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, and the latest version also combines that with luxury comfort and desirability.
Interested in buying a Mercedes-Benz E Class?
How good does it look?
The E-Class has always been the master of the understatement when it comes to 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. 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, 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. The AMG models look even more purposeful, with beefier bumpers and bespoke badging. The All-Terrain model, meanwhile, gets a 4x4-style makeover, with a raised ride height, a chunkier grille, chunkier bumper inserts and scuff plates front and rear.
What's the interior like?
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. 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 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.
How practical is it?
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 640 litres of whatever you like with the rear seats in place, up to 1,820 litres with them folded down, and they drop at the touch of a button (no levers or heavy lifting required) and split in a flexible 40:20:40 layout. The seat backs sit flush when folded, too, and there’s no loading lip to negotiate. Simply put, you can squeeze more inside the E-Class than any rival save for the Skoda Superb Estate.
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. What’s more, 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.
Passengers in the front have a huge amount of space to stretch out in, 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 – it’s fine, but it’s not class-leading – and the only other complaint is that the hard, narrow middle seat is rather uncomfortable for anything except short trips.
What's it like to drive?
Most of the cars we’ve tried so far have been fitted with air suspension. This is standard on the more expensive AMG and All-Terrain models, but on the more humble models that the vast majority of people will actually buy, it’s a very expensive optional extra. That said, if you want your E-Class to be as polished as it can be on the road, then the air suspension is well worth the extra cash. It delivers a ride that’s wonderfully smooth and cosseting, yet it keeps things tightly controlled in the bends, making the car feel stable, assured and responsive.
The All-Terrain’s air suspension has a jacked-up ride height to make it even more cushy and comfortable, while the AMGs are lowered to make them pointer and edgier. On all counts, the tinkerings are very effective. The All-Terrain's extra space under the car means it'll cope with some light off-roading, but think more dirt tracks and fields than full-on rock-scrambling. Calling it "All-Terrain" is probably over-selling it a bit. "Some-Terrain", perhaps.
Stick with the E-Class' standard steel suspension, and things aren’t quite so cultured as with the air version. The body moves around more in bends and you feel more of the surface beneath you. That said, it’s still a very capable car, delivering a good mix of comfort and agility, and you certainly won’t feel short-changed if you go for this car rather than its equivalent from Audi or BMW. Some versions, including the AMGs, are also available with four-wheel drive for enhanced on-road traction.
How powerful is it?
The E-Class is available with three diesel engines. We’ve yet to try the entry-level 200d, which has a 2.0-litre unit with 150 horsepower, but we have tried the most popular engine, the 220d, which has a 194 horsepower version of the same engine. To be honest, it’s all most buyers will ever need. There’s loads of pull delivered from low down in the rev range, meaning that your progress is always easy, and a fair turn of pace is available when you need it. Importantly, the new engine also stays impressively quiet and smooth most of the time, an area in which Merc’s four-cylinder diesels have really struggled in recent years. 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 kicks down to the right gear at the first time of asking. It could react a fraction faster, but that’s really splitting hairs.
The 350d has a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 258 horsepower, and it feels even more muscular, and is even quieter and smoother, too. It’s lovely if you can afford it, but be aware that it costs quite a lot more than the 220d.
All the petrols are powerful AMG offerings. The E43 has a 3.0-litre V6 with 401 horsepower, and while it’s undoubtedly very fast, the slightly reticent power delivery means it doesn’t feel as frenetic as you might expect. No such problem with the E63, which has a snarling 4.0-litre V8 that delivers a staggering 571 horsepower. It delivers properly explosive pace and an incredible noise, while the 612 horsepower version in the E63 S is even more bonkers.
How much will it cost me?
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 figure of the 220d, making it very affordable in benefit-in-kind tax. The V6 diesel is less kind to your wallet, returning fewer miles per gallon, emitting more CO2, and – due to its significant increase in spec – costing a lot more to buy. Naturally, the AMG models will be extremely expensive at the pumps, but you wouldn’t be buying one if you were worried about that. 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.
How reliable is it?
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. The 2017 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Survey is more encouraging, with Mercedes returning a score above the industry average, but only just.
Still, of some consolation are the owner reviews on our website, which report very few horror stories. The E-Class comes with a 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.
How safe is it?
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.
How much equipment do I get?
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 to drive. Practicality is second to none, too, and with the ability to carry seven, it’s worth trying, even if you’re after a Land Rover Discovery Sport or Kia Sorento.