Mercedes-Benz finally offers a faux off-road E-Class estate to take on all those ski-racked and mountain-bike carrying Audi allroad quattros out there. Thanks to higher ground clearance, the automotive equivalent of a waterproof jacket and hiking boots with its pseudo-SUV styling, this is an E-Class you don't have to stop at the car park in.
In the metal
The new All-Terrain model is clearly an E-Class Estate wearing some plastic body cladding for toughness and a suspension that's raised by 29mm via an actual lift and increased wheel and tyre sizes. It works, too, as the All-Terrain revisions bring some chunky outdoorsy looks to the E-Class Estate's smooth shape, and finally give Mercedes-Benz buyers something with a touch of off-road ability without having to buy an SUV proper. What's surprising is how long it's taken Mercedes-Benz to take on Audi's A6 allroad quattro, given how relatively easy it is to produce such a car. Along with the raised air suspension there are some changes to the ESP, traction and 4Matic control systems, allowing the E-Class All-Terrain to continue romp off into the wilderness where its regular E-Class relations would have to stop in the car park. Ultimately, you'll need a real SUV if you get very adventurous, but the E-Class All-Terrain will get you surprisingly far before its estate car basis starts causing you problems in the mire.
Save for the slight increase in ride height you'll not notice any difference inside other than the extra button for raising the suspension and the All-Terrain mode within the Drive Select controller. So you're surrounded by what looks like an iMax cinema screen, which has all the instruments and information you want, with a configurable set-up. It all works well, though you have to keep reminding yourself that none of it is touchscreen, as it is all operated (simply enough) by the Comand controller between the front seats and buttons on the steering wheel. Space inside is good and the boot is sizeable, if not quite as class-leadingly commodious as we've come to expect from an E-Class wagon. The fit and finish are befitting of its premium status, though.
You might expect the E-Class All-Terrain to drive much like its conventional E-Class relations, and you'd be largely correct. Powered here by the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, it's yet to be homologated so official figures relating to its performance and efficiency have yet to be released by Mercedes-Benz. We know it produces 258hp and 620Nm bringing plentiful, effortless performance, driving through a slick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. There's four-wheel drive, obviously, and the drive is directed to the axles that can best use it at any particular moment. Drive Select offers the chance to optimise that for off-road use via the All-Terrain mode. On the road it's best left in Comfort.
There's a bit of a trade off in sharpness for the All-Terrain's ability, as the steering is a little slower to turn in and there is more noticeable body movement from that higher suspension, but it's worth all that. The resultant increase in comfort is welcome, bringing serenity to the ride and drive that's better than the already impressive E-Class. The engine is smooth until you push it into the upper range of its revs, but you'll never want to, and that nine-speed automatic is so adept at juggling its ratios that there's rarely a time you'll ever feel the need to take over.
In some markets there's a 2.0-litre E 220 d All-Terrain offering, though it has not been confirmed for right-hand drive countries as yet. A quick drive in it suggests that same comfort remains, even if you need to work the engine a little bit more to maintain progress. Off-road, the E-Class All-Terrain is surprisingly adept, getting you further than you'd think was possible, making it a convincing alternative to a conventional SUV as long as your 4x4 needs aren't too extreme.
What you get for your money
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain will not be on sale in Ireland until summer 2017, so, no word on pricing on the line-up as yet. Expect it to be fully loaded, but with a price point to match. For reference, the E-Class Estate starts at €55,700. We will update this test drive once we have the details.
Few will, but it's nice to know it can: go off-road in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain, that is. In reality it's a lifestyle statement for those wanting some SUV utility but not prepared to go the whole way. The anticipated compromises, price expectation aside, don't materialise; indeed, the raised suspension elevates this to the most comfortable E-Class you can buy. That alone is worth having it for.