Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate (2016 - ) review
The E-Class Estate has always been first choice if you want the biggest boot in the class. We test the new one to see if it’s still number one for practicality, and see if it can match the impressive performance of the saloon version.
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The E-Class has always been the master of the understatement when it comes to its looks. After all, if you wanted a family car to help you stand out, you would probably get yourself an SUV, not an estate. The E-Class may not have the striking styling of rivals such as the Volvo V90, but it’s certainly smartly finished. As with the saloon, the design is curvaceous, with lots of smooth surfaces and long proportions. The entry-level SE is the most unassuming visually, but you could hardly call it a ‘base’ model, as it comes with 17-inch alloys (18s if you pick the V6 diesel model, the 350d), electrically folding door mirrors, and a set of chrome roof rails. You also get full LED headlights – usually a pricey option on its rivals – and a sporty two bar grille. It’s certainly an inoffensive design, and a lot sleeker than the boxy previous generations of E-Class wagon, but if you want something people will take a second look at then the AMG Line model is the way to go. The wheels swell to 19-inches across, and you get a much sportier, purposeful look at the front, with wider air-intakes, and a body kit and lowered suspension for a lower stance.
Interior quality has been a key feature of recent models from Mercedes, and the E-Class is one of the most advanced and luxurious yet. All the cabin materials on show look and feel expensive, and have the build quality to match. Our only slight bugbear is with the occasional creak you get from the wing-like panel that runs across the dashboard. Ergonomically, the interior is standard Mercedes fare: there is lots of adjustment to the wheel and seat, and it’s fairly easy to get comfortable. There are some quirks to how some of the switches work, and an infotainment system that’s reasonably easy to work out, if not as instantly intuitive as equivalent systems from Audi and BMW. That’s provided you use the wheel controller on the centre console, mind you. You can also control the system via a couple of touchpads on the steering wheel that respond to the horizontal and vertical swiping movements of your thumbs. It’s pretty unique, but it’s not the most precise way of doing things, and can be distracting on the move. Still, it feels incredibly hi-tech. As standard you have an 8.4-inch screen, but choose the optional COMAND online system and this bumps up to 12.3-inches and can be combined with another screen that replaces the traditional dials. Pay for these extras and you’ll feel more like you’re driving a spacecraft than a humble estate.
Whoever said you need a big SUV for your practical family car never set eyes on the E-Class Estate. Despite relatively sleek proportions, the boot is cavernous. It can carry up to 1,820 litres of absolutely whatever you like, and also comes with every possible feature to ensure that fully loaded trips are totally hassle free. All cars come with a powered tailgate and self-levelling rear suspension, to keep the car steady when you have anything particularly heavy in the back. The load bay is over a square meter with the rear seats in place; they drop at the touch of a button (no levers or heavy lifting required) and split in a flexible 40:20:40 layout. There is no lip to negotiate when pushing bulky items into the boot, and the seat backs sit flush when folded. There is also a hidden storage well under the boot floor, and the option to add a third row of occasional, rear facing seats for handling school run emergencies. You can squeeze more inside the E-Class than any of its rivals. Passengers in the front have a huge amount of space to stretch out in, there are pockets and cubbies aplenty, and even with the optional panoramic roof fitted, head-room in the back is generous. Leg-room is a little tighter than you might expect – fine if not class-leading – and the only other complaint is that the hard, narrow middle seat is useless for anything except short trips. Still, few, if any cars offer this much practicality as standard.
Ride and handling
Old Mercedes models were famed for their plush ride. While the E-Class Estate might not deliver quite the same pillowy suppleness over speed bumps and scruffy town roads at low speed, it’s a cossetting motorway crusier par excellence. Standard SE models come with self-levelling air springs at the back and a more conventional set of steel springs and dampers at the front. AMG versions use the same hardware but have a lowered, firmer setup that trades a little ride comfort for better body control. Neither version is especially sharp or exciting in corners. The standard car rolls and leans in tight bends, and the steering (while direct) is not as accurate or involving as rivals such as the BMW 5 Series Touring. You can also choose to upgrade either model with air-suspension all round, which comes as standard on the E350d. This setup gives you a greater range of abilities, with a softer town ride and tighter body control when you work your way up through the sportier driving modes, but it’s also seriously expensive, and the gains in dynamic ability are marginal. On the motorway, where the E-Class is likely to spend most of its time, is predictably where it shines. It soaks up long crests and bumps without unsettling the passengers, and is really mechanically refined.
