Car Test   R0331
  See also R0307 
April 2003
First Drive Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: Estate
Like practised partygoers, estate cars usually arrive fashionably late. In making an entrance ten months after the arrival of the latest E-Class saloon, this new, fourth-generation estate version is no exception.
  
   In most directions the newcomer is slightly larger than the model it replaces – as is the load space, despite its more rakish profile. From the centre pillars forward, however, the estate is no different from the saloon. This means that it shares in the full range of six engines, from the 1.8-litre supercharged unit to the fire-breathing V8 E55 AMG – all 476bhp of it!
  
   The torque-rich, turbo-diesel 2.7 CDI we drove impressed us not only by its eager performance, but also its creamy-smooth nature and the prospect of mid-40s fuel consumption – a tempting combination. It’s not quite as hushed when accelerating as we had expected, however, and the automatic shifts aren’t always imperceptible.
  
   Roll-resistant ride comfort is provided by the conventional E-Class coil-spring suspension, but opt for the Airmatic semi-active set-up (standard on V8 models) and you’re assured of even better absorbency, as well as a self-levelling function that proves of greatest value on this estate. The ‘brake-by-wire’ system also deserves a special mention, particularly for its clever ‘Hold’ (on hills) and ‘Stop’ (automatic braking in traffic) features.
  
   Further innovation is evident in the estate’s load area, accessed via an (optional) electronically operated tailgate, complete with an automatic load cover blind. The tailgate can be stopped anywhere in the last third of its travel, to suit shorter people or to avoid it contacting a low, up-and-over garage door, for example.
  
   However, the big feature at this business end is Easy-Pack – a system that encompasses a series of optional features including a weatherproof storage box behind the back seats, a fabric belt and telescopic tubes to keep loads secure, and a second (segmented) load compartment under the boot floor. You can also opt for an electrically operated load floor that extends 15cm out over the rear bumper for easier loading or an impromptu picnic. Gizmos apart, it’s a spacious, luxuriously trimmed and even-sided load area, with an even-longer, flat deck when the 60/40 divided back seats are folded forwards. Flipping the front passenger's seatback down allows extra-long loads to be carried.
  
   Driver comfort is guaranteed by plenty of seat adjustments, which are all-electric on top models and include auto-inflating side bolsters when cornering, cool-air seat ventilation and even a lumbar region massage. The functional cabin oozes quality and style, while vision in the estate is aided, when reversing, by the practical rear-end styling with its additional glazing, plus parking sensors.
  
   Four travel first class in this E-Class, with rear passengers sitting a little higher than in the saloon; it’s too firm and so less comfortable for a third (centre) occupant, however. Two rear-facing seats for small children are again optional on this latest estate. They fold out neatly from the floor and come complete with three-point seatbelts, head restraints and cup holders. A specially reinforced safety zone protects these rearmost occupants in a rear-end shunt.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
Safety Euro NCAP
LIKES ...
  • ingenious 'Easy-Pack' load compartment systems
  • excellent climate control all round
  • rear head restraints fold almost flush with seatback
  • double sun visors
and GRIPES
  • wide and intrusive rear centre hump
  • nearside door mirror's field of view not ideal
  • hard bar at rear shin level
  • middle rear passenger draws the short straw
VERDICT
Through careful development, the E-Class estate has become so superbly refined and sophisticated that we hesitate to even consider sullying it with the term ‘load lugger’. No, it’s a veritable class act, from those ‘steerable’ swivelling headlamps to its electronically operated tailgate. And, armed with the full complement of Easy-Pack options in its tastefully trimmed tail, it’s a high-tech, multi-purpose load carrier par excellence.


THE E-CLASS RANGE
body large/executive 5-door (premium-priced) saloon and estate car   trim levels Classic, Elegance, Avantgarde
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.8 litre/163bhp, V6/2.6/177, V6/3.2/224, (V8/5.0/306 and AMG V8/5.5/476 due September 2003)
diesel: 4/2.15/150, 5/2.7/177, 6/3.2/204
  drive 5-speed stepped automatic (with semi-manual mode) standard on 6-and 8-cylinder models; 6-speed manual on others. Rear-wheel drive
notable features available 'steerable' Xenon headlamps, Speedtronic cruise control, pulsating front seats with auto-inflating side bolsters, tailgate-operated load cover, automatic tailgate operation with stop facility, rearward-facing foldaway child seats, luggage stabilising kit, removable storage box behind back seats

ALTERNATIVES
R0307