HAMBURG, Germany—If you like wagons, you’re going to love this one. Hot on the heels of the redesigned E-Class sedan, Mercedes-Benz will send out this version early next year.
While Europe gets a few engine variants, including a diesel, four-cylinder, and an AMG model, we’ll see only one, the E400. (At least, that’s officially the word, although it was broadly hinted that we might eventually get an AMG as well).
Pricing hasn’t been announced, but it’s expected to come in slightly higher than its sedan sibling, which starts at $69,400. That’s not cheap, but if you’re in this snack bracket, this could be your ride.
The E-Class’s number designation no longer indicates the engine size, and so the E400 gets its momentum from a twin-turbo 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine. It makes 329 horsepower, and produces its peak 354 lb-ft of torque at just 1,200 rpm, but the real beauty of this powerplant is that it doesn’t feel like forced induction.
The power delivery is smooth and linear, underscoring the E400’s true calling as a luxury cruiser, rather than a sports sedan.
Part of that velvety delivery can be attributed to a new nine-speed automatic, which is well-mated to the engine and doesn’t hunt for a gear as some multi-speeds can do. The company’s 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard equipment.
Handling is equally effortless, to the point that a little more feedback would be appreciated, even when set to Sport Plus mode. On the unrestricted-speed portions of the highway, around 165 km/h was the level of my comfort zone, although I’ve topped well over 200 km/h in some of the company’s sportier models.
The cabin is beautifully finished and bank-vault quiet. As with most German cars, the seats are firm but very supportive, and a full day’s drive feels like just a couple of hours on one’s spine. The rear seats are equally roomy and fold flat if the cargo area isn’t enough for all your stuff.
Canadian models will come standard with a third-row, rear-facing bench seat. The European testers weren’t equipped with it, and had a storage bin under the cargo floor that, on our cars, will be where the seat folds down when it’s not in use, and the footwell for passengers when it is.
Mercedes-Benz has yet to embrace the touchscreen, and its large infotainment display is still handled by a rather clunky system of console-mounted joystick, a touchpad where you can trace letters or numbers to bring up destinations and contacts, and voice commands. On the plus side, the high-resolution screen may be tablet-style, but it’s integrated handsomely under the dash, rather than tacked on to the top of it. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Qi wireless charging are part of the connectivity as well.
From the nose to the rear doors this is essentially the E-Class sedan, and it’s outfitted with similar standard features and available options. My tester’s premium stereo, panoramic sunroof, head-up display, 360-degree camera, and leather-wrapped dash will all be add-ons when the car arrives.
On my drive, my car was equipped with a smartphone and app that was tied to the car and used as its key: hold the phone to the door handle, and the locks pop open. The app could also connect to a company concierge who could recommend hotels, make dinner reservations or suggest the most scenic route through the countryside, but don’t get too excited. These items are for overseas drivers only right now, and aren’t part of Canadian ownership.
Several driving assist technologies, originally introduced on the flagship S-Class sedan, are trickling down through other vehicles in the lineup. The E-Class can park itself, recognize traffic signs (including warning if you’re going the wrong way down a one-way street), and warn and then brake, if necessary, if something’s about to come sideways into your path, including bicycles and pedestrians as well as vehicles.
Its combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping will let the car “drive” itself. It’s not autonomous, but when the Drive Pilot system is activated, the E-Class will obediently stay in its lane and at a pre-set distance behind traffic in front.
In theory, you could get on the highway at one end of the country and let it take you hands-free to the other, but to comply with road regulations, the system demands that you put your paws back on the wheel after several seconds, and it will turn off if you don’t.
That said, it’s not actually meant to be a substitute for driving just yet, but rather, the idea is that by staying within the lines on its own, the system reduces driver fatigue. I’ll take their word for it: I dislike the squirmy feel the wheel has when it’s activated, and I usually turn it off.
The system also includes a lane-changing assist. When you hold down the turn signal while Drive Pilot is activated, the car will check the lane alongside with its blind-spot monitoring and then, if it’s clear, move over a lane and use the markings to centre itself once it’s there. It’s a very strange sensation if you’re not one to give up driving control, and I could only try it a couple of times before continuing to handle the task myself. On the other hand, it does get people to use their turn signals—
In any case, while all of this technology is impressive, it does have its limitations. I had the Drive Pilot activated but with my hands on the wheel as I entered a construction area on the highway.
There were new orange lines painted over the faded white lines to indicate the temporary lanes, and on the right where an old white line was no longer in use, a concrete barrier had been placed. Confused by the two sets of lines and then by the barrier, my car abruptly braked and tried to steer sideways. I was able to immediately override it, but it startled the hell out of me, and could have been an issue for someone who didn’t react in time. These systems can only react to what they “see,” and they’re not ready to host the show by themselves just yet.
All in all, though, if you want roomy, comfortable, well-appointed and smooth, the E-Class fits the bill. Wagons aren’t all that popular anymore, usurped by taller crossovers and sport-utes, but if you’re considering a luxury version of one of those, you should definitely try this one when it arrives on our shores. You might find it’s worth the wait.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.