Edric realises that cars are far better value now than they ever were.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Edric realises that cars are far better value now than they ever were.

My Reading Room

FLIPPING through an old copy of the first motoring publication that I ever wrote for (a now-defunct title called Autonews), it dawned on me that car buyers now are getting a lot more for their dollar than they did 20 years ago.

In that April 1997 issue of Autonews, a Mercedes-Benz E200 (of the then-new goggleeyed W210 generation) was listed at $205,000 excluding COE.


With the relevant COE (1601cc and above) hovering around the $60k mark, that made a total price of $265,000 or so.

These days, Cycle & Carriage demands about the same amount for an equivalent W213-model E200 Avantgarde, but boot-lid badge apart, the two cars are hardly comparable.

The 2017 E200, for instance, dishes up 184bhp from its turbocharged 2-litre engine, delivered to the wheels through a state-of-the-art 9-speed paddleshift autobox, and hits 100km/h in 7.7 seconds. The 1997 E200 had a weedy 134bhp from its naturally aspirated 2-litre engine, pumped through an ancient (even then) and power-sapping 4-speed auto, and took all of 11 seconds for the century sprint.

To match the performance of the current E200, you’d need to have upgraded to the W210 E320 for $330,000 or so (including COE).

And that’s just to get on level terms in straight-line pace, without taking into account the far better (air-sprung) ride and keener handling of the newer car, the bigger cabin (at 4923mm, the current E-Class is in fact closer in length to a standard-wheelbase 1997 W220 S-Class than it is to the W210 E-Class), greater refinement, vastly improved safety (nine airbags, Active Brake Assist, Pre-Safe, lane change assist, blind spot assist, etc), far better equipment (adaptive cruise control, sat-nav, high-res TFT dashboard display) and muchimproved fuel economy.

Ask a time-travelling car buyer from 1997 to guess the price of a current E200, and he’d probably say $400k or so.

In fact, almost any new car you care to pick from the current price lists is a huge bargain compared to its 1997 equivalent.

At the other end of the scale, a Nissan Note, the Japanese maker’s most basic 1.2-litre hatchback, is listed at around $88k. Twenty years back, the entry point to the Nissan range was the 1-litre March, which retailed at $61,000 without COE. With the COE (for cars 1600cc and below) at about $30k, the March in fact cost more than the Note now does. And the Note trumps the March on every count – performance, safety, interior space, refinement, equipment, build quality.

How about if we look even further back, say another 20 years earlier? How much was a Mercedes E200 in 1977?

Well, there wasn’t one badged as such, but what you could buy for about $90k was a Mercedes 200, with 94bhp from its spluttery-sounding, carburetted 2-litre 4-pot and either a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic.

You’d need to be going downhill to crack 100km/h in under 15 seconds in that one.

Anti-lock brakes, airbags, traction control? Forget it.

You did get seatbelts though – inertia-reel, no less. The aforementioned Nissan Note, for almost the same price today, is an infinitely better car.

Bear in mind, too, that $90k could get you a decent terrace house back then – that puts things into even sharper perspective.
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