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What’s this, then? The new Mercedes E-Class Estate. And a mighty fine, well-engineered thing it is, too. Care to elaborate? Indeed. It’s based, predictably, on the new E-Class saloon – sharing its engines, interior, drivetrain and technologies. So in Britain we get the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder E220d – and that’s Merc’s new one, the one it spent something like £2billion developing – the V6 E350d and the E43, with its 400-odd horsepower bi-turbo V6 (which we’ve addressed in a separate review you can read by clicking these blue words). All are fitted with the nine-speed automatic gearbox. Two four-cylinder petrols and the non-AMG’d V6 – the E200, E250 and E400 – are reserved for elsewhere in the world. Boo, hiss et cetera.
Tell me about the boot. It’s big. Really big. Able to swallow a standard-size cargo pallet big. That’s 1,820 litres with the seats folded flat, or 640 litres with everything in place, with a gap of 1.1 meters between the wheel arches and a maximum payload of 745kg. Its bigness is almost unrivalled, which makes it a massively useful thing. And that’s before you get to all the little hooks, cubbies, securing-rings and the like that Mercedes has scattered about the cabin. You could lose your youngest in one of the door bins. Or you could strap them into the optional (from the end of this year) rearward facing third-row bench seat, which can accommodate kids no older than six, and no taller than 3ft 9in. Americans get this as standard. And up front? Good as ever. The twin 12.3in screens are well worth having and a breeze to operate via the standard-Merc rotary dial on the centre console. We’re not massive fans of the touch-sensitive controls on the wheel, though. Your swipes don’t always register first time, so you have to keep a proper eye on the displays. It’s technology for technology’s sake. Elsewhere, the materials are top drawer and the seats mightily comfortable – the whole thing just oozes quality and style. Proper job, Merc. You’ve not mentioned engines… The one we desperately want to recommend is the E350d, with its 254hp, 457lb ft and 51.4mpg. Carried over largely unchanged from the old E-Class (we’ll see a new straight-six from the same modular family as the four in next year’s facelifted S-Class), it’s a train of a thing, gaining speed relentlessly right the way up to its 155mph limiter (ahem, we drove it in Germany…). The noise it makes isn’t massively inspiring alongside, say, BMW’s straight-six, but that’s not a big issue because it seldom makes any at all (bit chuntery at idle, though). Much like the 191bhp 2.0-litre, in fact. Mercedes’s old 2.1-litre four-cylinder saw service in everything from the Sprinter to the S-Class, and it wasn’t half rattly. This new one, the product of billions spent on R&D that debuted in the E-Class saloon, is certainly among the best four-cylinder diesels out there. Quiet, brisk (7.7 to 62mph, 146mph – we saw an easy 130) and happy enough to rev, the 220d almost gets better and more keen the quicker you go, when the little noise it makes fades even more distantly into the background. Merc says the E-Estate is among the quietest cars in its class – this is something we have no trouble believing. Lovely as the V6 is, the 2.0-litre is such an accomplished engine that it doesn’t fundamentally cheapen the E-Class experience. The V6 is probably still the one to buy if you’re not hamstrung by a company car scheme that insists upon few CO2s and many MPGs (which the 2.0 delivers), and have the extra few thousand it will command to hand, but if you are and haven’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out. Not too much, anyway. Does it handle as well as a 5-Series? No. Merc can waffle on as much as it likes about how brilliant the new E is to drive, but the fact remains that – and this goes for the saloon too – the E-Class simply isn’t as much fun on a twisty backroad. Stick it in Sport or Sport Plus (because all diesel estates should have at least two sport modes, obviously…) and everything gets a bit more purposeful. It’s certainly agile enough, but this is a big car and its dimensions aren’t easily disguised. Brilliant at cruising though, with everything dialled back to its softest setting – and for a car like this, that’s way more important. The E350 gets air suspension as standard – the occasional thump through the chassis over sharper, more abrupt bumps does little to affect what is an otherwise pretty pillowy ride. Well worth spec’ing on the 220, too – though the 220 we drove that had it didn’t seem to ride as well as the 350. Odd. Anything else? Big news when the saloon came out was its semi-autonomous driving tech’, and as expected, all the same kit is available on the estate. Drive Pilot is the highlight – the system uses a stereo camera and radar sensors to help keep the E in its lane, follow other cars and brake/accelerate as required. I want one. Give me prices. Things kick off with the 220d SE at £37,935 – precisely £2,000 more than the saloon. Prices for the 350d will be announced in October, but with the saloon beginning at £44,930, we’d wager on close to £47,000. E350s get air suspension and the big 12.3in central screen as standard (the second screen for the instrument cluster is £495, whichever engine you go for), which is almost £3,000 worth of kit right there. Those extra cylinders don’t come cheap then, but if we had the money we so would.