Bear with me here. A big hulking E-class Estate – weighing the thick end of 1.7 tonnes – might not seem best suited to a humble sub-2.0-litre four-pot petrol. But that's exactly what we have here. The entry-level E-class Estate is the E200 CGI, and our BlueEfficiency model in SE trim is the only E-class wagon to nudge under £30,000.
Your £29,785 snags a 1.8-litre four-cylinder. Hardly in keeping with the de rigueur
diesels in the executive class, whose promise of wafty torque keeps all those kilos at bay. An astonishing 94% of E-class Estates sold last year were diesel powered, and many of the petrols sold were respectably large on cubic centimetres. In short, can our 1.8 cut it? Why would anyone want an E200 CGI in the first place?
It's all about downsizing, stupid. The 1.8 four-pot has a compressor to liberate a wholesome 182bhp and 199lb ft of torque, spread thickly like a slather of jam all the way from 1800rpm to 4600rpm. That's over 100bhp per litre. In a goody-two-shoes Merc estate!
The E200 CGI promises 35.8mpg and 183g/km of CO2, so high-mileage company car drivers will still be better served by a diesel. The cleanest E-class Estates produce just 150g/km and sup a gallon of diesel every 50 miles on the combined cycle. The acid test: is the cheapest E-class Estate fast enough?
Deep breath... yes it is. I was really surprised by the punch on offer – for such a big car, the E-class with a tiny engine performs well. It's more than adequate, without ever leaving you feeling it's anything other than the base engine. We'd probably recommend going for one of the diesels if we had carte blanche, but if you're on a budget and need an E-class wagon for less than £30k, there's plenty going for the E200 CGI.
There's even a petrolly rasp when you rev it (we'd rather forgotten such a thing exists on executive cars) and our optional, £1490 five-speed slusher did a decent job of smoothing away the gearchanges with none of the hunting that can afflict somelesser-torqued big cars. What do you get for your money?
This is the cheapest E-class Estate out there and comes with the following kit: cruise control, 16in alloys (hallelujah – a really comfy ride!), hill holder, alarm, drowsiness detector, two-zone climate control, powered tailgate, ESP, four electric windows, heated seats, parking sensors, Isofix child-seat fittings, rear air suspension, auto wipers and remote locking.
At last, the days of stingy bottom-rung Mercs have passed – our car was pretty boggo and didn't feel stripped-out at all. Merc's Artico artificial leather even feels quite smart to the touch. Just watch out for the extras. Metallic paint costs a chunky £620 while our mid-range nav system was a £1175 option. Verdict
The Mercedes E-class is a brilliant estate. The 695-litre boot is massive, and extends to a cavernous 1950 litres with the seats flopped down. It's one of the best exec estates out there, although we've yet to drive the new 5-series Touring. There's not huge competition with no offerings from Lexus and Jaguar, but the E-class would get our nod over the ageing Volvo V70 and Audi A6.
That you can now buy one for less than £30k is a boon – and the E200 CGI Estate is no poor relation. Merc prices are steep (an equivalent A6 Avant starts at £27,845, the arthritic Saab 9-5 at £21,200), but this is a fine way of softening the blow.