F1 tech in a big, seven-seat Swedish SUV? You'd better believe it...
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£58,025 when new
Not quite SUV, not quite estate? Yep, we’ve seen this before in cars like the Audi Allroad variants, Volvo Cross Countrys, Skoda Scouts and VW Alltracks, and the recipe is the same here: a decent wagon lightly jacked up, slightly butched and with all-wheel drive. A kind of halfway house for those who don’t want/need an SUV, but might need a bit more off-roadability and general versatility. These are not rock crawlers or endowed with savage-but-unused off-road nous - but they can cope with muddy farm tracks and towing a horsebox out of a field without much trouble. Sensible all-rounders, in other words. So what is it? An E-Class Estate, essentially, with all the load-carrying capacity and general excellence that entails. Except in this case it’s got some plastic wheelarches and body cladding to define it, bigger wheels and an extra setting for the Air Body Control air springs. It sits 29mm higher than the normal E - bigger tyres accounting for 14mm, the remaining 15mm due to the higher-riding suspension.
You get extra clearance of another 20mm up to 19mph by selecting the ‘All-Terrain’ driving programme from the standard Dynamic Select controller. Similarly, it’ll sit down a bit on normal roads, and you can firm it up if you feel the need to go a bit faster - the Dynamic Select has five driving programmes that change transmission strategies for the nine-speed ‘9G-Tronic’ ‘box, throttle, ESP and steering feel. Personally, I think this one is extremely well-judged. It doesn’t scream ‘off-road’, and the cladding and extra bits are nicely integrated - I wouldn’t really want to give that front ‘guard’ too much abuse, but generally it’s just a handsome E-Class. The interior is identical. And, to be boring, an E-Class wagon is a useful bit of kit in the first place. They’re big, and with the 40:20:40 split on the rear seats (which you can operate from the boot - handy), they have a very decent payload for the odd time you need it. No, it won’t have people Instagramming a sighting, but it’s handsome. Is the handling a bit… floppy? Not really. It’s not quite as precise as the standard E, but that’s to be expected, and even then it’s marginal. It manages much better than any over-sprung, high C-of-G SUV ever could, and generally behaves itself pretty much anywhere. Comfortable cruising, a quiet enough engine and an alert gearbox all make it a very relaxing place to be. I was slightly disappointed by the ride on some roads, but my feeling was that 90 per cent of the intermittent jiggle was down to the 20-inch wheels - a quick drop down a wheel size or two and some slightly larger (taller sidewall) tyres and you’d kill the vibrations. The optional winter wheels would probably do it, and I’d probably drop a set of ‘proper’ winter or all-season tyres on it anyway, to make the best use of the AWD.
Off-road, it just potters along without fuss. The 4Matic all-wheel drive shuffles torque around between the axles without shunting, and it’s only by a little wheel scrabble that you can even tell it’s working. And yes, I took it up a wet grass hill, and it was absolutely fine, even on the 20s. In fact, the only difference between this and a full-house SUV in off-road terms is really down to ground clearance and approach/departure angles. With a bit of careful driving, you’ll get wherever you need to go. No petrols? Or a smaller diesel? In the UK, we’ll only be getting this spec and this engine - M-B UK reckoning that it’ll be the one that sells - so that means big V6 turbodiesel and lots of toys. It’s certainly quick enough (just over six to 62mph is plenty), but it’s more the nice, thumpy diesel that suits it. It’s available with other engines globally, but yes, I have to say that this is probably the pick of the bunch. I tried an E250d E-AT in Germany this year while driving the outrageous, portal-hubbed one-off version, and it felt slightly weak in comparison. If I’m towing, I like a little in reserve. And yep, Merc expects you to tow, an electrically-stowable ball (stowaball?) is standard, and the air suspension makes things extremely easy - it won’t be lowriding its back end with a load on. It’s even got those lovely towball cameras that allow you to perfectly position the car when backing up to a trailer. If you’ve ever had to hook up a big-ish rig on your own, you’ll know they’re a boon. It’s not got the best towing capacity on the market at 2,100kg braked, but it’ll handle most civilian stuff, and do so with ease. So you have to have the £60k one? Yep. That’s all that’s on offer at the moment in the UK. Though it does mean that you get plenty of buttons to push. It includes several of the optional packages as standard, so you get Keyless Go and Comfort, memory package, a panoramic glass ‘roof, Burmester premium stereo with DAB, and that strange-but-brilliant multi-beam LED headlight system that occludes bits of the beam when driving so that you don’t dazzle. And then there’s just the E-Class stuff: 12.3-inch displays, cameras, a plethora of airbags, adaptive brake lights, electric everything, park pilot etc. This car had a Driving Assist package (which includes things like Drive Pilot and blind-spot assistants) which is £1,695, and that Citrine Brown metallic paint for an extra £685, but everything else is standard. The only thing that annoyed me is that you can’t apparently have the seven-seat option available in the regular E-Class Estate. So what’s your verdict? If you can swallow the this-or-nothing £60k pricetag, this is the E-Class estate to have. It’s got an extra dimension to its abilities without sacrificing anything else (apart from the 7-seat option). Handsome, useful and modern. A winner. 9/10