Mercedes E350 CDI Estate

Can our current class champion successfully defend its estate crown from the BMW and the Audi?

A maker of big estates since the Seventies, Mercedes has perfected the art. Its load-carriers are famed for being practical, sensible and solid – a tradition the German brand has maintained with each successive generation of E-Class.
The latest example arrived earlier this year and was soon top of the sector, but the new 5-Series promises to be a tough rival. In the style stakes the BMW unquestionably looks sportier, yet the Mercedes’ squared-off roofline and extra side windows have been neatly incorporated into the E-Class shape. And there’s always the £1,520 Sport trim option, which includes aggressive AMG styling extras. 
Regardless of trim level, the Mercedes’ huge carrying ability won’t disappoint. Its 695-litre boot is 135 litres bigger than the BMW’s, while a 70mm longer load floor and an extra 80mm of height between the floor and the roof’s lowest point add to its advantages. And, as with the 5, a remote release instantly folds the rear seatbacks flat. This increases volume to a huge 1,950 litres – that’s 280 and 290 litres up on the BMW and Audi respectively.
A powered tailgate comes as standard, although the luggage cover is heavy and far harder to remove than the BMW’s easily detachable version. Rear legroom is similar to rivals’, but premium models have to strike a balance between versatility and luxury.
Fortunately, the E-Class is so much more than a utilitarian wagon with no executive kudos. And while its cabin can’t match the BMW’s for style and the COMAND control system isn’t as intuitive as the slicker set-ups in either rival here, the fit and finish are solid and most materials are first class. Our model had a more upmarket feel thanks to the £2,320 Luxury Pack, which includes extra leather trim, an Alcantara rooflining and double-
seam stitching on the dash.
The car also had Dynamic Seats (£1,045), but with a large-diameter wheel and a smaller range of adjustment, the driving position isn’t a match for the BMW’s. The Merc falls behind in corners, too. Softer suspension means body roll is more of an issue than in the Audi and BMW, and it pitches and dives more under acceleration and braking.
Compared to the 5-Series, the steering is slow and the E-Class has the least front-end grip here. However, the ride is accomplished and self-levelling rear suspension helps it cope with heavy loads.
Under the bonnet, the CDI engine chugs a little at idle, but it quietens down at speed. While it’s slower to rev than the BMW’s motor, its lazy character doesn’t prevent it from delivering serious torque, and strong straight-line performance.
The seven-speed auto doesn’t offer enough manual control to measure in-gear acceleration, yet it is smooth and the Merc posted similar figures to the 530d in kickdown. Ultimately, though, can the E-Class’s extra space make up for its dynamic shortcomings?

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Our reigning class champ is an extremely capable estate. Huge load area and punchy diesel engine make it a tough opponent.

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