Wagons may be an endangered species in the United States, but the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon is here to stay. Updated inside and out for the latest model year, it continues to offer a compelling combination of stately luxury, all-weather capability and capacious practicality while also providing better gas mileage and handling than most of the SUVs and crossovers that many buyers favor over wagons.
Along with the wagon discussed herein, the E-Class is available in sedan, coupe and convertible bodystyles. Hybrid E400 and high-performance E63 AMG derivatives are also offered, and an ultra-efficient four-cylinder turbodiesel will be added to the model range in the coming months.
While it continues to feature traditional, space-maximizing proportions, the E-Class wagon has been freshened with a number of stylistic revisions that give it a more-eye catching appearance than before. In place of the quad headlights that have adorned every E-Class since the W210, the facelifted model sports simplified single-piece units with a more streamlined look. The vintage-inspired but busy "pontoon" rear fenders have also been axed in the name of simplicity.
Two different front-end treatments are available - the old-school Luxury model wears an elegant three-slat grille with a small Mercedes emblem protruding from the hood, while the Sport variant receives a more aggressive two-slat unit with an oversized badge. Sport models also use an AMG-designed body kit and sit on a stiffened and lowered suspension.
The E-Class wagon's biggest asset is its expansive interior space, which makes the vehicle perfect for carrying passengers in comfort or hauling sizable amounts of cargo. Its five-seat configuration can easily expand to seven seats by unfolding a standard third-row rear-facing seat from the luggage compartment floor, while a 60-40 fold-down second-row seat allows for a cavernous and flexible 57.4 cubic-foot cargo area. Mercedes states that the wagon can carry a grandfather clock and still accommodate three occupants, or it can manage a load of lumber along with four people aboard.
The cabin's design is as refined as ever, with generous amounts of wood and chrome trim creating a decadent environment. Notable new touches include a three-spoke steering wheel, a classy, Art Deco-inspired clock and a reworked center stack with more intuitive controls. Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system remains; controlled either by voice commands, a central knob or steering wheel-mounted buttons, it integrates the wagon's audio, navigation and Bluetooth-based connectivity functions into a single unit - a seven-inch display screen mounted on the dashboard.
An optional mbrace system adds a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports. Owners can even use an mbrance smartphone app to remotely lock, unlock or locate their E-Class.
A wide variety of optional extras can be spec'd to enhance the E-Class wagon experience, including premium Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a 14-speaker Harman/kardon surround sound system and a rear seat video entertainment system.
Powertrains and Handling
The E-Class wagon is available as a single model, the E350, which comes equipped with Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive system as standard. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 that shifts through a seven-speed automatic and produces 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, while fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
As one would expect, Luxury models feature comfort-focused suspension tuning, while a tauter setup is used for the Sport. Updates to both result in a slightly firmer ride with better body control, although the E-Class remains more of a coddling cruiser than a sport wagon.
Standard and Optional Features
Notable standard features include a power sunroof, real wood trim, MB Tex leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control 14-way power adjustable front seats and a COMMAND infotainment system with a 7-inch display screen.
There is no lack of optional features available on the E-Class wagon for those seeking an extra touch of luxury.
The Premium One Package nets a navigation system with a 10 GB music register, a harmon/kardon surround-sound audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, an iPod/MP3 media interface, a power rear sunshade, a rear-view Camera, SIRIUS satellite radio with real-time traffic service, enhanced voice control, ZAGAT Survey restaurant guide and Gracenote media database.
The Lighting Package brings full-LED headlamps with Active Curve Illimination, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, LED front turn indicators, a headlamp washing system and corner-illuminating front lamps.
The Sport Styling Package adds an aggressive body kit, a two-bar grille, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch twin five-spoke alloy wheels and sport interior trim.
Safety-focused kit includes the Lane Tracking Package, which includes Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist, and the Driver Assistance Package, which includes Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, an active cruise control system with steering assist and Pre-Safe with Cross-Traffic Assist. For more info on these safety systems, scroll down to the "Occupant Safety" section.
Highlights from the stand-alone options list include mbrace, a rear entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted LCD screens, a electronic trunk closer, a proximity key, a household-type 115V power outlet, an active multicontour driver's seat, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery and premium Nappa leather upholstery.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the E-Class wagon will only add to that reputation. In addition to traction and stability control systems, the car boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with full-length side curtain and front side air bags (rear side units are optional) to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Also standard is an "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S.A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
New for the latest model year is Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to determine whether the E-Class is in danger of colliding with a vehicle or object up ahead. Active at speeds above 20 mph, it automatically prepares the brakes to apply the ideal leveling of stopping power once the driver hits the pedal.
Optional safety gear includes Active Lane Keeping Assist, a new technology that warns the driver if it detects that the E-Class is drifting into an adjacent lane and can apply steering inputs to remain on the proper course. Also available is Active Blind Spot Assist, which uses radar to detect if a vehicle is in the blind-spot area. It provides driver alerts and can also steer the car out of harm's way if the driver accidentally starts to merge into a vehicle.
Pre-Safe Brake detects impending collisions and can automatically apply 100 percent of the E-Class' braking force to avoid or mitigate the severity of the crash. It also includes Cross-Traffic Assist, which can detect potential collisions with vehicles approaching from either side of an intersection. Both are part of the Distronic Plus with Steering assist system, an active cruise control setup that can maintain a set distance from the car ahead and also keep the vehicle centered on straight roads or in gentle curves.
Due to the wagon's steep decline in popularity in recent years, nearly all of Mercedes' competitors have stopped offering the practical but image-challenged bodystyle. One exception is Cadillac, which sells a wagon version of the edgy CTS. It isn't as refined or as luxurious as the E-Class wagon, but it is considerably less expensive and more engaging to drive.
The Volvo XC70 is also worth consideration; it's essentially a wagon that's been jacked up and given rugged styling cues to appeal to SUV-loving U.S. buyers. An enormous cargo hold, a strong turbocharged inline-six and an elegant interior are among the positives that the XC70 has going for it.