Gareth Butterfield steps (up) into the Mercedes Benz E-Class All Terrain
It could be said that Mercedes has taken a while to deliver this car, the new All Terrain version of its E-Class estate. Audi and Volvo have been making jacked-up, rubberised versions of its big-sellers for years, so Merc fans have had a long wait.
And it’s not as if they’ve thrown it together in a hurry, either. Sure, they could have just taken the current E-Class, squeezed in some longer suspension struts and tacked on the all-important cladding, but it’s way more accomplished than that.
Unlike a few of its rivals, the E-Class All Terrain really does have some off-roading abilities. Its ride height has been propped up by 29mm over the standard version, and it comes loaded with Mercedes’s SUV-proven Dymanic Select system as standard. This enables five driving programmes to be selected with different engine, transmission, and steering characteristics.
What’s more, because the All Terrain rides on Merc’s lovely air suspension, its ground clearance is adjustable. It can be anything from 121mm to 156mm, depending on the length of the grass at the pony club.
Remarkably, 14mm of the extra height is down to the unusually high sidewalls in the tyres. Driving enthusiasts will tell you this is a bad thing and it certainly doesn’t help its cornering prowess, but what it does do is make the E-Class – already a very comfortable car – into an absolutely sublime cruiser.
Honestly, off-road credentials aside for a minute, this new All Terrain is one of the most relaxing cars I’ve driven in a long time.
That’s helped a lot, of course, by the ultra-high tech cabin. There are two huge digital screens which display everything you could want in any configuration you fancy. These screens can be controlled in a number of ways, but you’ll soon tire of the steering wheel-mounted “buttons” that you have to “rub” up and down to control. And I’m sure nobody likes the trackpad-like gesture control on the centre console. Thankfully, there’s also a wheel underneath it which controls things. And that works really well.
Considering the target market for this sort of car – well-heeled agricultural types, or perhaps equestrian oligarchs, it does make me wonder whether all the gadgets and gizmos are truly necessary, but you get the full package in the All Terrain, because equipment levels are based on the posh Avantgarde spec.
So you’ll get heated and cooled seats, full driver assistance including lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, a brilliant stereo and memory seats.
It’s also got a huge 640-litre boot with an electrically-operated tailgate (of course) and plenty of space in the back seats.
All this plays havoc with the price, of course. The V6-diesel version, which is the only option available at the moment, weighs in with a a £58,880 list price, and that’s a good ten grand more than an E350 d AMG Line Estate and, incidentally, about ten grand more than the equivalent Audi.
But what you do get in the Mercedes, beyond the sophisticated off-road tech, is a feeling of opulence. Apart perhaps from the Volvo V90 Cross Country, no other car in this sector can touch it for the sense of occasion and sheer luxury of its interior.
It’s also a fine looking thing, too, even if those plastic rubbing strips won’t be to everyone’s taste. Oh, and the V6 diesel engine with its nine-speed automatic gearbox has to be driven to be believed. It’s one of the true great diesel engines.
Fundamentally, the people who make up this model’s target market might not be so bothered about a high price tag. They buy Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies because they can be secure in the knowledge that they’re the best tool for the job, regardless of the price premium.
And that’s why I think they’ll make a bee-line for the Mercedes E-Class All Terrain. It’s an incredibly versatile, comfortable, luxurious and desirable car. It’s been worth the wait.