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CARFAX Finds: How much Mercedes-Benz can You get?

Right now, you can go to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and lease a new CLA250 for $329 per month, every month, for the next 36 months. Here’s why you shouldn’t do that.

Yes, you could get yourself in a brand new Mercedes, but drive a CLA250, which is the baby of the Mercedes lineup, and people will suspect you got it because of that low lease deal. It doesn’t scream taste, so much as, “I wanted a Mercedes because of the badge.” It’s not a good look when you really should’ve just bought a Volkswagen Golf instead.

This is why you should take a look at the Used Car Listings and find yourself a clean Mercedes-Benz for no more than $15,000. There’s much more out there than you might think.

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Your obvious choice is a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. With the introduction of the CLA, it’s no longer the bargain basement Benz. But there are still tons of them around, and even the six-cylinder ones without the it’s-all-I-could-afford Kompressor badge on the back go for cheap.

Back in 1994, the C-Class was the “low lease payment” answer Mercedes needed to fend off the likes of Lexus in the premium market. But over time, the C moved up and became more than just an answer for customers looking to get a foot in the showroom door. Between 2003 and 2005, you could also snag the odd-but-loveable hatchback or the underappreciated wagon variants of the C-Class.

Some Cs are stingy on the equipment, but many have a similar feel of rock-solid quality as the larger sedans. Newer ones are also surprisingly enthusiastic to drive and, as it turns out, they’re a lot of car for your money. Buy one with a clean accident record and a good list of service records, and it could keep going for many years to come.

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For more space and prestige, you could move up to an E-Class. And not just any E-Class, but a V8-powered one for $15,000 or less. Barring the full-size S-Class, few cars wear the traditional three-pointed star hood ornament with so much dignity.

Even George Clooney drives an E-Class. Well, at least for the Chinese market anyway.

Sort through the listings and you can find a pristine model built between 1996 and 2002, that’s one of the best examples of Mercedes’ old-timey engineering philosophies. Take a well-cared for E430 for as little as $7,000 and you’ll be able to enjoy the solid build quality and surprising power from the engine. Better still, you’ll be able to enjoy the comfort of one of the most ergonomically sound interiors ever built, with that upright visibility you just don’t get from sedans anymore. The styling is old-fashioned, but in the best way possible.

The best part about old Mercedes cars is that they feel like they will last forever. And that’s because many of them do.

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Or you could have a two-seat convertible like the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. Seriously. You can look like an heir from the TV series “Dallas” for way less money than you think. Keep it clean, and you won’t look like a failed celebrity, either.

What’s great about the SL is that they get better with age, or more dignified anyway. The R129 – which is what Mercedes people call an SL sold between 1990 and 2001 – were once looked at as fat and complicated compared to the Pagoda-roofed examples of the ‘60s and the famed “gullwing” doored models of the ‘50s. Now, though, an SL from the ‘90s looks absolutely trim and refined compared to the models this decade.

For less than $15,000, you can find a low-mileage SL500 with a slick V8. Or pick up an earlier, six-cylinder SL320 for less than $10,000 if you’re just looking to show off. Which, let’s be honest, is what a luxury two-seat convertible is really about.

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No, none of these examples will have a new-car smell. But they’re a whole lot more Mercedes than any lease special on the new CLA-Class.

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