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First drive: Mercedes All-Terrain lands in May

All aboard: The Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain will hit local showrooms in about May next year.

Mercedes’ first big crossover wagon takes aim at the Audi A6 Allroad

7 Dec 2016


MERCEDES-BENZ has confirmed that its first crossover-style wagon, the E-Class All-terrain, will land in Australia late in the second quarter of next year to take on the ageing Audi A6 Allroad and upcoming Volvo V90 Cross Country.

Expected to be priced under $110,000, the E220d All-Terrain will be the sole variant of the all-new S213-series E-Class Estate range in Australia for the time being, reflecting the industry-wide move away from large luxury wagons to SUVs.

Benz says the All-Terrain can be used for “spontaneous detours into off-road terrain, along farm tracks, and over snow or sand”.

The active lifestyle makeover over the regular wagon ushers in 29mm higher ground clearance, the implementation of a twin-louvered grille design featuring a ‘floating’ star badge, redesigned front bumpers with more rugged-looking air intakes, the obligatory black wheel-arch covers and extended side skirts that meld into the restyled three-part rear bumper/diffuser combo and higher-sidewall tyres on unique 19 or 20-inch alloys.

Sitting on the same 2939mm wheelbase and MRA Modular Rear-drive Architecture as the 10th-generation Mercedes E-Class sedan that launched earlier this year, the German-built All-Terrain is more than just a jacked-up E-Class wagon with 4Matic all-wheel drive, however, with extensive re-engineering of the axles and underbody to accommodate the bigger wheels, as well as for the newcomer to meet crossover ride comfort, off-road capability and luxury refinement expectations.

Key to the latter is standard air springs for the four-link front and five-link rear suspension setup, which allows for ground clearance to vary between 121mm and 156mm depending on transmission mode and driving speed.

Dubbed Air Body Control, this multi-chamber and self-levelling system features various selectable stages (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Individual, and All Terrain mode), which alters the spring stiffness, ESC, active yaw, and traction controls thresholds, while raising the suspension another 20mm (up to 35km/h) over the already 29mm-higher ground clearance mentioned earlier.

Some 14mm of that is due to the switch to taller-sidewall tyres, which in turn also required modifications to the axles, taking front/rear track width out to 1604/1610mm respectively. Adaptive damping, on the other hand, further benefits ride comfort.

Note that, despite having a fording depth of 300mm, the All-Terrain’s approach, ramp-over and departure angles are still very much in passenger-car territory, so no bush-bashing beyond gravel, sand, snow and ice.

Other key dimensions are 4947mm (length), 1861mm (width) and height (1497mm).

The sole engine choice for now is Daimler’s impressive new 2.0-litre all-aluminium common-rail injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel, pumping out 143kW of power at 3800rpm and 400Nm of torque between 1600-2800rpm.

Perhaps reflecting a portly 1920kg kerb weight, the E220d All-Terrain needs eight seconds to hit 100km/h, on the way to a 231km/h top speed.

A combined-cycle fuel use figure of 5.2 litres per 100km is possible, for a corresponding 137g/km of carbon dioxide emissions in European spec. Idle-stop is standard.

A box-fresh nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission dubbed 9G-Tronic sends drive to all four wheels, with the torque split being 45/55 per cent front/rear.

4Matic employs an electronic traction system called 4ETS, relying on the ESC to maximise effective torque distribution to the wheels that can use it best. The single-stage transfer case is flange-mounted on the auto gearbox as a separate system, instead of being integrated into the transmission as on earlier, heavier iterations (never offered in right-hand drive due to packaging issues).

It takes up no extra space compared to rear-drive E-Class wagons, meaning the 670-1820-litre cargo capacity remains. For the first time, the 40/20/40 split/fold rear seats have an upright seating setting to boost boot space by 30L. The floor is rated to 120kg.

If sales really take off, Mercedes may introduce the E350d version already announced for some European markets, boasting a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel delivering about 190kW and a hefty 620Nm, to slash acceleration times to around six seconds. However, a Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific spokesperson said its proposed $140,000-plus pricing might be a sticking point.

The changes inside the All-Terrain are less pronounced, limited to additional AWD-specific instrumentation information pertaining to the operation of the vehicle in its various driving modes, and a smattering of stainless-steel trim.

Finally, as with all W213 E-Classes, the wagons gain Mercedes’ leading advanced active-assist safety and semi-autonomous tech (under the Drive Pilot intelligent driving package), which helps reduce fatigue and provide visual, audible and even intervention actions to the braking and steering systems to help avoid or reduce the effects of an impact. Integrated with the navigation and broad-base multimedia systems, with surround-view cameras, they help make the All-Terrain one of the safest real-world family vehicles in the world.

