An air of toughness
Mercedes hints at off-road prowess but the wagon’s suspension brings it back to earth
AUSTRALIA’S appetite for SUVs has killed off one of the most luxurious wagons available locally: the Mercedes E-Class.
With the arrival of the latest generation, the German brand has instead introduced a highriding all-wheel drive variant called the All-Terrain, with rugged looks aimed at appealing to SUV buyers.
About 100 people a year bought the previous E-Class wagon. Mercedes hopes body cladding and the pretence of offroad prowess may boost sales of this model. Otherwise the AllTerrain may also disappear.
In essence this is the Mercedes version of the Subaru Outback, which starts life as a Liberty wagon before the offroad kit is added.
The Benz might look the part but it doesn’t come cheap.
Priced from $109,900 plus on-road costs (about $119,400 drive-away), the E220d AllTerrain is almost $17,000 dearer
than the E-Class sedan that shares the diesel engine — and a whopping $20,500 dearer than the full-size diesel SUV stablemate, the GLE 250d.
Mercedes says the long list of luxury equipment compensates.
Standard fare includes superwide high-resolution instrument display and cabin control screens, as in all E-Class models, plus nine airbags, radar cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking from freeway speeds, electrically adjustable heated front seats and real wood trim (in a matt finish).
There are also air suspension, intelligent LED headlights (high-beams that don’t dazzle oncoming cars), leather trim, sensor key entry and 360-degree camera.
The new generation 2.0-litre turbo diesel is matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive.
Massive 20-inch alloy wheels with low-profile run-flat tyres are standard (Pirellis were fitted to the example tested). A 19-inch wheel and tyre combination, more suitable for off-road use, is a no-cost option.
You can order at extra cost ($1300) a temporary spare — there is no room for it under the boot floor so it would take up cargo space. All this means you probably don’t want to venture too far off the beaten track.
The air suspension’s ride height in standard driving mode is just 136mm, only 29mm higher than an E-Class sedan and less than a Toyota Yaris. Switching to “off-road” mode (possible at less than 35km/h) increases ride height to 156mm, which is significantly less than the Outback’s 213mm.
So the All Terrain’s ground clearance is more suited to unkempt gravel driveways than rugged outback adventures.
Mercedes says most of its SUV buyers don’t take their cars off-road anyway. They’re buying SUVs to keep up appearances — and to better see the road ahead from the commanding seating position.
ON THE ROAD
It may be small in capacity but the diesel engine has more than enough oomph for this type of vehicle. Its power output of 143kW is close to that of a petrol 2.0-litre turbo but it’s the mountain of torque (400Nm) that gets things moving.
Matched to the smooth shifting nine-speed auto, the All-Terrain feels responsive at any speed, because the transmission can slip into the ideal gear.
The engine and transmission combination is the main reason for the super low fuel use claim of 5.7L/100km, although consumption was more like 8L/100km (still respectable) during our preview drive on mostly open and winding roads.
The steering is another highlight. It’s not too heavy, not too light, and it’s precise while not being too sensitive for the size and weight of the car.
The biggest disappointment was the air suspension, standard on all models and necessary on this model to adjust ride height.
On perfectly smooth roads, it was superb. But so is pretty much any car that does not need to contend with bumps.
And the All-Terrain did an admirable job of dealing with small and medium size ruts on sealed roads.
But on pot holes and corrugations on dirt roads, the combination of the low-profile tyres, large diameter wheels, and suspension with not enough travel produced an almighty bang on every impact.
Even when we did our best to avoid the worst bumps in the road, the All-Terrain still got upset on the smaller ones. No damage was done, despite how it sounded.
Further, the electronic stability control seems not to have been calibrated for gravel roads. It did its job at preventing a skid into a corner but it got upset by bumps and loose gravel when trying to drive out of corners — creating a stuttering effect on the engine.
The All-Terrain oozes luxury inside and out and will appeal to those who want to defy the SUV trend. But compared to Mercedes-Benz’s full-size SUV, it’s a hefty premium to pay for a smaller and less capable vehicle.