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Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain 4x4²
The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain 4x4²
What is it like on the road?
So you were expecting a tippy-toed prototype? Yup, me too, but the E-AT² basically feels like a production car. It’s so well-sorted, that if I didn’t know better, I’d be wondering whether Merc was planning a small production run of these things, for fans of the deliberately weird.
Yes, it’s a bit of a finagle to jump up into it - saloon cars have too-small apertures when you’re getting up into them rather than down - and it’s definitely strange to be levitating so far off the ground in what feels like a standard E-Class inside, but other than that, it’s brilliant.
The portal axles haven’t got reduction gears (you can change the gear ratios in portal axles to give incredible crawling ability), and are set as 1:1, meaning that the E-AT² performs pretty much like an E400, except taller. The nine-speed auto gearbox runs smoothly and without a hitch, the steering is light and precise, the brakes more than strong enough, and without the snatch you sometimes get with cars with over-sized wheels and tyres.
The turning circle is pretty much the same, nothing rubs or grinds, articulation is pretty good. And with the tyres and ground clearance, it’s unstoppable off-road. On this car there’s no ABS or lockable differential system, so you have to pick a line and not get cross-axled, but I tried quite hard to get it stuck, and only felt like it would if you got it on a massive lateral ridge the wrong way. Jürgen says that getting a new electronics package would sort all that - it would be relatively simple to give the E-AT² an electronic diff set (re-directing power and checking spinning wheels with ABS) with some decent programming, but it wasn’t cost appropriate on a prototype.
On road, it’s hell to place. Mainly because the extra height means you can’t really see the corners of the car, but also because it’s very wide at 2.10 metres, and that extra width is all in the arches, so you have to be extremely careful with your spatial awareness. Parking it in the local supermarket was… interesting.
The tyres howl a bit at speed, but other than that, again, the car feels spectacularly sorted: it rides, handles and stops pretty much as you’d expect. No, it’s not a sports car, but body control is good, grip is readily available and there are no wobbles or wayward dynamics - like I said, it feels like a production car. You can tell it’s built by engineers rather than dreamers, mind. Or maybe it’s actually built by a little bit of both. And it’s hoot to watch people’s reactions - street presence in spades.