Estate cars with off-road capability are growing in popularity – and availability.
The latest to throw its keys into the field is Mercedes, with a chunkier version of its lavish load-lugger, the E-class.
The E has always been a generous estate car, and this All-Terrain version gives even more. It sits a little higher, has adjustable air suspension to create an extra 20mm of ground clearance, and uses Merc’s 4Matic all-wheel drive to shuffle torque and traction between both axles.
Externally, the body gains additional plastic trims designed to offer some protection from those venturing over stubbles, and both bumpers have been redesigned too. And to simplify agonizing over the spec and trim levels, Mercedes offers the E-class All-Terrain with one single level of trim, called Premium Plus.
There’s no engine downsizing either, as Merc backs it up with a single powertrain using a 258hp 3-litre V6 engine with a nine-speed auto box. The gearbox does a lot of hunting and shuffling through gears, to make the most of the engine’s 620Nm of torque without needing to use too many revs.
Dynamic Select offers five different driving modes, and each mode tweaks engine, transmission, ESP, steering and suspension characteristics.
Choosing the All-Terrain mode raises the suspension, recalibrates traction control and numbs the throttle response. In any mode you choose, it’s easy rather than exhilarating, to drive.
And easy is the name of the game for this load-lugging wafter. Smooth, quiet and confident, the All-Terrain is also bristling with technology too, thanks to a pair of 12.3in LCD screens in the top part of the dashboard for instruments and infotainment.
A rotary dial in the centre console allows easy access to menus and a touch-pad on top of the dial will suit left-handers. Switchgear is solid and uncluttered.
There are a few key options on the list, and the vibrant hyacinth red metallic paintwork was one of them. Drive Pilot was another, and is part of the driving assistance plus package. Though it seems to offer an almost interfering level of semi-autonomous driving.
Think of it as an advanced level of adaptive cruise control. Using cameras and radar sensors, Drive Pilot will keep the car ‘in lane’ as well as offering assistance when changing lanes or responding to changes in speed limits.
And that includes slowing you down from the national speed limit to a posted 50mph, for example.
It does require you to maintain contact with the steering wheel, and the system will shout if you let go of the wheel for too long.