If you need a large load carrying estate, but don't want to sacrifice on image there really are few options on the marketplace at present. Audi's A6 is a fine car; capable and good value too; however, it may not have that last ounce of breeding required in this rarefied sector. BMW's 5-series Touring
presses all the buttons and ticks all the boxes in our eyes, but its looks divide opinion, and many buyers will more likely look to its German rival, the E-class Estate reviewed here.
The E-class Estate range is a diverse one, starting at as little as £29,000, rising to £66,000 for the E55 AMG - the fastest estate car in production at the time of writing. Our test car is mid range, at £37,375 (not including the options I'll mention later). Four (E220 CDI) and five-cylinder (E270 CDI) diesel variants are also available, and the derv range is now topped by a 272bhp V6 (E350). The E320 CDI packs an inline six featuring the latest generation high-pressure common rail injection system. The headline power figure is a peak of 204bhp at 4200rpm, backed up by a mighty 376lb.ft of torque available from 1600rpm to 2800rpm. At the price, this car competes closely with the 535d Touring.
Given that the BMW we tested was in Sport guise, the E-class Estate pictured should not be compared too closely. In Elegance trim, the E-class is restrained and quite traditional in the use of materials, if not the technology and design itself. Externally, the E-class is a striking car, but could never be described as pretty. The saloon has some elegance, but in my view, the Estate is just imposing. There is no doubting its pedigree though, with the prominent three-pointed star on the bonnet, and classy detailing.
Despite the prolific use of wood, I did get on with the E-class' interior. The wood doesn't come in big square slabs, but in shapely swathes of burr walnut accentuating the swoopy dashboard. The leather upholstery is a must for resale, but adds £1,250 to the purchase price; as you'd hope, it is of high quality. Using wood in an interior can give an old-fashioned feel to a car, but Mercedes-Benz has done well with the E-class, as there is a wealth of technology neatly integrated. Understandably there are a lot of individual buttons to be pressed, so it is not surprising to see that Mercedes-Benz has developed a new system called COMAND in the new S-class
, akin to BMW's I-drive. To be fair, an owner of any car soon gets used to the position and function of every button so criticisms can only really be levelled at the appearance, and we liked the layout of the E-class interior.
Style aside, the cockpit has bags of space, and the huge cargo area has space for bags... The E-class is a large car so this is not surprising. Our test car was fitted with an electrically operated load floor to go along with the electric blind to shield your luggage from prying eyes. The cargo volume available betters its rivals, but the downside is a large rear end.
Many buyers in the target market will have already decided that the E-class is for them before they even take a test drive, but we were keen to get behind the large steering wheel to see how the Merc compares with the supposedly driver-orientated BMW 5-series. First off, we found the steering surprisingly heavy in the E-class, but not actually endowed with a lot of feel, despite modestly profiled tyres. The brake pedal initially has an unusual, inconsistent feel, but the stoppers themselves are flawless, hauling the big Estate down from high speed time and again without much protest, which bodes well for towing heavy loads.
Leave the horsebox, family and luggage at home though and you may discover a surprisingly good car to cover ground quickly. There was no doubt that the torquey engine had the guts to shift even the 1885kg bulk of the Estate, and though it doesn't feel rapid from standstill, it gathers speed at an equivalent pace to BMW's 535d, with seemingly little effort. There is the same high engine load injector noise, but this is not at all intrusive. Come to a tight corner, lean on those impressive brakes and turn in and the E-class just goes where it's told. Turn around and try it again without traction control turned on and this large Estate can be hustled through with real aplomb. Mercedes-Benz doesn't allow complete disengagement of its electronic nannies, but even so you'd be surprised just how much side slip can be generated thanks to the low-down grunt of the engine.
It sounds ludicrous to even talk about such a car in this way, but the E-class is a competent car in most situations. It does not quite engage as much as the 5-series (even compared against the non-Sport version), but it is certainly as capable, and just as importantly to its buyers, as safe. We were a little disappointed though to find that the car's ride was a little compromised to this end, though it could not be described as uncomfortable.
If you are unworried by fuel bills or company car tax then you are likely to choose a petrol-engined E-class, but the diesel versions offer a relaxing driving experience as well as frugality, though remember that this engine still has to lug a large car around and for that reason we averaged only 27mpg in a week with the Estate. As for prestige, that is in no doubt. The E-class is a Mercedes-Benz in all the right ways.