I went racing in Leopardstown recently with a few friends and when they quizzed me about what mode of transport I would be ferrying them in, I was hardly surprised to hear a chorus of approval that they would travel in a Mercedes E-Class estate.
Just the job I was told; you cannot beat a bit of quality when you’re mixing it with the silks and tweeds brigade.
Now, given that the E-Class saloon was one of Examiner Motoring’s Cars of the Year in 2016, the prospect of driving the new Estate version was certainly something to look forward to, especially if it came anywhere close to its saloon sibling in the style, pizzazz and looks departments — not to mention the engineering and technology. It did.
The E-Class Estate is a fine looking thing and a wonderful car to drive. From its’ AMG ‘Exterior Pack,’ which adds a number of tasteful visual additions to the standard offering, to its’ excellent new 220d two litre turbodiesel engine, there is much to admire here.
On the engine front, it is once again worth lauding the manner in which this unit — allied as it is to Mercedes’ nine speed auto ‘box — goes about its business.
One of the quietest turbodiesels you’ll find, it is capable of a 7.7 second 0-100 km/h time, a top speed of 235 km/h, and yet delivers 4.4 l/100 km (60-plus mpg) while emitting just 120 g/km of CO2 for an annual tax bill of just two hundred quid.
The test car also eschewed the iPad-stuck-to-the-dash design of the regular car for a widescreen cockpit layout which is fantastic to use and live with, even if it does add nearly €6,000 to the overall cost.
The traditional roominess of the E-Class estate is one again a feature and the voluminous capacity of the boot — especially when the rear seats are folded away — will only encourage people to move house very regularly. With this thing on hand, they’d pretty much be able to fit everything from a three bedroom semi into the back.
It drives beautifully too, although I will caution that the suspension is terribly hard when in ‘sport’ mode and not really suitable for B-road work as the ride becomes very tiresome. In all other situations, the car has a nice balance, excellent handling and top drawer grip levels.
One thing that annoyed me, however, about the advertising campaign for the E-Class was the Mercedes claim that it is the ‘next step on the road to autonomous motoring.’
Sure it has adaptive cruise control — and very impressed my passengers were by it having seen it in action going and coming from Dublin — but believe me, this is a very long way from autonomous motoring.
Car companies in general get very excited when they add some new piece of kit or savvy tech to their production machines and they do tend to towards hyperbole such is their enthusiasm. They do lose the run of themselves sometimes, though, and the Mercedes example is only a small indication of how this manifests itself.
I mean, Ford, Opel, BMW, Citroen, Lexus (and Toyota – by association), Nissan (Renault — ditto), Audi (VW, Skoda and Seat — ditto) all have this sort of technology and while each or any of them may have made ludicrous claims about it, none has as yet gone down the ‘autonomous motoring’ road in an attempt to sell it.
I wrote at length about Ford’s system some time ago and how much I was impressed I was with it, although noting it was nothing like as intuitive as the combination of a pair of legs and a brain. Similarly so with the Mercedes system: very impressive in its own right but not seamless as when a human is in charge.
It doesn’t drive the way people normally drive. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing in general terms is open to argument, but in terms of the four heads in the E-Class Estate that day, there was general agreement that while the system was impressive enough initially, it was not flawless.
“You’d never normally have let that guy out,” one passenger remarked drily as the car braked to avoid a cheeky opportunist cutting into the fast lane when they shouldn’t have. And he was right. The system certainly does have its good points but it is clearly not blessed with the sort of intuition most good drivers have in abundance.
So Mercedes, easy on the hyperbole next time around; save it for when it truly means something.
I will say that the system on the car was as good if not better than most I’ve encountered, but it is a long way from being the real deal — in the same way as the much touted safety stuff like lane changing warnings is a long way from being useful for anyone other than, maybe, a long distance truck driver.
The bottom line however, is that in the E-Class Estate Mercedes has built another paragon of style, class and practicality and, in this case, some mildly impressive technology as well.