So much for the salient facts. How does Benz’s long-awaited answer to the Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo V90 Cross Country drive?Being based on one of 2016’s most impressive debutantes is a great place to begin, but the real surprise is that in some key areas, the E220d All-Terrain eclipses its overachieving W213 sedan sibling.

Take the design. Arguably the most elegant of all the modern Mercedes models under the watchful eye of designer Robert Lesnik, the jumped-up wagon possesses a sleek silhouette that gives it a gracefulness that some preceding versions completely lacked, backed up by an identity that otherwise eludes all the contemporary three-box Benzes.

And while all the additional crossover bits and pieces like the wheel-arch extenders bring nothing new to the Subaru Outback way of doing things, at least the overall effect isn’t garish. Really handsome alloys and that cheese-grater grille help. Perhaps it was the light-coloured trim contrasting against the wood swirls inside, but the airy and inviting interior also seems somehow more successful in jacked-up All-Terrain guise than in the regular sedans. Of course all share the dazzlingly detailed slab of touchscreen goodness, with its ultra-sharp resolution and attractive graphics. All outboard seating is inviting – even after hours at the wheel or sat sunk in them – and after a brief period of acclimatisation, most of the controls operate logically. And that long, low and lushly finished load area is as you would expect something called an ‘Estate’ to be. Even if the thought of muddying it up is mortifying.

Pet Benz peeves remain, however, in the overly complicated twist-wiper stalk action, annoying column-mounted shifter, unreliable sat-nav that occasionally refused to play ball and a needlessly complicated multimedia controller. But there’s no doubt about it. The latest E-Class’ cabin is where it’s at in the large luxury segment. Consider the bar raised.

Another yardstick the E220d All-Terrain benefits from is the outstandingly refined 2.0-litre four-pot turbo-diesel, that must rank as the most petrol-like engine of its ilk we have ever experienced.

Smooth and revvy, it is a joy to experience, aided by Daimler’s supernaturally talented 9G-Tronic auto, which makes the most of the available power with an exceptionally intelligent spread of ratios.

Which is a good thing, because at nearly two tonnes, the E-Class crossover is a hefty piece of kit and there is a bit of lag evident at take-off speeds. Fast overtaking also requires some forward planning. This might prove to be an issue for Mercedes when the V90 Cross Country D5 alternative surfaces with its terrifically punchy PowerPulse tech that virtually eliminates step-off tardiness.

And, right now, the A6 Allroad has a deeply muscular V6 TDI to draw upon.

Beyond that, it’s blue-sky brilliance for the All-Terrain.

Steering feel is fulsome and direct, translating into handling that is nicely measured and free from kickback grip – as you might expect – is exceptional, and because the driver can select Sport mode that sees the air suspension crouch down to near-normal wagon levels of road-hugging stance, there is superb body control with minimal understeer, even at speed.

But the really big shock – especially after the hard and jittery GLC SUV that also shares much of the W213’s MRA architecture – is the ride quality. At last, a Benz with a beautifully soft and supple ride combined with a near lack of pitching and movement. Travelling inside the cushy and contained E220d is just so relaxing. We’d wager that – right now – no SUV can match this combination of pillowy refinement and athleticism.

Further adding to the serenity is the semi-autonomous tech, which did a fine job keeping the All-Terrain tracking safety at freeway speeds in and around the Tyrolean alps, supported by excellent adaptive cruise-control tech that kept things moving seamlessly the car would even slow down to the posted speed limit automatically.

Mercedes organised some snow and ice driving in sub-freezing conditions, and there the 4Matic’s grip and surety proved their worth. Again, it was a controlled environment, but it is clear that the E220d crossover can belt along very comfortably on roads in inclement conditions without it or the occupants being fazed at all.

What we’re saying, it appears, is that, as a tool for task, the new E-Class All-Terrain profoundly impresses precisely in the areas it was designed to, building on the W213’s excellence in a way that enhances the experience, especially in the area of ride comfort and suspension discipline. At least, it does on the Austrian roads very close to where it was designed to shine. We’ll have to wait and see if the same is true on Australian ones.

And, you know what? While it would be a sad end of an era if Mercedes drops the regular E-Class Estate for this colossally capable crossover, we think that the All-Terrain as a concept is just the ticket to save the big luxury wagon, precisely because it is so much better than big and bulky SUVs.

It might have taken Daimler 18 years to follow the Audi A6 Allroad, but – boy – they’ve sure used that time effectively. We hope we feel this way about the E220d All-Terrain come next May on (and off) local roads.

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