The most practical full-sized Executive estate you can buy is now even better. Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved version of the tenth generation Mercedes E-Class Estate
The Mercedes E-Class Estate has always been a very classy way to carry rather a lot. These days though, it's cleverer and more efficient than ever. A focus on downsized engines will be a big draw, there's a frugal base diesel, a plug-in hybrid and fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG models add some excitement. Overall, the whole range just feels slicker and more desirable than ever. It's all very impressive, particularly as you can carry up to 1,820-litres.
It used to be that if you wanted a large, plush practical estate, you bought a big Volvo. For some years now though, that role has been only fully filled by the Mercedes E-Class Estate. Rivals trade space for a bit of style but this car continues to prioritise practicality, with 670-litres of room on offer even before you start folding seats. This tenth generation E-Class Estate of course enjoys all the advantages developed for its saloon counterpart, a car offering efficient engines, astonishing technology and luxurious comfort. This updated model gets a smarter look and quite a bit of extra technology to keep it current in the face of fresh or updated rivals introduced since the original launch. There are also cutting-edge driver assistance features that even allow owners to take a step closer to fully autonomous driving.
On the move, you quickly find that Mercedes has achieved an excellent balance between comfort, refinement and agility with this E-Class Estate. It's as happy easing through town as it is covering great highway distances - but then you'd expect that. More surprising is how at home it feels on twistier roads, particularly if you've got a model fitted with the impressive 'AIR BODY CONTROL' pneumatic suspension that can be fine-tuned with the 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes controller. More technology is provided by the optional 'DRIVE PILOT' system that when activated, allows the car to pretty much drive itself, working with the adaptive cruise control and active steering systems to keep the E-Class rolling in its chosen lane at any chosen speed up to 130mph. Electrification is the theme with this revised tenth generation model, with plug-in hybrid technology now available right across the range on the diesel engines as well as the petrol ones, plus as before, there's a choice of rear-driven or 4MATIC AWD drivetrain options. In the mainstream range, the petrol units range in output from 154bhp to 362bhp, while the diesels vary from 158bhp to 326bhp. The volume unit is the 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol powerplant that features on the base E200 variant, an engine which now features an improved 48-volt mild hybrid system now integrated into the casing of the nine-speed automatic gearbox. This lightly electrified set-up can produce up to 20bhp and 180Nm of extra torque to reduce the load on the petrol engine. Completely new to the E-Class line-up is the six cylinder petrol unit (borrowed from the CLS 450). There's also a revised version of the 3.0-litre biturbo mild hybrid six cylinder engine used in the potent Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ variant, which benefits from slightly more electrified assistance, though the total output (429bhp) is the same as before. Beyond that, there's the 4.0-litre V8 E 63 4MATIC+ models.
As facelift restyles go, this is quite a significant one. The front end features softer, re-shaped headlamps with full-LED beams and the grille's been revised too, as has the front bumper. Despite this model's sleek looks, with a capacity of 670 to 1820-litres, the E-Class Estate's load compartment is one of the biggest in the segment. As standard, the rear bench seat has new cargo-related functionality: it is possible to position the backrest at an approximately 10-degree steeper angle. This creates an additional 30 litres of cargo volume while continuing to enable full use to be made of five seats. In addition, the rear seat backrest folds down in a 40:20:40 split as standard, opening up plenty of potential configurations between transport capacity and seats. To release the backrests, there are electric switches located in the load compartment and to the right and left next to the backrests. The developers paid particular attention to practical dimensions and innovative management of the load space: for instance, the new E-Class Estate is one of the few car models that can accommodate a Europallet. With a minimum load compartment width between the wheel arches of 1100 millimetres, it was possible to retain the preceding model's very good measurement. If you want to carry extra people, there's the option of a rear-facing folding bench seat for children that makes this car into a full seven-seater. The proven combined cargo cover and net is back, offering both security from prying eyes and safety. The EASY-PACK tailgate provided as part of the standard equipment can be opened and closed very easily at the touch of a button for comfortable loading and unloading. Operation is electromechanical. We'd also want the optional EASY-PACK load-securing kit which allows the load compartment to be used in a versatile and safe manner.
Expect to allow a premium of £2,000 over the saloon model, which means pricing starting from around £41,000 for E-Class Estate ownership. Overall, that's pretty competitive against rivals like the Audi A6 Avant and the BMW 5 Series Touring. There's a choice of either standard 'SE' trim or, for around £2,800 more, various sportier 'AMG Line' packages. Across the range, the standard specification is as complete as you'd have a right to expect for the prices being asked. All models feature a centre-dash 10.25-inch display, Parktronic parking sensors with a reversing camera and a Park Pilot self-parking system. There's also leather upholstery with heated front seats, LED headlights and taillights, 64-colour selectable LED interior lighting, two-zone automatic climate control, a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel with dual touchpads, electrically folding mirrors and 17-inch wheels. The 'AMG Line' models come with AMG exterior styling including unique bumpers and side skirts, larger 19-inch alloy wheels, perforated front brake discs, a three-spoke AMG steering wheel and Artico leather and Dynamica microfiber upholstery with a seat comfort package. The E400d model comes with Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension as standard, as well as COMAND satellite navigation with 12.3-inch display and remote online services. Safety-wise, a whole range of next-generation camera systems have now been introduced, including Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with route-based speed adjustment, Active Stop-and-Go Assist, Active Steering Assist, Active Brake Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist - now also with an exit warning feature.
For a car that performs as broad a remit as the E-Class, encompassing everything from German domestic market taxi fleets to family transport, company cars and all points in between, there's a pressing requirement for the car to turn in some great efficiency measures. To that end, Mercedes has worked hard to improve running costs this time round, which are aided by the increased emphasis on electrification across the range. Let's look at the WLTP-rated figures. The efficient 2.0-litre biturbo diesel engine in the volume E220d model manages up to 53.3mpg (WLTP) on the combined cycle and up to 118g/km of CO2 (NEDC). If you go for the six cylinder E400d diesel, the saloon version of that variant manages 42.8-37.7mpg and up to 157g/km - not bad for a 4WD high performance diesel full-suzed executive model. The Plug-in versions will really help your tax return; the E300 de offers an official CO2 reading of just 41g/km. And otherwise? Well this model series is designed for the long haul. There's plenty of proof of that: Greek taxi driver Gregorios Sachinidis clocked up 2.9 million miles in his 1976 240D and though build quality took a bit of a dip with the W120 series range we had between 1995 and 2003, it's now better than ever with this tenth generation version. This car will easily out-last you, one reason why all-important residual values have traditionally been strong with diesel and lower-order petrol engines. Unless you do something silly like specify an overly bright colour scheme, you can expect to get over 60% of your initial purchase price back after three years.
Before this tenth generation E-Class Estate appeared, the Mercedes of executive station wagons was perceived as a practical but slightly over-sensible choice in this sector. These days though, it's a much smarter choice - in more ways than one. Today, it feels like a car that's pricey but which offers a compelling value proposition. It drives with genuine polish, yet is capable of stepping from cruiser to carouser without breaking a sweat. Operating the car is relatively easy and you rarely feel as if this Mercedes is imposing its will on you, unlike certain rivals we could mention. The abiding impression is that this is a very carefully considered vehicle, developed by a company steeped in a proud engineering tradition. If you want to carry properly hefty loads in a car of this kind yet want to do so with more than a modicum of style, this is one to place right up there with its premium rivals. Better by design.