Mercedes-Benz has given the classy E-Class Estate all-wheel drive and some extra ground clearance to tackle off-road excursions - and it`s good
What is it?
For country dwellers, off-road excursions can be part of the daily routine. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain is designed for exactly that purpose, with a 29mm higher ride height that`s partly down to the Air Body Control air suspension (15mm) and also with 20in wheels fitted as standard (14mm).
To complete the package, there`s also some external plastic cladding to protect the body from scratches and scrapes, as well as the 4Matic permanent four-wheel-drive system with 31/69 front-rear torque split. This is the only E-Class estate available with the combination of the 350d 3.0-litre engine and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
The E-Class All-Terrain was launched in other markets last year but the UK is now seeing this venerable V6 diesel combined with the 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox, and it comes in pretty much one standard specification. That includes the equivalent of the AMG Line Premium Plus package that includes a panoramic glass sunroof and the Comand system, with a 12.3in infotainment screen. The All-Terrain is a five-seater only (there`s no option of seven seats), albeit with an ample loading bay. It also comes with an electric folding towbar as standard and has a towing capacity of 2100kg - enough to tow another car on a braked trailer. In addition, 20in wheels are standard, although they are equipped with summer, not all-season, tyres.
At £58,880, it`s not a budget option; the car we tested ran to £60,575 with the optional driving assistance package. But Mercedes says it`s aimed at customers for whom price is not the major consideration and who may already own a high-end SUV.
What`s it like?
The E-Class All-Terrain is a striking car and there`s nothing ungainly about the external changes from the standard E-Class to spoil the handsome lines.
The inside oozes the usual Mercedes standards of luxury, too, but it`s in the driving that this versatile estate really excels. The V6 diesel engine may have been around for a while but it is simply exquisite; turbine-smooth, powerful and unobtrusive, the unit can deliver a mighty punch and is also capable of tugging a serious payload. The 9G-Tronic gearbox is swift and slick, reacting faster to more aggressive throttle inputs than smaller, gentler ones.
The steering is sharp and reacts immediately to input and, despite the 35 profile tyres, the car rides well on the sometimes rough-surfaced roads of the North Yorkshire test route. Only the roughest surfaces challenged the secondary ride with a slightly clattering response but the Air Body Control suspension comfortably soaked up the worst of the plunging undulations.
The Dynamic Select system has the usual Comfort, Eco and Sport modes but, in addition, has an All-Terrain mode. Once selected, this raises the ride height by a further 20mm to give extra ground clearance when driving at up to 19mph. Above this and it automatically lowers again to maintain stability at higher speeds, but a handy device allows you to limit the speed to 19mph (as well as any other speed you choose) to prevent the car from lowering when you don`t want it to on rough tracks.
Any reservations about the All-Terrain`s capability on wet, loose surfaces when clad with summer tyres were dispelled by a towing exercise with a horsebox loaded with a 250kg payload. The car easily hauled the heavy trailer up a steep woodland track and restarted comfortably after a deliberate stop halfway up in what was an extremely challenging test. With the horsebox jettisoned, it proved just as capable on a further section across rocky moorland tracks, although it`s on those surfaces that thicker section tyres would be of benefit.
The rear-powered hatch gives access to the same load space as the standard E-Class Estate of 640 litres or 1,820 litres with the 40/20/40 seats folded flat. A button on the base of the hatch allows deployment of the electric towbar or the same job can be done using a button in the driver`s door. Selectable views on the reversing camera displayed on the 12.3in screen include one looking from overhead, which makes lining up the tow hitch using guidelines a doddle. All these factors add up to a luxury workhorse that is fun to drive both on and off road and is completely at home in both environments.
Should I buy one?
Not everyone who needs to tow, get along a gravel track or extricate their car from a muddy field necessarily wants a traditional 4x4. Estate cars are a great alternative, in many instances providing more usable interior space than an SUV, and with the ease of manoeuvring of a normal car.
The lower loading bay makes it ideal for dogs to hop in and out of and the decent towing capacity makes it extremely versatile as a load-lugger. For that job, there are cheaper options that will be as capable, but for those who want the luxury sophistication a Mercedes offers, the E-Class All-Terrain ticks all the boxes.