The amount of awards the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has received since its launch in 2009 is nothing short of staggering.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate Review & Road Test
A stately estate
Words: Karl Peskett Pics: www.ozcarsightings.com
It's getting rather tedious. We know it's a good car; after all, we've driven it in various guises a few times now. But never before have we driven a seven seat Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Yes, you read that right.
You see, this is the E-Class Estate, and on first glance you wouldn't think it possible to have seven seats, but somehow Merc has managed to fit them in. But that's not what makes this car special - it's the silence.
Most of the time, a station wagon tends to be louder inside than its sedan counterpart due to the back end acting like a big sound box transmitting reverberations from road noise straight into the cabin. A sedan suffers less as its boot is separated from the rest of the interior. But the sound-deadening in the E-Class Estate is nothing short of brilliant.
Not to mention it has one of the smoothest drivetrains for the price. The 3.5-litre V6 matches outputs with the Toyota Aurion for power (200kW), however in practise, there's no comparing the two. The extra torque (350Nm) of the Mercedes-Benz motor helps, but it's more than that; it's how quiet and smooth it is, while still being free-spinning and responding instantly. It even sounds decent at higher revs.
It's very linear in its response, while 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds in nothing to sneeze at, either.
Pair that with the silken seven-speed automatic which blends gear changes into one seamless experience. It's almost CVT-like, and even at full throttle, changes are only just felt. There are paddles on the steering wheel, but you'd never need them when you can just choose between Comfort and Sports via a button on the centre console. It sharpens up the auto’s response, especially to kickdown when Sports is selected, or relaxes things in Comfort. It would be nice to see the button on the driver's side, though.
At idle, the engine is virtually silent and there is no vibration at all. If you want a creamy drivetrain, this is it. Fuel economy is pretty good for a large car, with the combined cycle coming in at 9.9-litres/100km, although it does require 95RON.
It’s one of the best looking station wagons on sale today, too. With its glasshouse bordered in chrome, its angular headlights, and creases all sculpted towards the front lip, it has a very dynamic and dramatic style. The rear wheel arches are highlighted with a subtle arc that turns and runs parallel to the main swage line, drawing your eye to the rump.
It never looks like the back end was tacked on, with Merc’s designers having carefully considered the proportions of the E-Class when styling the Estate. It flows harmoniously, and even the tail-lights, which in isolation are rather huge, don’t look out of place. The side indicators on the mirrors also cue the tail-light design with its “flattened boomerang” style, a signature Mercedes-Benz trait.
Inside, modern, squared off lines complement the exterior. A floating needle on the large speedometer looks the part, while its centre is the display screen for all menu options and warning messages. Vehicle drive settings can be accessed through the steering wheel mounted buttons, while interior preferences are changed through Mercedes-Benz’s Comand system – a rotary and directional knob which scrolls through menus.
The main screen is nice and clear, although the colour choice is a little naff. Voice activation is also standard.
As far as safety goes, the E-Class Estate is well equipped. There’s a blind spot warning system with both audible and visual signals (LED triangles mounted in the wing mirrors) as well as a lane-change warning, which vibrates the steering wheel three times quickly if it detects an unwarranted drift across a lane. There's also a hill hold function as well as brake disc wiping when it's wet, meaning the brakes are ready to go at any time.
Plus you get a five star ANCAP crash rating, nine airbags, seatbelt tensioners (called PRE-SAFE) which you can feel taking up slack just after you have clicked them in, and a spare wheel, unlike some competitors who only offer run-flat tyres.
Our test car was equipped with the $6200 vision pack, which gives you a crystal clear Harman/Kardon Logic 7 sound system, a sunroof and keyless start-stop. The tailgate is also electrically activated for opening and closing.
Seat comfort is excellent, made all the more so by the fitment of Merc’s Luxury Front Seats, which give complete adjustment in every direction, including pneumatic bolster adjustment and squab length, as well as heating and cooling.
Even rear seat passengers get plenty of legroom and miles of headroom, although the centre rear seat is very firm – certainly the E-Class is bigger than a BMW 5 Series in the back. A warm glow is cast on the door trims at night by strip lighting, giving a more luxurious feel. Fit and finish inside is fantastic (as you should expect for $140K), with nice materials all round.
The third row is quite disappointing, though. The two rearmost seats are standard, but they’re almost unusable. There’s no way an adult can fit, which means that it’s only for children. The problem comes when you have to decide which children will fit.
My four-year-old fit perfectly into the seat, with enough legroom and headroom – but legally, he can’t use them as he needs to go into an approved booster seat with inbuilt harness. Of course, you can’t fit a booster seat to the third row, as there are no top tether mounting points.
So after age seven, they can use the rear seat. But a seven year old is almost getting too big to fit into the seats comfortably due to the low-slung roof-line, and if they’re a bit taller than usual, they are definitely too big. The seatmounted cupholders are equally useless, as they’re not deep enough to prevent spillage. Thankfully, the seats fold flat into the floor and don’t encroach on luggage space due to their clever split design.
As it’s not an SUV, the boot lip is low and easy to load prams, suitcases or whatever you need without breaking your back, while space is quite good. On the practical side, if the front seats are too far back when someone goes to fold the rear seats flat, it will automatically tilt the front seats forward so the rear headrests don't clobber the back of the seats. Neat touch.
When the seats are folded forward, there's a huge 1950 litres of capacity with an almost completely flat floor, while with the seats in place, it's a very respectable 695 litres.
The Mercedes-Benz E 350 Estate also drives very nicely. While the rear receives adaptive damping and self-levelling suspension,the front utilises a coil-sprung setup, and in tandem the car gives a beautiful ride. It catches the quick jolts quite well but couples it with firmness at speed and softness when cruising. Even on 18-inch wheels, the car never feels too jittery, it just seems to waft along.
It turns in fairly well, and although you'd never call it sporty, you don't feel too disconnected from the road, either. The steering offers nice weight, but a bit more feel would be nice; it tends to be a little muted. Still, it's in keeping with the whole car - a smooth, fluid, relaxing drive.
As a seven seat wagon, it's not the greatest, however taken as a five seater, it's excellent. We suspect most owners won't be using the third row anyway - they won't be missing much. But as family transport with a luxury edge, a refined, high quality vehicle - then the E-Class Estate has plenty of appeal, if you've got the budget.
It's brilliantly built, roomy, smooth, and comfortable. It's also supremely safe, reasonably economical, easy to see out of and easy to park. Soccer mums might love their SUVs, but with its quiet cabin and well judged ride, this family wagon will put the kids to sleep a heck of a lot quicker.
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