We all know the stereotypes about German engineering. For many years, the German car companies (Mercedes-Benz in particular) were renowned for creating cars that are so overengineered that it feels like they could last more than a lifetime! This is especially the case with classic German cars when development was controlled more by engineers than accountants.However, this didn’t carry as much into the modern era. There have been a fair few more recent German cars that have been poorly built and had problems upon problems with reliability.
10 Overengineered: Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W123)
The W123 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is one of the most well-known of the overengineered beasts Mercedes made during the 20th century. It cost a lot of money to buy new, relative to its peers, but you were paying that much because you were getting serious quality. W123s are built like tanks and, as a result, many of them are still around!The W123 E-Class is so dependable that it’s a classic car you could genuinely use every day. It’s often recommended as one of the more trouble-free routes into classic car ownership! That is, unless, you’re not willing to pay out a fair amount of money in the rare instances when things do break…
9 Underengineered: Mercedes-Benz CLA
When the Mercedes-Benz CLA burst onto the scene, people were initially excited. A smaller, cheaper CLS that had an AMG variant? It sounded superb. But then the cars started being delivered to owners and problem after problem followed. The CLA quickly gained a reputation for being poorly built and that reputation has never really gone away.The CLA shouldn’t have been a failure. It looked great and the AMG version had great performance. Those things are pushed aside though if the car itself is just very poorly put together. Unfortunately, the CLA was of such poor quality that it’s become a Mercedes-Benz to avoid.
8 Overengineered: Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W124)
Much like its W124 predecessor, the W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is well-known for how overengineered it is. The W124 is one of the most solid classic cars you could buy. It’s built so well that there is a documented example of one being able to drive off after being run over by a tank!Loads of W124 E-Classes are still around today. It’s not hard to understand why, as they were so solidly built when they came out of the factory in the first place! Buying a W124 will give you miles and miles of relatively worry-free classic car ownership, and you can legitimately use one every day.
7 Underengineered: Audi Allroad
Being an all-terrain version of the A6 Avant station wagon, you’d expect the Audi Allroad to be reliable. However, the first-generation versions suffered from quite a lot of problems! The air suspension was prone to expensive failures, and it was quite difficult for mechanics to work on.The Allroad could have been a great rival to other wagon-styled crossovers. But, its rivals are definitely much better cars. Even though it has improved in quality in subsequent generations, a lot of people would still choose the Volvo V90 Cross Country over it.
6 Overengineered: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W140)
No car is known more for glorious levels of overengineering than the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This car was actually so overengineered that its development was delayed by a couple of years, and it went seriously over budget. Both of these factors caused Mercedes’ lead engineer at the time to be fired! The result of all of that though was a luxury car that was built like a tank and almost never,, ever broke down.The W140 was the last Mercedes-Benz made under the era where engineers rather than accountants decided where the money went. Many enthusiasts view it as the last ‘real’ S-Class because of that.
5 Underengineered: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W220)
Whilst the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class was hailed as a masterpiece of solid engineering, the W220 was viewed as being quite the opposite. It was one of the first victims of Mercedes letting the accountants have more of a say in the development costs. As a result, it was shockingly unreliable and poorly built compared to S-Classes of the past.As the oldest W220s were made in the late ’90s, it is now bordering on the status of being a classic. It won’t reach the same levels of classic status as its predecessor, though, due to its huge step down in quality.
4 Overengineered: Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser
The Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser is a car with a reputation like no other. The preferred mode of transport for dictators and rock stars alike, the 600 was the most expensive production car in the world in its day. As you’d expect, it was incredibly over-engineered. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of the 600’s over-engineering is how Mercedes-Benz managed to make almost everything in the car hydraulically operated!The 600 Grosser is regarded just as much as an engineering marvel as it is a sumptuous luxury cruiser. It’s now an icon of its era, and it’s one of the most desirable classic luxury cars on the market.
3 Underengineered: Trabant
The Trabant was never meant to be a masterpiece of build quality. It was supposed to be a cheap, simple car for the masses of the former East Germany. It had a noisy and smoky two-stroke engine, it wasn’t screwed together very well and the body was made of Duroplast, a reinforced plastic that’s similar to Formica and Bakelite. But, it could be repaired (and modified!) pretty easily by anyone who even remotely knew what they were doing.In the decades since the fall of communism in Germany, the Trabant has gained somewhat of a cult following. Many enthusiasts still keep their Trabbis running, whilst old body shells have ended up being re-used in creative ways.
2 Overengineered: Volkswagen Phaeton
Yes, calling the Phaeton a ‘classic’ is a bit of a stretch. The first production models rolled off the line in 2002. But, it is bordering on classic status now, and it’s arguably one of the most over-engineered cars to ever exist! Sharing a platform with the Bentley Flying Spur (including the W12 engine in top-spec models) and built in a futuristic glass factory in Dresden, Germany, the Phaeton was meant to be an engineering marvel from the outset.The Phaeton is no longer available to buy new, and used examples have depreciated like stones. That’s because a lot of people just see the VW badge on the front and don’t realize how awesome the Phaeton actually is.
1 Underengineered: Volkswagen Touareg
The Volkswagen Touareg is another car that should have been awesome. It shared a platform with the Porsche Cayenne, which saved Porsche from bankruptcy and is now regarded as one of the best SUVs you can buy. The Touareg, however, really wasn’t a good car and suffered from an almost endless amount of reliability issues.The Touareg has improved in recent years. But, it’s still not the most brilliant SUV of its type you can buy. It’s also still fairly obvious that it’s underengineered and mainly exists due to the Volkswagen Group’s relentless platform-sharing.