I had researched the replacement for my previous 190E Mercedes for over 2 years. Having a young family I was looking for a car that was reliable, comfortable, well specced, had some pedigree and could also lug the usual large load of paraphernalia required when having a family.
I looked long and hard at a range of cars, including the E-Class Mercedes, BMW X5, Lexus ES and even considered a Jaguar XJR & Mercedes S500.
As the Lexus and Jaguar did not come in estate versions (IS Sportcross too small / don't like the X-Type Mondeo estate) it ruled them out. The X5 has a smaller load area than the 5-Series estate and higher equivalent prices, and with no need for a 4WD in London (my opinion, having lived in rural Australia) the X5 was also ruled out. The ML Mercedes didn't even make the short list due to a woeful reliability record while Audis etc aren't to my liking.
This then slimmed the list down to the two usual contenders, W210 E-Class v E39 5-Series. I test drove numerous versions of each and found the 6-cylinder versions to have the best blend of power and economy for my right foot / wallet.
As I was very, very happy with my Mercedes 190E (and the Mercedes 450SEL before it), I fully intended to buy Mercedes again. I was however seriously scared off the E-Class by its frightful reliability record. I used to take my 190E to an independent Mercedes mechanic who warned me not to buy the W210 and absolutely avoid the current W211. From woes regarding paint chipping, MAF sensors, catalytic converters, sucking water into the engine, rust, trim levels falling apart and numerous other known faults, I simply could not bring myself to buy this car. Added to that, the driving experience of the BMW totally outclassed the E-Class, in terms of both ride and handling, with the only plus on the Mercedes side being its larger load carrying capacity.
This therefore switched me from being a lifelong Mercedes owner to being a BMW fan. Although I have only had the car a short while, I can easily say that so far I find it an absolute pleasure and make excuses to go for a drive. Although it is an estate (station wagon) it handles superbly, particularly for such a large car. And this is from someone who previously owned a modified 4WD Subaru WRX.
The power that BMW generates from such a relatively small engine is nothing short of phenomenal - good off the line and in gear acceleration, comfortably cruising at the speed limit with more than enough in reserve for overtaking.
The cabin is a great place to be with body hugging leather seats, good ergonomics and a lot less fuss than some other cars I have driven. After driving both, I would recommend the extra cash spent on the sport version over the SE, due to the suspension and interior upgrades, while the exterior styling adds a bit of colour to the normal family wagon.
The load space, while not class-leading has more than enough room to pack in both a double and single stroller plus numerous day bags and accessories for family life, while the split folding rear window and lie flat seats are also useful.
I will continue to update this posting with comments on reliability etc over the life of the car, although fingers (and manufacturers warranty) crossed it should be a good experience. I can see now why so many critics named this car one of the best ever built.