Anyone who has read many of my "stubborn old man" posts knows that I like timing chains and overkill oil changing. These two go together well IF you are looking for very high engine life, rather than trading cars frequently.
In my experience, my overkill oil changes virtually prevent ANY timing chain stretch. By keeping the microscopic particulate matter out of the engine, timing chains benefit as much or more than any other internal engine component.
Before I bought my C240 when I was afoot a few months ago, I considered a Beetle/Jetta with a 1.9 diesel and a five speed. I considered this as a commuter car. Two things kept me from buying one; I don't like driving and working on a front wheel drive car, and they have timing belts. To make this car worse, it's a front wheel drive car with a timing belt, making it more difficult to change.
I believe timing belts are used to save bucks for mfg. I also believe that front wheel drive vehicles are built to save bucks for the mfg. This nice engine/trans/driveaxle unit comes down the assembly line and is plunked in with little labor. The unit itself is manuafactured cheaper than three seperate units would be as well. So, the manufacturers did a great job of convincing zillions of people that front wheel drive is superior.
Sorry to go off on the tangent, but it does add to my point. The mfg's are in business to make money and if they treat me fairly, I have no problem with that. Timing belts are a way to save money when producing the car, and generate more money into the service side of their business for their dealer network.
I realize that not all timing chain systems are trouble free, but many are.
In my life I've owned one car with a timing belt. My wife bought a Toyota 4Runner with a V6. It has a timing belt, and the recommendation is 90,000 mile replacement if engine is in severe duty. I saw a post by someone on another subject where they said that their wife driving a car constitutes severe duty. I consider that as good advice. My wife doesn't really submit a car to severe duty, but I don't want her stranded by the road, so I will proceed with a maintenance schedule as if it were severe duty.
So as you can see, I'll take front engine, rear wheel drive and a timing chain, over a combination that includes either one of these two.
'01 C Class, Six Speed
'84 Euro 240D, manual, 533K miles
'88 300E 5 Speed
'81 300D Daughter's Car
Over 800,000 miles in