There is a refreshingly unpretentious nature to the Mercedes E-class estate. Even the name is, and always has been, simple with no marketing-driven nomenclature designed to make it seem more sporting or lifestyle oriented. And rightly so, because the E-class estate doesn’t need to be justified.
Mercedes has sold more than one million since its earliest predecessor, the S123, was introduced in 1978. It has since earned a classless status that makes it both desirable and understated. All of which leaves a lot for this new E-class estate to live up to.
It’s fair to predict that it will benefit from the same return to Mercedes’ original brand essence that has proved such a success in the saloon. After all, they are essentially the same car. With the exception of the E200 CDI engine, which doesn’t make it into the estate, they share the same powerplants as well as the same basic architecture.
But with significant differences in suspension set-up, body and ownership costs, can the E-class estate match, or even better, the ability and appeal of the saloon?
Mercedes has used the styling of the new E-class to emphasise safety and practicality, as well as to carry through the new design language.
The estate’s high waistline is intended to give an impression of added security to passengers, while horizontal lines around the rear of the car are said to enhance the sense of solidity. These are visible in the bold rear light clusters and the straight, chrome-trimmed boot handle that links them.
It’s also clear from a glance at the rear that practicality was first on the list of priorities. The tailgate is broad and almost vertical, and when opened it reveals a conveniently squared-off aperture that narrows only marginally towards the roofline and exposes a load bay floor that’s just 572mm from the road. Yet despite the emphasis on usability over style, all our testers agreed that the latest E-class estate has a cohesion to its design that the slightly awkward saloon fails to achieve.
The suspension of all E-class estate models, with the exception of the entirely air-sprung E500, consists of MacPherson struts with steel springs at the front and a multi-link rear end with self-levelling air springs. Mercedes has stiffened the dampers and torsion bar stabilisers to counteract the heavier body weight of the estate over the saloon.
We’re testing the 228bhp V6 turbodiesel E350 CDI Avantgarde model, which comes as standard with a ride height lowered by 15mm over the entry-level SE car and a seven-speed automatic gearbox that offers a choice of Sport or Comfort modes. This is one of the biggest incentives to opt for the six-cylinder engine over the four-cylinder units, which are available with only a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed auto.
There is nothing obviously outstanding about the performance of our E350 CDI estate, but it is still a capable car. With a turbocharged 2987cc V6 diesel motor producing 228bhp at 3800rpm and 398lb ft of torque from 1600-2400rpm, it is no surprise that this is a rapid estate car in which we managed an average 0-60mph time of 6.9sec.
More relevant is the fact that this is a car which will cover huge distances effortlessly and has an accessible well of performance. Over our varied test route, which takes in town, motorway, B-road and test track, there was never a moment when it felt as if the E-class may have just misjudged a gearchange or used up its main reserve of power.
The V6 turbodiesel is flexible and free-revving, and the seven-speed auto to which it is mated enhances that ability by offering a wide range of ratios and blurring its changes to the point of being almost unnoticeable. As with the saloon, the estate suffers from a slight hesitancy to respond to throttle input when pulling away from a standstill, leaving a moment when you expect drive and don’t get any. With familiarity, this encourages a leisurely driving style rather than causing frustration, but a quicker, smoother response from standstill would be a welcome upgrade.
This six-cylinder engine has been revised for the new E-class, but it is an older engine than the all-new four-cylinder diesels now in the line-up. The changes have endowed the V6 turbodiesel with improved economy and emissions, but it still falls short of the power/economy combination on offer in the BMW 530d.
We managed 36mpg on our touring run, which is an adequate, if not exceptional figure. But in practice the E350 CDI estate offers a near-ideal combination of performance and practicality.
Not only is the E-class estate heavier than the saloon, but it also has a higher centre of gravity and must cope with carrying larger loads. To ensure that the estate maintains similarly responsive handling characteristics, Mercedes has stiffened the anti-roll bars and the dampers. Under normal driving conditions the two-stage hydromechanically self-adjusting dampers remain on their softer setting to allow a relaxed ride, but in hard cornering or braking they react by switching instantly to their firmer setting to reduce body movements. It’s not an entirely natural feeling, but quite effective.
Our E350 CDI Avantgarde test car came with optional £775 18-inch alloys (17-inch wheels are standard), as well as the 15mm lowered suspension that comes as standard on this trim level, so it is no surprise that i.
That’s not to say the E-class estate is uncomfortable. Neither has it lost the restful ability to waft down the road in a manner typical of a Mercedes.
But there is a firm, springy quality over severe disturbances in the road surface at urban speeds and occasionally a touch of wobble from the rear air springs, too. Otherwise the ride quality is suitably cosseting and is particularly well judged at higher speeds.
The suspension alterations have also been successful in that the E-class estate handles with the same fluid manoeuvrability and reassuring stability that puts the saloon at the top of its class.
The fully hydraulic, speed-sensitive steering is identical to that in the saloon and as such offers the same smooth, linear action and precise responses. It is occasionally too light on turn-in, but this is noticeable only when straying far outside the E-class estate’s required ability on track.
Braking performance was good in our tests, stopping in under 49 metres from 70mph on slightly damp asphalt and resisting fade well under hard use.
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