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Comparing our two jacked-up soft-roader estate cars

Published: 26 October 2018

► CAR lives with an E350d All-Terrain
► A plush off-roader that isn't an SUV
► This month: meeting a cheaper rival

Month 4 living with a Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain: comparing with a Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer

Of the many CAR Bens, I am the best upholstered but Ben Whitworth is easily the most premium with his dapper refinement and sharp creases. Yet somehow I’ve ended up with the more premium of our two jacked-up estates. 

Functionally these cars are almost identical: both are just shy of five metres in length, but Ben’s Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is 39mm longer and provides a little more legroom at the expense of boot space, with 1665 litres to the 1820 litres of my Mercedes E350d All-Terrain. Yet despite their near-identical dimensions and intent, the Mercedes costs more than twice as much in standard trim, at £58,880 to the Vauxhall’s £28,435. 

The Vauxhall narrows the price and kit gap with a lightly-used Corsa’s worth of options at £7250; the Mercedes adds ‘only’ £2380 as almost everything is standard. But the E-Class is still asking pretty much twice the price for essentially the same package. So why on earth would any sane person choose it over the Insignia?

Browse Mercedes-Benz E-Classes for sale

The name is easily the least premium thing about Ben’s car: ‘Country Tourer’ sounds like it should be adorning the beige plastic sides of a four-berth caravan. It’s a good-looking car, though. The torpedo styling makes a virtue of its length, while the cabin borrows cues from supercars (the faux passenger grab handle) and is far more exuberant in form than my E-Class. 

Both the Country Tourer and the All-Terrain suffer the same plastic wheelarch cladding which clumsily announces almost all such raised-ride-height wagons, but just looks to me like the unpainted, cheap-to-replace bumpers on a van. I’m told the red was chosen by the designers for press cars to make these hideous addenda stand out. I’d go for a grey to disguise them.

I like the Insignia’s chassis. It gets Flexride adaptive damping and the clever GKN Twinster AWD system which vectors torque across the rear axle with pair of electronically-controlled clutches. Together they give it a crisper turn-in than the autobahn-orientated Mercedes, while the smaller, 18-inch rims give better secondary refinement over coarse surfaces. 

But ask more of the Vauxhall and it starts to struggle; once the suspension components begin to move you can feel them doing so through a bodyshell which is palpably less solid than the Merc’s. Overall the Mercedes is the far more soothing companion: the Insignia cannot approach the E-Class’s world-beating long-haul chops.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

The Merc’s killer advantage lies in its software rather than its hardware. Swapping cars made me realise how much my perception of my own car is influenced by its information, assistance and entertainment systems, which are a class above the Vauxhall’s in both their individual competence and their seamless, near-sentient interaction. 

In airline terms, the Insignia is premium economy, but the E-Class really is the business. The competitive finance deals which have doubled Merc’s UK sales in the last five years may well soften that list price hammer blow. If I could stretch to one, I would.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Mercedes-Benz E350d 4MATIC All-Terrain Edition

Price £58,880
As tested £61,260
Engine 2987cc 24v turbodiesel V6, 254bhp @ 3400rpm, 457lb ft @ 1600rpm
Transmission 9-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance 6.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 179g/km CO2
Miles this month 1432
Total 9222
Our mpg 35.5
Official mpg 41.5
Fuel this month £253.07
Extra costs None


Month 3 of our Mercedes E-class All-Terrain long-term test: motorway miles

Travelling fairly calmly and in a mostly straight line might not seem the most demanding of tasks, but some cars manage it far better than others. It’s an overlooked and underrated talent, given how much of our driving is on multi-lane roads. My Merc’s motorway mileage has been racking up rapidly of late, with trips to Northern Ireland, northern France, Wales and the Isle of Man, some of which you’ll read more about in coming issues.

It’s hard to think of a better car for the job. Under the All-Terrain cladding this is still an E-Class, and the defining purpose of the E-Class has always been to demolish big autobahn journeys. Sure, an S-Class may be quieter and more spacious inside, but these are by-products of its main purpose, which is to be luxurious, which brings penalties of weight, size and cost. I’m not saying that the E-Class is light, small or cheap, but it’s perfectly optimised for its main purpose: rapid inter-city transport. 

Merc E-class All-Terrain grille and badge

The All-Terrain comes on air springs as standard, which helps with steady-state ride comfort and noise, and my car’s optional Driving Assistance Plus package allows the car to self-steer and execute lane changes autonomously, subtly reducing the strain of a long trip. Seat comfort is superb too – this from a man with a spring in his spine. In Eco mode, which decouples the transmission to let the car glide down hills, the E350d will return something close to its claimed combined consumption of 41.5mpg, and I get around 450 miles between fills.

This isn’t just about being pampered. Any new car will carry you along a motorway. But if you do these trips regularly, the E-Class will deliver you in a better state and able to do more. An example: I cycled a lap of the Isle of Man before putting the car on the Steam Packet ferry for the two and a half hour crossing to Liverpool. After the ride, I was dreading my five-hour drive south and planned a hotel stop halfway. Instead, I was feeling so fresh in the E that when a friend rang and asked if I wanted to join a night out in Brighton, I agreed, diverted, and stayed up until 6am. Not, perhaps, why German executives have long loved the E-Class, but a good illustration of its ability to do a simple thing well.

