a fully-optioned model with heated leather seats, moonroof, Bose audio, Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, etc. All this for a car that only cost $4200, I've put about $2500 additional into it to make it nearly perfect. Despite all these hosannas, there are a few problem areas with the '96-02 E320s you should know about when purchasing one. 1) Rust - the MB/Chrysler merger resulted in paint quality issues due to the move to water-based paint; check for rust around the wheel arches/door edges. ALSO - early E320s also have a serious issue with rust in the front suspension spring perches - check this especially if the car has lived in the snow belt. Mine was quite obviously garaged by the POs (an elderly couple) and has neither of these issues. 2) Rear window regulators - like VWs and BMWs, the rear window regulator guides are plastic and are prone to failure. I haven't had this issue either, but I rarely use the rear windows. 3) Valve cover gaskets - these will eventually leak, and may or may not be synonymous with clogged breather passages in the upper part of the left-side valve cover (it literally has a second cover on top of the valve cover). This usually results in leakage onto the exhaust system and a lovely burning-oil bouquet wafting through the ventilation system. I did enjoy this problem and had it repaired for around $500. 4) Transmission - the '96-99 models use the 722.5 transmission which is known to have issues at higher mileage; be sure to check the transmission shifts smoothly before purchasing the car and CHANGE THE FLUID & FILTER ASAP. FYI, when you first drive the car, it's designed to not shift out of 1st until about 2500rpm to ensure the cats are at operating temp. But excessively harsh shifting or the car hanging onto gears longer than normal is a warning sign. The '00-02 models use the 722.6 transmission which is essentially bulletproof. Also the tranny electrical connector (a $10 part) is known to leak through its O-rings causing erratic shift behavior (and if left unattended, can eventually cause the fluid to wick up the wiring harness and destroy the TCM), this is a simple and inexpensive fix but often masquerades as a much more serious issue - mechanics that are not familiar with the car can mistakenly advocate replacing the entire transmission. 5) Dash displays - on the '00-02 models, the separate left/right displays on the instrument cluster for the clock and PRNDL indicator WILL fail - check the dash photos for any 00-02 model for sale online and 90% of them will have this problem. The dash display on the '96-99 models are centrally integrated and immune to this issue. It's caused by the ribbon connectors inside the cluster separating, can actually be fixed for $0 by pulling the instrument cluster and wedging a small chunk of solid foam into the ribbon connectors to force it back together, but it's a fiddly business and many shops will advise to just replace it. 6) Oil leaks - the '96-97 E320 uses the M104 (straight-six) 4-valve motor which is highly prone to oil leaks; stay away from these for this reason alone. The '98-02 models with the M112 (V6 3-valve) motors are simply superior - more power, 100lb lighter, better mileage, lower emissions, and better flexibility. 7) Catalytic converters - these are known to fail around 80-100k or so, they disintegrate inside and cause horrible rattling noises at lower engine speeds. I destroyed one of mine blowing away some moron in a brand-new Infiniti who (incorrectly) thought he could jump me at a light from the left-turn lane. His expression when I shut the door on him was nearly worth the $1200 bill for 4 new high-flow Bosal cats (to be fair only 1 failed, but to be prudent I replaced all 4 and put in 4 new Bosch oxygen sensors, which is why it was so $$$ - I could have just replaced 1 cat for around $200-$300). With a timing chain instead of a fragile belt, the 3.2 V6 is known to go 250k+ miles without a rebuild. What you can't put a price on is how this silk-turbine powered LearJet glides over the road like a puck on an air-hockey table. You'll soon forget whatever you used to drive.
If you are looking for an older vehicle with power, looks, and safety out the wazoo, look no further. Seriously. Day before yesterday I was in an accident on the freeway in my E320, not even the 4MATIC version. I was doing 75mph, my car flipped up a hill, and rolled back down it. I crawled out the sunroof with a couple bruises and some small cuts. No concussion, nothing. If I had been in ANY other vehicle, I would be dead, absolutely. I LOVED my E320 with all my heart, and it makes me so sad that she's literally a pancake in the towyard. I will never drive another kind of vehicle again. One hundred percent serious. If you're looking for a MB, but don't want to buy yourself or your kid a new one, find a 99, 2000, 2001, because they are just as magnificent and SAFE as a new ones! And they will still last a long time, even with 200k+ miles. Mine was driving wonderfully still at 252k with very basic maintenance.
EDIT almost a year later: I am now driving a 2003 C320 wagon, 2 thumbs up for it too. Even more safety features, it's a tiny wagon, more like a hatchback, and still that same power and prestige of the MB name.
1999 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan E320 4MATIC 4dr Sedan AWD
I purchased my 1999 MB-320 when it was 3 years old with 12,500 miles. I have since driven is 217,000 miles. It is reliable, dependable and I get reasonable gas mileage. Mind you, this is the year when the Germans came to America to fix the MB American plant. The 1998 model was assembled by the Americans and was a total piece of crap. It broke. The 1999 had the same problems up to about April 1999. Then the Germans came in and straightened things out. So if you buy this used, carefully look at the date of manufacture. If it is prior to April, run! If it is after April, you have a good truck.
Two problems to watch out for. The check Engine light comes on and the dealer wants $450-$700 to fix. This is a total rip off. The MB Bosch Mass Air Flow Sensor retails for $350. However, a cheap British Car uses the exact same Bosch Mass Air Flow Sensor as the ML and it can be purchased for $150. Twenty minutes with a screw driver and reset the computer and your Check Engine LIght problems are solved.
One time I was traveling and the my car dies. Only one occurance. Wait a while and it was fine. Limped to my mechanic (car dies and then drives) and he replaced a $5 ignition part. End of Story. Buying a used ML I would talk to a good MB mechanic and id that part. He will know the culprit off the top of his head. Just replace it immediately.
If you treat this car nice, it will treat you nice. Get good tires (Michelin). You can use cheap gas. The computer adjusts. You sacrifice some power, but you will catch everybody at the next light.
This care likes to do 80. It hates doing 60. It can do 90 to 100 without any problem. So if you are out west, it is good on those long lonely highways.
1999 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan E320 4MATIC 4dr Sedan AWD
I bought mine new in '99 and now has 315,000 miles and going strong. Replaced engine mounts about a year ago and shocks and struts a few years ago -- not that they absolutely had to be replaced, but it was a bit of an improvement. Body is close to perfect, as is the interior. Still has the original 16-year old battery, and last winter we had 10 consecutive days of below zero temps, and it started up every time without a hitch! This car was overbuilt (before Mercedes went to Chrysler and back). Basically, all that I've done is change the synthetic oil every 10K miles and, of course, periodic tire and brake changes. If you can pick one up which has been well maintained, you will NOT be disappointed. Very smooth and powerful ride, and still getting 25 mph on the highway (and best cruise control of any car I ever owned).