Love it or loathe it, the rise of the SUV during the last 15 years has given estate car buyers a lot to think about. Not only are these huge machines great at towing, and occasionally heading off road, they also handle the rough and tumble of family life with ease. But some of us just don’t like them, and that’s where Mercedes’ new E-class All-Terrain comes in.
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In theory, it’s the perfect halfway house. Perhaps you live slightly off the beaten track, need to do some minor off-roading once or twice a year, but don’t want (or can’t bring yourself to buy) a full-sized SUV. It’s Mercedes’ first take on a tried-and-tested formula, which takes a estate car – in this case fitted with 4Matic all-wheel drive – raises the ride height and gives it a slightly more rugged look.
The E-class All-Terrain is only available in E350d form, in the UK at least, but the level of standard equipment is generous. With a towing capacity of 2100kg and a retractable tow bar fitted as standard, it’s the perfect machine for pulling the occasional horsebox, caravan or track car…
Plastic wheelarch trims, revised front and rear bumpers and huge 20-inch wheels give the All-Terrain a rugged external look. The interior features fully-adjustable leather seats, and a high level of equipment as standard. This includes a Burmester surround sound system, twin 12.3-inch displays – one for the digital gauges and one for the infotainment – LED intelligent lighting, keyless go and privacy glass. There’s a panoramic glass sunroof too.
The standard Air Body Control suspension system has been re-configured, helping to raise the ride height by 29mm over a standard E-class Estate, although just under half of that increase is due to an increase in wheel and tyre rolling radius.
You’re never going to take the All-Terrain wading through deep mud, but the E-class has been significantly tweaked to help it get out of some seriously sticky situations. As part of the five-mode Dynamic Select driving mode system, the permanent 4Matic four-wheel drive system has been given a new All-Terrain setting. Re-calibrated software – developed from the systems used in the GLE – increases ride height a further 20mm at speeds of up to 19mph. Settings for the ESP, active yaw control and ‘acceleration skid control’ are also optimised for low-grip surfaces in All-Terrain mode.
20-inch wheels are the only option. They’re even larger than basic 19s fitted to the E63 AMG and they wear 245/40 front and 275/35 rear tyres.
Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time
Mercedes is currently making the switch back to in-line six-cylinder engines but the E-class retains the 254bhp, 3-litre V6 diesel. It’s the only option in the UK for now and it pushes its 457lb ft of torque through Mercedes’ 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission. The 4Matic permanent four-wheel drive system is rear-biased, with a 31:69 front-to-rear torque split.
The 3-litre V6 diesel is slightly more vocal at low speed than you might expect, but is never intrusive. With torque plateauing between 1600 and 2400rpm, and a satisfying multi-cylinder burble throughout the mid-range, there’s not a huge amount to be gained from holding onto the revs.
If you do bury the throttle, it will manage 0-62mph in 6.2sec and go onto a top speed of 155mph. If anything, these numbers don’t quite demonstrate the All-Terrain’s impressive ability to pile on speed from a 30 or 40mph rolling start. Mercedes claims a 41.5mpg average and 179 g/km of CO2.
What’s it like to drive?
Like any good Mercedes, the E-class All-Terrain has the ability to deliver you and your passengers entirely comfortable and relaxed after a two-hour stint behind the wheel.
Raising the ride height has certainly given the All-Terrain far better off-road performance than any regular E-class, but it has done little to spoil the car’s balance. Our test route in the Yorkshire Dales included a selection of fantastic roads, and the E-class’s fundamentally well-resolved chassis shines through the 29mm height increase.
It’s particularly soft in the default comfort mode, rolling into corners a little more than the regular E-class, but it’s not actually as cumbersome as you might expect. Any trade-off in agility is made up for by the cosseting ride. We can only imagine how good this might be on smaller wheels...
When the roads get twistier, the All-Terrain can start to feel a little out of its depth, but flicking into Sport mode tightens everything up by just the right amount. The damping is considerably improved, while – thankfully – the ride remains bearable. The sharper throttle response, more eager gear shifts and weightier steering add up to a surprisingly effective cross-country set-up.
There’s no way you could ever call the E-class All-Terrain fun, but it does everything you ask of it. Being caught out by sharp ridges and crests, and crashing slightly over larger potholes thanks to those 20-inch wheels, seem to be the only minor chinks in its armour.
We couldn’t fault the All-Terrain during a comprehensive test of its off-roading ability either. As promised, All-Terrain mode allowed it to pull itself up a steep and extremely muddy uphill track, while towing a ballast-loaded horse box, with absolutely no trouble. We’re confident it will be just as capable at cutting through snow as the majority of ‘proper’ 4x4s.
Price and rivals
On sale now, the E350d All-Terrain starts from £58,880. It’s a high starting point, but the car comes with a very good level of equipment as standard, and just a few options. Two main rivals come in the form of Audi’s A6 allroad and Volvo’s V90 Cross Country. The Audi offers more choice, with three V6 diesel engine options including a more powerful 314bhp BiTDI flagship version. Prices start lower at £47,780 for the basic models, but with a similar equipment and spec, it can easily be the more expensive option.
Volvo’s four-cylinder diesel offering lags some way behind the Mercedes in terms of performance and refinement, although once again the base price is considerably lower at £47,905.
The All-Terrain has very few other direct rivals. With a base price of £53,475 though, you have to consider Mercedes’ own GLE as a compelling rival, as well as any number of other full off-roaders.