REVIEW DATE: 25 Sep 2006
The most prestigious estate in the world is these days even better. Jonathan Crouch reports
The world's finest estate car is a Mercedes-Benz. There's never been any debate about that. The E-class estate has always been the biggest, plushest and most prestigious station wagon you can buy - and at first glance, it appears that little has changed with the latest model.
Just because you have a car that's big, plush and prestigious, however, it doesn't mean you also have a strong seller. There are still people who perceive rivals from Audi, Saab and BMW as being faster, better looking or more technologically advanced. These potential buyers (wrongly as it turns out) imagine the largest 'E' to have something of a frumpy image that's fine for well-heeled families and antiques dealers but a little ponderous for almost anyone else.
Hence the considerable care given to the recent update of the current generation version, priced from £29,950. It has the looks, the speed (514bhp anyone?) and enough high-tech gadgetry to fill a whole series of Tomorrow's World. Take the optional 'Intelligent Light System' which increases visibility by up to 50 metres. Then there's the PRE-SAFE system which primes the seatbelt and airbag if it thinks the car is about to be involved in a collision. And the NECK-PRO head restraints which move forward within milliseconds of a rear shunt, protecting the driver and front passenger from whiplash injuries. We could go on but you get the idea.
"Looks, speed and enough high-tech gadgetry to fill a whole series of Tomorrow's World."
And what about that alleged stodgy feel? Well, handling and steering have been improved and the adaptive braking system has been borrowed from the S-Class. This hydraulic dual-circuit braking system provides better safety and comfort features. And engine response? Well it's better across the board. The entry-level E220CDI diesel engine that many E-class Estate customers buy is now substantially more powerful, offering 170bhp - which should make you question the need for stumping up over £3,500 more for the 190bhp E280 CDI variant.
The petrol units are also enhanced, the E200 Kompressor now good for a healthy 184bhp. At the other end of the range, there's a 5.5-litre eight-cylinder unit with 26 per cent more go than the old V8. This latest E500 model will accelerate to 60mph in 5 seconds flat, 0.7 seconds quicker than the old E500. As well as the engines already mentioned, E-class Estate buyers can opt for the superb 224bhp E320 CDI and the 272bhp petrol-powered E350.
You don't buy a large estate car to go road burning however - unless you represent the E63 AMG model's target market. So traditional estate car buyers will be pleased to hear that this is still the largest station wagon you can buy - bar none. Not that size is the be-all and the end-all: if it was, you wouldn't be buying this car anyway but rather a Renault Grand Espace or a Chrysler Grand Voyager. But at the same time resigning yourself to forever being mistaken as the executive mini-bus service at the airport. E-class Estate customers like the idea of having up to 1910 litres of luggage space but, truth be told, they're probably more interested in what Mercedes grandly call "technological exclusivity at the highest level".
So what exactly is that? Well what about this car's more sophisticated take on the kind of self-levelling air suspension that manufacturers like Citroen have offered for years? The hydro pneumatic self-levelling suspension used here is a system based on fully supporting air reservoirs which keep the vehicle at the same level, regardless of load. If you want to go further, there's the option (that word again) of AIRMATIC DC air suspension: this constantly adapts the force of the shock absorbers and the spring rate to suit the current driving situation.
There are also plenty of clever touches too. Like 90 extra litres of underfloor storage compartment space that ups the total carrying capacity with all seats in place to 650 litres. The payload is a useful 575kg. Your dealer will want you to pay extra for the optional 'EASY-PACK' retractable load compartment floor - an idea 'borrowed' from BMW's 5 Series Touring. Here, the base of the estate compartment can be moved 400mm towards you at the push of a button, allowing easier reach of items at the back of the boot or creating an optional picnic bench from which you can view Georgina's Polo pony.
With most of the mainstream models, there are three familiar (and expensive) upgrade trim packages - Elegance, Avantgarde and Sport - but even basic Classic variants include executive sector basics like climate control, alloy wheels, wood trim, side and curtain airbags and a decent CD stereo.
All in all, Mercedes-Benz has set its load-lugging customers quite a dilemma in recent times. If you want a lifestyle estate, you buy a C-class. If you want to go anywhere with your baggage, you buy a 4-wheel drive M-class. If you want sheer versatility, you opt for the Viano people carrier. And if you want sheer size and style, the E-class Estate is the car you buy. All of these models however, will share the one thing that hasn't changed with Mercedes-Benz over the years; enviably low depreciation. An E-class Estate will never be a cheap car but nor will it punish you financially for its manifold talents either. If you're considering the merits of rival manufacturers, that could be decisive.
The results below show the top E CLASS deals on buyacar
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI SE 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £28,514||Save £5,406|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI AMG Sport 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £30,902||Save £5,633|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI SE 5dr Tip Auto diesel estate|
|Price £30,277||Save £5,568|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E250 CDI AMG Sport 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £33,220||Save £5,865|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E250 CDI AMG Sport 5dr Tip Auto diesel estate|
|Price £34,862||Save £6,028|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT E CLASS DEALS|
|For E-CLASS ESTATE RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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