For now at least, the E-Class is available with two diesel engines. We’ve tried both the E350d with its 255bhp 3.0-litre V6, and the bestseller, the E220d. The latter has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that develops 192bhp. With this generous power output and a large slice of torque delivered across the rev range, your progress is always easy, and a fair turn of pace is available when you need it for overtaking or towing. Importantly, the new engine also stays impressively quiet and smooth most of the time, making it a lot more refined than the four-cylinder diesel in the C-Class Estate. Even when you work it really hard, it doesn’t get unreasonably loud or strained. The engine also works really well with the nine-speed automatic gearbox you get as standard. The smoothness of the shifts really contributes to the car’s easy-going nature, and when you put your foot down, it always finds the right cog to kick down to at the first time of asking. It could react a fraction faster when you are really pressing on, but it’s a small complaint and not one that will bother the vast majority of buyers. If your budget can stretch to the V6 diesel then you’ll be getting a car that feels even smoother and makes long journeys effortless. It’s not as efficient, but private buyers should consider it. On the petrol side of things, performance enthusiasts currently have one option, although the C 43 AMG is not quite the full-blown snarling V8 experience that most AMG models offer. Instead, it uses a twin-turbo V6 paired with four-wheel drive, so it’s fast and very grippy in slippery conditions, taking on the Audi S6 Avant. It’s not much faster than the V6 diesel in real world terms, but sounds better and does have sharper throttle response. However, running costs of every description are several orders higher than either of the diesel models, as is the asking price.
The E-Class Estate is more expensive to buy than its rivals from Audi, BMW and Volvo, and like for like it’ll also cost you more per month on a finance deal. It does however justify this high asking price with a generously high level of standard equipment, and a standard automatic gearbox, which is an option on all its competitors. Company car buyers will be attracted to the impressively low CO2 emissions of the 220d, a figure of 109g/km making it very affordable in Benefit-in-kind tax. The V6 diesel is less kind to your wallet, returning less miles per gallon, emitting more CO2, and – due to its significant increase in spec – costing a lot more to buy. Servicing will also cost a little more from a main dealer than it would from this car’s traditional German rivals, but it should also hold its value very well too.
This is something of a grey area for the latest E-Class, because the car is too new for there to be any meaningful reliability data available. Look at the scores for the previous version on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and the car gives a decent account of itself. However, Mercedes’ lowly overall position in the manufacturer standings might be of concern to some people, as any repairs or replacements will be expensive. Still, of some consolation are the owner reviews on our website, which report very few horror stories. The E-Class also comes with a relatively generous three-year/unlimited mileage warranty. Service intervals are quite infrequent, though, depending on your annual mileage, with the car only due for attention every two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes up first.
The E-Class saloon scored a full five stars in crash tests by Euro NCAP, but with the colossal amount of safety kit you get as standard, that's no surprise. It includes seven airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, autonomous city braking, an active pop-up bonnet, self-drying brakes, a self-parking function, and a system that detects driver fatigue and tells you to take a break every once in a while. That really is impressive. The E-Class’ real party piece, though, comes in the form of an optional system called Drive Pilot, which allows the E-Class to pretty much drive itself for large portions of time. It reads road signs to determine the prevailing speed limit, and sets the radar cruise control accordingly. It then follows the car in front, taking care of all your acceleration and braking, and even helps you out with the steering. It’s pretty effective on the motorway, but can mean you start getting lazy and paying less attention to the road, so we’d advise using it with caution.
The E-Class Estate comes in three trims, but even in the SE version, you’ll be wanting for very little in the way of luxury kit. Included in the list of standard equipment are climate and cruise controls, keyless entry and go, heated front seats with part-electric adjustment, leather upholstery, four electric windows, ambient cabin lighting and an infotainment system that brings together Bluetooth, DAB radio, sat-nav and a reversing camera. Stepping up to AMG Line trim isn’t really worth the cash in our opinion; it earns you a raft of aesthetic upgrades inside and out, plus more adjustment for your front seats, but that’s about it. The options list – as with any premium purchase – is extensive, but key highlights worth considering include the full-suite COMAND online infotainment system, or the Premium and Premium Plus packs, which add in electrically-adjustable front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, and (with the Plus) an excellent 13-speaker sound system and adaptive LED headlights with a cornering function.
Basically, if you want the Swiss army knife of family estates, the E-Class should be near the very top of your list. It’s comfortable on the motorway, refined, efficient with the right engine, and good, if not brilliant to drive. Practicality is second to none however, and with the ability to carry seven, it’s worth trying, even if you’re after a Land Rover Discovery Sport or Kia Sorento. And it drives better than both.