THOUGH two decades late to the Subaru Outback-style crossover party, Mercedes-Benz has tried to tick all the boxes in turning the practical but dull E-Class wagon into a hip and happening luxury SUV alternative, with industry-leading safety thrown in.
WHAT IS IT
Basically a jumped-up wagon version of the impressive Mercedes-Benz W213 E-Class sedan, the E-Class All-Terrain melds space, refinement, safety, and dynamics to a high-riding crossover with some off-road capability. Aimed at the firmly established Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo’s Cross Country set, the E220d All-Terrain coming in mid-2017 will initially stand as the sole E-Class wagon.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The Mercedes E220d All-Terrain combines two of the company’s more impressive technologies – its new all-aluminium 2.0-litre four-pot turbo-diesel and brilliant air-suspension system – in something we’ve never seen before from Daimler; an Audi A6 Allroad rival. At around $110,000, we wonder whether it is enough to resuscitate the once popular E-Class wagon market that has succumbed to the SUV onslaught.
Audi A6 Allroad, Volvo V90 Cross Country
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Expectations surrounding any E-Class are high. Given that, we weren’t sure what to make of the high-riding All-Terrain; surely a heavier wagon with a higher centre of gravity would detract from the sedan’s excellent dynamics and superb refinement? We shouldn’t have worried. The combination of one of the world’s best diesel engines and air suspension makes the newcomer a supernaturally quiet, refined, relaxing and economical grand tourer – and fun.
PLUS: Refinement; comfort; safety; design; quality; steering; handling; AWD security
MINUS: E220d could use more poke; silly auto shifter; no petrol option for Oz
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IS THIS the end for Benz’s large luxury wagon in Australia? Thanks to posh SUVs riding roughshod, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate as we have known it over the last 37 years and five iterations looks dead.
Well, not quite. Come May, Stuttgart is having one last go with the S213 series-based E220d All-Terrain – the brand’s first foray into premium crossover territory, taking on the long-established Audi A6 Allroad and upcoming Volvo V90 Cross Country.
It’s an important symbolic move. The All-Terrain has 29mm more ground clearance than the regular E-Class estate, and looks more rugged with its twin-louvered grille, beefier bumpers, bigger air intakes, black wheelarch surrounds, and chunkier 19-inch alloys. In other words, every crossover styling cliche introduced with the pioneering mid-’90s era Subaru Outback.
But the All-Terrain is more than just a jacked-up marketing exercise. Yes, the MRA Modular Rear-drive Architecture and wheelbase are the same as the 10th-gen E-Class sedan’s. But with 4Matic all-wheel drive, a wider front and rear track to accommodate the larger wheel and tyre package, and a trick air-suspension system that varies ride height according to four selectable driving modes, there’s been some serious re-engineering. Adaptive dampers, vital to the All-Terrain, are also part of the package.
The wagon DNA provides a practical and roomy platform for the All-Terrain that no SUV can match – such as a long, flat cargo floor aided by a handy upright-angle setting for the seatbacks that help to maximise available space (670 litres, rising to 1820L with the 40:20:40 second row folded).
Inside, the passenger compartment is pure, opulent, and cocooning E-Class. Four adults can splay out in style. The driving position is perfection, with a vast rectangular screen ahead that is as informative as it is elegant. Lush materials, gorgeous metallic switchgear, lavishly crafted vents and comfortable and supportive seats set this cabin apart as Mercedes’ finest in years.
More importantly, the whole suite of Benz’s advanced active-assistance and semi-autonomous driving technology is available to the All-Terrain, thrusting it to the apex of real-world safety systems.
Yet annoyances exist, such as a column shifter that is too easily knocked out of drive; an awkward twist-action wiper stalk, glitchy satellite navigation software, and a confusing multimedia controller. But these are minor irritations in an otherwise majorly impressive crossover.
Mercedes’ energetic 143kW/400Nm 2.0-litre all-aluminium four-pot turbo-diesel will be the only engine offered. Mated to a nine-speed auto, the engine might be the quietest, revviest, and most un-clattery diesel yet. Power delivery is velvety and intelligent, and gear ratios shuffle imperceptibly. However, while mid-range response is strong enough, off-the-line performance is a tad languid, betraying the two tonnes the Benz must drag around. At least the fuel economy is fabulous.
Dynamically, too, the All-Terrain creams SUVs. It has beautifully tactile steering that’s both quick and free from kickback, providing taut and controlled handling without the inertia or understeer that most crossovers suffer, and astounding high-speed grip. The E220d patrolled Austria’s alpine roads like a snow panther.
But the piece de resistance is the serene ride extolling a suppleness no modern Mercedes this side of an S-Class can match; just a loping, relaxing cushiness to drink in. We trust such comfort will translate from Austrian to Australian roads. First class travel, in other words.
Bet you didn’t see that coming. The E220d All-Terrain transcends the E-Class’s modish couture to rise above most of its stablemates, let alone mere premium SUVs. There’s fight left yet in the large luxury wagon.
Model: Mercedes-Benz E220d All-Terrain 4Matic
Engine: 1950cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo-diesel
Max power: 143kW @ 3800rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Fuel economy: 5.3L/100km
Price: Approximately $110,000
On sale: May 2017