We’ve been getting to know the new E-class saloon for a few months and now Mercedes has launched the fifth-generation estate to match. Guess what? It’s springing no surprises. The engine range reflects everything the saloon offers, while the class-leading loadspace was designed with ease of use in mind and is supported by self-levelling air suspension and an electric tailgate for every model. The outgoing best-seller was the 220 CDI, which took 39% of sales, so it’s the new version of that we’re testing here.
Tell me about that back end first
Okay. From the outside, the new tail does the E-class a huge favour. It looks more elegant and stylish than the rather stuffy saloon, and (obviously) answers the saloon’s problem of restricted boot access. Plip the keyfob (or pluck the switch by the driver’s door pocket) and the tailgate motors out of the way, neatly taking the loadspace cover with it. Dropping the rear seats is an easy task, thanks to a choice of levers positioned in the apertures of tailgate and both rear doors: pull one each side and the seatbacks spring forward and drop over the bases, landing (just about) flat. No need to remove the head restraints either, so long as the front seats aren’t set for seven-footers.
The result? A class-leading cargo bay of 1950 litres, which easily trounces premium competition from Audi, BMW and even Volvo and Saab. It’s a good 200 litres bigger than our favourite supermarket-brand estate, Ford’s Mondeo. And it’s square, free from intrusion, 2m long and with no awkward lip to fling your luggage over. In short, probably the best-designed boot around.
Any secrets behind that?
During the launch, E-class project manager Martin Lorenz let it slip that he’d been stalking shoppers at Ikea, sitting in the car park watching families (and particularly women) struggle to load their cars while looking after their kids. His observations were fed back to make the E-class estate as painless as possible in such situations. Before the police were called.
What’s it like from the driver’s seat?
Until you look in the rear-view mirror, you’re not going to notice any difference from the saloon. It weighs 100kg more, which adds 0.2sec to the 0-62mph sprint time, and lops 5mph off the top speed, but you’re unlikely to feel that difference. The 2143cc turbodiesel copes as manfully as ever, rarely troubling you with noise and never feeling underpowered, yet never inspiring you with music or spirit. It’s a stoic lugger and an easy cruiser, so perfectly at home in this application.
Mercedes is keen to extend the traditional 2% take-up of manual transmissions, but all the test cars were automatic. The manual comes with a hill-hold device to ease step-off with the foot-operated parking brake, while the auto is the familiar five-speeder. Drive gently and it’s an amiable companion. But the twisting roads around the foothills of the Taunus revealed a tendency to hunt and a reluctance to kick down, even in sport mode. Combine that with a habit of running a bit wide in tight corners and you soon realise that the Merc is more interested in touring and family duties than in entertaining the driver. Less demanding roads are more fun, where you’ll enjoy accurate if over-light steering, and good balance through bends – if you’re in the right gear. Using the selector’s side-to-side ‘tip’ function sorts that.
Is it as comfortable as a good Merc should be?
Like the saloon, the estate reminds of Mercs of old. It’s granite-like and simply yet immaculately finished, and that kind of quality without ostentation really suits the estate’s practical character. The seats are firm and broad, the cabin is quiet without feeling artificially silenced and the ride reveals the same gently loose-limbed thuddishness as the saloon: not graceful but rarely uncomfortable and always mechanically quiet.
There’s plenty of space all round and rear seat comfort is good too. Heated front seats are standard even on base SE models, as is climate control and an electronic parking aid. So yes, you will be comfortable in here, if not always sensorilly thrilled or amazed.
Mercedes hasn’t finalised pricing for the estate yet but talks about a £2k premium over the saloon: not bad for the extra acreage, electric door and air suspension, not to mention the sexier styling. Pretty soon, upmarket neighbourhoods are going to be heaving with them, and quite rightly so. Drive one of these and it’s difficult to see the point of the saloon because the estate is so much more useful yet hardly different to drive.
Some will prefer to stretch to the 250 for its added low-rev thump (at the cost of more under-bonnet chatter), but if you’re after old-fashioned six-cylinder refinement you’ll have to stretch all the way to an E350 in the high 30s. It’s a brave new world of high-power, high-torque four-bangers in the luxury-car realm. But think of the E-class instead as a family car of immense quality and usefulness and the lowlier diesel appeals all the more – and keeps the price closer to £30k. Still a lot of money, yes, but simply the price of an especially well-honed tool.