Mercedes E350: Third Report

With its huge load capacity and strong pace, versatile E-Class is perfect for work and family life - especially now it's fitted with a roofbox

Our long-term E-Class estate isn’t short on space. Its huge boot and generous cabin have taken everything I’ve thrown at them, including junk, kids’ luggage and even tyres. But with the summer holiday season upon us, the time came to put the big Mercedes to the ultimate test with a camping trip. I always find it best to let my wife do the packing. Trouble is, her belt-and-braces approach to life under canvas could leave an HGV overloaded – and the mighty E-Class was defeated. Our tent is bigger than the house we live in, plus we had camp beds, cooking kit and a table and chairs to cram in, so we were forced to fit a roofbox.

Bags full of clothes, buckets, spades and windbreaks all piled in. In the end, it took two of us to squeeze it shut. With our two kids strapped in the back, we were ready to go. And despite being loaded to within an ounce of its maximum permissible weight, the E-Class still felt agile and responsive. The aerodynamic shape of our Thule roofbox meant fuel economy wasn’t too bad, either.

I reckon it knocked no more than 2mpg off the long-term average. But the real bonus of the roofbox didn’t reveal itself until we’d arrived at our destination and unloaded.

With the option of storing luggage up top, I was able to open up the £1,000 optional occasional seats in the boot, and turn the Merc into a seven-seat people carrier for the duration.

It’s this versatility that has impressed me the most about this car. It’s a family estate that’s also an MPV. And it’s a practical luxury car that’s also extremely fast and fun to drive. Just how fast was revealed on a run down to the Nürburgring 24 Hours race in Germany for our recent BMW M Car special (Issue 1,173).

The E-Class was playing the role of support vehicle for our trip so, as well as being laden with camera gear, it was stuffed with spare parts – including a full set of tyres – plus cleaning kit and food to keep us going. On a flat-out blast down the Autobahn, we touched 152mph – that’s only 3mph shy of the claimed maximum. Fuel economy clung to the 30mpg mark, and all those who drove the estate agreed that it has an unbeatable blend of comfort and stability, plus a real sense of safety.

Having covered the journey to Germany in record time, the run back was far more sedate. Tired from two days of work, I was relieved to be able to switch on the Distronic automatic cruise control and effectively let the E-Class drive us back to Calais. One problem has reared its head, however, as an air-filled bladder that forms part of the seat’s adjustable support system appears to have sprung a leak. I’ll get it checked out by my local dealer. Predictably, the car also needs a good wash – that’s a top priority for the weekend.

Yet despite all the hard work the Mercedes has done in recent weeks, under the thin film of grime, the high-quality materials look as fresh as they did on the day it arrived. Is this the best car on our long-term test fleet? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mercedes E-Class

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