In the world of premium estate cars one model has attracted a considerable following. For all the interest in big SUVs capable of swallowing your family and the kitchen sink, the executive estate has proven to be a load-lugger with class, sophistication and greater subtlety.
And if you’re talking subtle, Mercedes’ E-Class is a world champion. With an enviable record of delivering Volvo-beating levels of carrying capacity without breaking into a sweat, the big Merc has a long and illustrious history.
Boasting a complete redesign that shares much with its saloon cousin, this latest E-Class estate’s new nose with more angular lights and chiseled appearance, plus a more clearly defined profile, has been devised to compliment the bolder appearance of the flagship S-Class and more affordable C-Class.
The changes work well, with the car’s tailgate extending seamlessly from the rear pillar to form a streamlined structure – not some box that’s been casually tacked on with little thought. Looking back over the car’s long history, there’s always been a concerted effort to integrate the E-Class’s load function with the rest of the car. In simple terms, the word you’re looking for is ‘elegant’.
It’s also true of the car’s cabin, which is the same premium environment you’ll find in the saloon. Unsurprisingly for a car of this size, space is not at a premium for occupants, while the driving position and overall ergonomics feel just right in the way that only Mercedes knows how to do.
Factor in the option of moveable partitions for the boot floor, the ability to remotely collapse the rear headrests when folding the seats plus the option of a third row of rear facing seats for small children (they fold into the boot floor) and the E-Class estate is the people carrier and load lugger for buyers who don’t want a conventional MPV and don’t need a bulky SUV.
Fortunately the handling compromises usually associated with these cars are absent in the E-Class estate. It drives like a regular E-Class, which means it’s biased slightly more towards comfort than some sporting rivals. And far from being a handicap, this is one attribute you’ll learn to love after a long motorway slog or the daily grind of the stop-start commute.
The car’s fluid nature compliments the mature cabin design, while the availability of a suite of electronic safety aids – lane keep assist, tailgate warning, intelligent headlights and the usual stability controls – aren’t intrusive but welcome additions.
You’d think that after such a glowing appraisal there’s got to be a catch somewhere. It might be a fine car but, say, the prospect of running a low powered, frugal variant might have you regretting signing the cheque. Not so, as the car’s range of BlueEfficiency-branded diesels offer levels of refinement, performance and economy that will have rethinking your attitudes towards affordable premium motoring
And what was the kiss of death combination for such cars – manual gearbox, modest specification – is now nothing of the sort. Mercedes has identified considerable interest from fleet customers, and its four-cylinder diesel models make up a considerable proportion of sales. Do you think it is taboo to order an E-Class with a clutch pedal? Not anymore, thanks largely to a slick-shifting manual transmission for the four-pot 220 CDI.
It’s got plenty of grunt, too, which makes light work of lugging loads, towing or prolonged sessions of motorway cruising. The 220 CDI is all you’ll ever need. It’s clean, quiet, frugal and willing, yet boasts enough in reserve for when the car is fully loaded. And in Avantgarde specification the car strikes a good balance between affordability and luxury. The car’s plush, spacious cabin is sensibly equipped with all of motoring life’s essentials plus a comprehensive level of safety kit.
More powerful and performance-orientated Mercedes models might steal the limelight but cars like the E 220 CDI estate successfully deliver a different type of performance.
For buyers who haven’t succumbed to the hype surrounding bold, brash SUVs or the unfortunate compromise that can be a full-size people carrier, this E-Class drives like a proper car, is trimmed like an executive saloon and will swallow bulky items whole without any fuss. In the real world it’s the real multi activity vehicle for grown-ups.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes-Benz E 220 CDI BlueEfficiency Avantgarde Estate, from £35,910 on the road.
Engine: 2.1-litre diesel unit developing 170bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 135mph, 0-62mph 8.8 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 152g/km.
By Iain Dooley