Stuttgart’s big estate has long been the best car of its kind. Rest assured that it remains so
I’ve always been a huge fan of Mercedes-Benz’s most practical load lugger. While others seem to regard ‘estate’ as a word so dirty it dare not speak its name, coining all sorts of meaningless titles like ‘Avant’, ‘Touring’ and ‘Sportbrake’ to avoid it, Merc has always embraced the estate in both name and concept. An E-class estate is not a fashion statement, it is an E-class with a massive box on the back to carry all your stuff. And it’s always been all the better for that.
This new one is no different. While its carrying capacity is slightly reduced over the model it replaces – the most capacious carrier is now the excellent Skoda Superb estate – it’s still usefully larger than equivalent versions of the BMW 5-series and Audi A6, as well as the all-new Volvo V90. What’s more, if you measure its boot with the seats up rather than folded, it’s still bigger than anything else out there, Skoda included.
And the estate treatment suits the E-class’s stately character. As a saloon you might well feel a BMW is more engaging to steer, but priorities change with estate cars, for what these cars are like to drive is as nothing to what they are like to live with every day. Here the new E-class estate stands alone. It is not just more spacious than anything else in its class, but more comfortable too. It also has the best interior. Even the hard flat seats of old, which were brilliantly supportive but never very comfortable, have been replaced by chairs that are softer and more welcoming.
Like all new E-classes, the most popular estate will have Mercedes’ new two-litre diesel under the bonnet and, while less refined than Audi’s equivalent class-leading powerplant, it has an extraordinarily wide envelope of ability. No, it won’t do the claimed 61.4mpg, but it will return a genuine 52mpg in normal driving yet is strong enough to gun the car to 62mph in 7.7sec and onto a top speed of 147mph. For a small diesel in an enormous car, these figures are profoundly impressive.
But what I like most is simply that it’s such a fine place to pass the time. Perceived quality is streets ahead of rivals and Mercedes has integrated the most modern of dashboard displays in a way that still seems traditional, in keeping with the car’s character.
Even at its death, the old E-class estate was always the best car of its kind, and the new one takes this position and consolidates it. There’s a brand new BMW 5-series around the corner and an Audi A6 not far behind and it will be interesting to see how seriously they take the estate versions; whether they’ll remain happy simply to make effectively large hatchback versions of their saloon cars, or whether they’ll turn them into proper estates. Until then, the E-class’s reign as the world’s best estate continues on its untroubled way.