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Mercedes 300CE


Fun though it might be to thrash a lightweight, no frills sports car around a track, even the most hardcore autophile will sometimes desire a machine that will carry him or her across great distances, without the need for earplugs (Lotus Elises), full waterproofs (Caterhams) or all of the above plus a helmet (Ariel Atoms). It would also be nice if such a machine were equipped with four seats and a decent sized boot.
 

There are many cars that will fit this description, but few that will do so without making you resemble a poorly performing sales rep (Mondeo, Vectra) an estate agent (3 series, C Class, Volvo) or a local businessman (Lexus, Jag, large Mercedes.)
 

Some people, in desperation, take the Italian route and speak of the ‘passion’ and ‘spirit’ of an Alfa Romeo. If taken as synonyms for ‘ruinous depreciation’ and ‘unfillable money pit’ they may be right, but unless you wish to have a particularly close relationship with the ‘man from the AA’, it’s probably best to avoid large Italian cars altogether.
 

There is an answer, however, in the slightly unlikely form of the Mercedes 300CE. Essentially the coupe version of the W154 E Series, the 300CE has the important advantage over its 4 door brother in that it provides a full four seats and a decent sized boot without making you resemble an impoverished mini-cab driver.
 

Built in a time when Mercedes vehicles were still made to withstand a nuclear winter, the CE range, thanks to the absence of rear doors, presents a more elegant silhouette than the German manufacturer’s saloons from the same era. It may be a little boxy at the front-end, and the grill is as large and bulky as a Wurlitzer jukebox, but the overall impression is of sophisticated luxury. It’s the kind of car that you might imagine old money to own, seeing no reason to replace their elegant coupe with a vulgar, and somewhat nouveau riche SLK or CLK.
 

Inside is more luxury saloon than sporting coupe, with soft, unsupportive seats and a typically enormous steering wheel. This ambience, however, seems to match the character of the car well. This is not an overtly sporting machine – understeer appears relatively early and there is little joy to be had in coaxing the rear end into play – but it does offer compensation to the driver in the form of a supple ride and the ability to cover great distances, be it in town or on the open road, with ease.


What the CE also offers is the ability to pass the Bonne Gauche Hotel Test. This involves driving to an exclusive country hotel, which preferably contains a Michelin-starred restaurant, and gauging your own level of embarrassment as you pass the keys to the staff for valet parking. There are not many sub 5,000 cars that would not prompt you to swiftly turn around in shame, but the CE is one of them.







 
 

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