Mercedes has been making large executive estates since the W123T of 1977 and pretty much four decades later here's our first test drive of the all-new E-Class Estate, which is better looking than its predecessor and yet also much more practical. It retains a trick up its sleeve to tempt would-be MPV and SUV buyers away, too.
In the Metal:
While the shape of the E-Class saloon is more attractive to our eyes, the new Mercedes E-Class Estate is considerably better looking than its predecessor, thanks to a more raked rear window and clever body sculpting. It looks particularly attractive in AMG Line specification. Thankfully, Mercedes managed to enhance the design of its big estate without sacrificing practicality. Indeed, the boot is even larger than before, carrying 640 litres of luggage with all five seats occupied.
It has a few tricks up its sleeve too. The electromechanical opening tailgate is standard, for a start, and as it opens you'll notice the luggage cover cleverly retracts automatically. There's a huge underfloor storage area and apparently loads of up to 1.1 metres wide can be accommodated between the rear arches. The rear seats split and fold 40:20:40 as standard and they are neatly released electrically using switches in the boot or in the rear cabin - creating a long and completely flat load space that Mercedes measures as 1,820 litres. There's a less impressive 'cargo' position for the rear seat backs where you manually set them more upright to free up more boot space while still having the ability to carry passengers. The seat backs are too vertical for comfort in that position, though it may be possible to still fit child seats when they're like that.
Speaking of kids, the outer two rear seats feature enhanced ISOFIX mounting points, called i-Size, and Mercedes even has its own new car seat, developed in conjunction with Britax. And the E-Class Estate has a USP in that it can be optionally fitted with extra seats in the boot. These are rear-facing and suitable for children up to 1.15 metres tall (about six years old) and they can be folded away when not in use. No other car in the class has this feature and it makes the E-Class as useful as many seven-seat SUVs.
Nothing new to report here really. We spent most of our time in the entry-level E 220 d Estate, and all test cars featured optional air suspension all-round so it's not really representative of most examples that'll be sold in Ireland. It felt largely the same as the saloon to drive, despite a 100kg weight gain. All versions of the E-Class Estate will come with self-levelling air suspension on the back axle. Our test cars also appeared to feature double glazing for the glass in the doors, and the refinement was exceptional, with very low wind roar and road noise, even at an indicated 200km/h on the German autobahn.
And while the new 2.0-litre diesel engine never thumps you in the back with its acceleration, it can easily achieve and maintain such speeds, without making a racket. It's a very smooth operator, which is complemented by the excellent nine-speed automatic transmission. The rest of the main controls are well-weighted for comfortable, long-distance driving, which is where the E-Class excels.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of writing, we don't have Irish pricing or specifications for the new Mercedes E-Class Estate, but we can take an educated guess based on the cost of the previous wagon that the E 220 d version will start somewhere around €55,000. Mercedes actually managed to bring down the entry-level price of the E-Class saloon thanks in part to less VRT due to lower emissions, and that may happen here as well given the impressive Band A3 rating. As with the saloon, we expect Mercedes Ireland to be generous with the specification, which is what we've based our four-star rating on here.
Audi A6 Avant: better infotainment system and more engine options, but not quite as large as the E-Class inside.
BMW 5 Series Touring: the keen driver's choice, though the Mercedes runs it closer than ever and is much more refined.
Volvo V90: the most interesting car of this bunch in our opinions with a lovely interior and good refinement.
We've banged the 'Irish people don't buy estates' drum long and hard and while we don't expect the arrival of this new Mercedes E-Class Estate to change the country's love affair with the SUV, it is the only car of its kind to offer extra seating, which means it really is a good alternative. That aside, it's the most capacious estate in the class and also one of the most refined. Another thoroughly well-polished product from Mercedes.