By Ben Oliver


Month 2 living with a Mercedes E-class All-Terrain: Driving Assistance Plus pack = driverless car?

A couple of long motorway trips have let me test the E’s Driving Assistance Plus pack, which for £1695 makes it about as autonomous as a car can be today. The self-steering element reduces the strain on long trips, and I’d trust it to take control long enough for me to open a drink, wipe a kid’s nose or gesticulate furiously at terrible human drivers.

Mercedes E-class All-Terrain badge

But the automated lane-change function feels like a gimmick. The labour saved by not having to turn the wheel is outweighed by my triple-checking of the car’s risk assessment.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook Mercedes-Benz E350d All-Terrain
 

Price £58,880  
As tested £61,260  
Engine 2987cc 24v turbodiesel V6, 254bhp @ 3400rpm, 457lb ft @ 1600rpm  
Transmission 9-speed auto, all-wheel drive  
Performance 6.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 179g/km CO2  
Miles this month 906
Total 4180  
Our mpg 34.1  
Official mpg 41.5mpg
Fuel this monthF£140.48  
Extra costs None


Month 1 of our Mercedes-Benz E-class All-Terrain long-term test review: the introduction

These long-term tests require us to swap cars every few months, which is fine until you have one which you'd happily keep for the rest of your life. My outgoing Volvo V90 was one such car. A premium diesel estate has long been on my list of cars I'd buy and drive forever if I gave up this job – although the diesel element of that plan may soon need to change.

Ben Oliver and CAR magazine's Mercedes-Benz E-class All-Terrain

I was left wondering what to replace the Volvo with, knowing that my next car would probably fit into my life slightly less well. Yes, I know, poor me. Brilliantly, I hit on the plan of replacing it with... another premium diesel estate car. But this time, with a twist.

As part of its plan to occupy every market niche, Mercedes-Benz has produced this All-Terrain version of the E-Class estate. Volvo got there first 21 years ago with the Cross Country variants of its big estates. The first Audi Allroad arrived a couple of years later, but BMW has left the jacked-up estate market alone, for now.

Volvo reports that over its long lifetime the Cross Country has accounted for around a quarter of V70 or V90 sales. That percentage is far higher among private buyers, given the large numbers of standard models which go to fleets. This E-Class All-Terrain's spec suggests that Mercedes is aiming it at the same relatively cost-insensitive, discretionary private purchasers. The 350d V6 diesel is the only engine offered, the kit list is impressive, but at £59k the list price is high to match.

E350d All-Terrain side pan

The All-Terrain gets the Premium Plus package from the standard E-Class estate, which brings keyless go, a panoramic sunroof, memory seats, intelligent LED lights and a Burmeister sound system with its beautiful filigree speakers. Underneath, there's a nine-speed transmission and Merc's 4Matic system, giving a 31/69 torque split in normal driving. Air springs and 20-inch rims together give a 29mm boost in ride height, and an off-road mode in the Dynamic Select system puffs it up another 20mm. My car is currently on 19s wearing Pirelli Sotto Zero winters. It hardly looks under-tyred, but the standard wheels will go back on soon.

First impressions? In Selenite Grey with hazelnut leather, I like the way it looks, but I'd like it more if Mercedes had resisted the predictable design shorthand for 'this is our jacked-up estate' and not compromised the standard E estate's lovely lozenge lines with black plastic wheelarches and a slightly tacky grille and rear venturi treatment. Proper SUVs do without plastic wheelarches: I'm not sure why less capable vehicles need to look more butch.
Inside, the E's cabin still provokes a little 'ooh', even after the V90's fine effort. If you order an All-Terrain now, yours will feel even fancier, with a stitched leather dash top-roll in place of the plastic on mine.

E-Class All-Terrain interior

I appreciate that this is atypical, but I live at the end of a three-quarter-mile unmade, muddy, heavily potholed track. I use off-road mode at least twice every day. And when I reach the asphalt, a long, sweet and often empty stretch of B-road, I switch everything to Sport Plus, and even on winter tyres and with its extra ride height the All-Terrain does a very close impression of a standard fast estate. It's satisfying to feel that you're using the entire span of your car's ability, and not paying in money and weight and bulk and emissions for off-road capability you'll never use. I'm missing that Volvo a little less already.

Logbook: Mercedes E350d 4Matic All-Terrain

Engine 2984cc 24v turbodiesel V6, 254bhp @ 3400rpm, 457lb ft @ 1600rpm   
Transmission 9-speed automatic, all-wheel drive   
Stats 6.2sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 179g/km CO2  
Price £58,880
As tested £61,260  
Miles this month 759
Total 3274
Our mpg 34.3
Official mpg 41.5
Fuel this month £131.07
Extra costs  £0

Check out our Mercedes reviews here

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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