From the not so sunny Portuguese Algarve to the likes of the snow-covered Alps in Tyrollean Austria, Mercedes-Benz takes me to vastly different places to show off the diversity of the new E-Class model range. Meet the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain: Mercedes’ take on the rougher-edged all-wheel drive estate with off-road capabilities.
A market for such vehicles has existed for much longer than you may think, as Japanese brand Subaru presented its bold looking Outback to the US market well over 20 years ago today. It took another three years for one of the European brands to roll the dice with the introduction of the Volvo XC70 following in 1997. Another three years later Audi was the first of the German premium brands to enter this niche market with its Allroad Quattro models and ever since things have been somewhat quiet.
Until now that is, as Mercedes-Benz has geared up the E-Class Estate with the required equipment to stir up the market and win the hearts of adventurists and soccer moms alike. Why it took the brand so long to come up with an answer to the Allroad Quattro – a car that despite operating in a niche market has been reasonably successful over the past decade – is something that remains a mystery to myself and I am sure many others. Surely there are plenty of explanations and arguments for not entering the niche earlier, yet it conflicts with this idyllic picture that I have of Mercedes-Benz as the ‘king of niche markets’.
Why? Well, the brand’s track record and diverse model line-up speak for itself. As of now I count 48 AMG models, an array of different body styles for each of its models, and let’s not forget the recent unveiling of both the X-Class pickup truck and Maybach S650 Cabriolet, two polar opposites of each other redefining the edges of the brand’s model offering. In that regard it should come as no surprise that eventually Mercedes-Benz would attempt to enter the off-road estate market as well.
Mercedes-Benz found in their all new E-Class the perfect base for the All Terrain. The new T-Modell is spacious, comfortable and above all ‘a masterpiece of intelligence’. To create the All Terrain its suspension was lifted by some 29 millimeters and the necessary adventurous styling was added in the form of grained plastic wheel arches, the distinctive SUV front grille borrowed directly from the GLE line, and a three-part bumper partly in body color and partly complimented with plastic on both the front and rear of the car.
There are three different wheel sets to choose from varying in size from the standard 19-inch to the optional 20-inch. The wheels are complimented with higher sidewalls giving the vehicle more ground clearance and enhancing driving comfort when tackling rougher terrains.
In addition to all the extra exterior flics the All Terrain gets its own exclusive interior trim as well. The All Terrain exclusive interior comprises a blend of aluminum and carbon fiber inlays, as well as stainless steel sports pedals with rubber studs and floor mats with All Terrain lettering. The exclusive trim is based on Mercedes’ Avantgarde line, and customers are free to choose from all other trims available on the standard E-Class as well.
The new All Terrain certainly features the best the E-Class Estate model has to offer. One of those perks is the intelligent cargo load solution with the rear seats folding with a 40:20:40 split as standard, liberating a total of 1,820 liters of luggage space. The same goes for all the (optional) intelligent driver assistance and safety systems that debuted on the E-Class sedan earlier this year, immediately catapulting the All Terrain to the top of the market upon entrance when it comes to intelligence and driving comfort.
Out of all cars I have had the liberty of test driving so far this year, I am confident to say that the new E-Class was by far the most comfortable contender. A big factor in that driving comfort is Mercedes’ AIR BODY CONTROL multi-chamber air suspension, a setup which happens to be standard on the new All Terrain. The ultra soft suspension is most pleasant when cruising in comfort mode, where all road inefficiencies and small bumps are effortlessly neutralized.
In order to adhere to the rules of the market, it should come as no surprise that the All Terrain is equipped with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as standard too. Power is routed through the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission, which on its part is closely tied to the standard DYNAMIC SELECT menu. On the All Terrain drivers can choose between five different driving modes including Eco, Comfort, Sport, All Terrain and Individual. As the modes are pretty self-explanatory, the All Terrain mode ideally configures the car for off-road driving using settings that were derived from the GLE’s off-road driving program.
From market launch the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain will only be available with its inline-four 2.0-liter diesel engine, badged E 220 d 4MATIC and good for 194 hp (143 kW) and 400 Nm of torque. A short while into its market launch the All Terrain should become available with the inline-six diesel under its hood. The new OM 656 inline-six diesel is a fierce one, with an output rated at 313 hp (230 kW). While customers will have to wait a while longer to enjoy the extra diesel power, I was lucky to find the E 350 d part of the press fleet.
Opening the door of the All Terrain felt somewhat like coming home, the distinctive new leather smell and warm interior space greeted me upon entrance. The powerful diesel was quickly ignited and soon after we made our descend down from the hill on which the Innsbruck ski jump resides, a terrific place for lunch with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and surrounding area. The small curvy gravel road downhill was the ideal warm up for the All Terrain, it was effortlessly absorbed by the comfortable air suspension and me and my co-driver were neatly kept in place thanks to the active side bolsters in the car’s front seats.
On the road the car felt steady and despite the altered ride height wind noise was pretty much non-existent. In fact, it was quite tough in general to detect any difference in terms of driving compared to the standard Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate. The drive was just as smooth and the All Terrain feels almost just as agile in corners. The heated leather steering wheel feels sturdy and is not over-assisted by the electric power-assisted steering module.
If I were to mention a difference, it is probably that it felt like the 9G-TRONIC gearbox was differently calibrated. Gear shifts seemed a bit less direct and while driving more dynamically the downshifts came with a little more delay than I would prefer. However, when sport mode is engaged through the DYNAMIC SELECT menu the car does get punchier. This is where the diesel shows its strength with an abundance of torque available from the low rpm, and the gearbox becomes naturally more reactive. It also gets a bit of sound to it, where the diesel is otherwise very silent like it is supposed to be.
The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system boosts confidence, especially during winter in the Tyrollean mountains. The next morning the ultimate test awaited us, an opportunity to conquerer the closed alpine pass up the Timmelsjoch mountain on the border between Austria and Italy. Under guidance we start our quest at the Austrian toll station of the Timmelsjoch pass, the highest point of which is 2,509 meters altitude. In convoy we quickly devour the first stretch of asphalt as we soon after find ourselves on a mix of snow and ice. Via the on-board radio we were asked to change driving modes at certain points on our journey to the top, a great opportunity to take note of the different attitudes of the versatile 4MATIC AWD system.
In sport mode it clearly took the car much more time to find traction due to increased wheel-spin. s In All Terrain mode the suspension of the car is lifted by an additional 20 mm, and it will automatically lower itself once you go faster than 35 km/h. It comes its own settings screen which informs the driver about things such as the wind, steering angle and driving direction by means of a compass. To further put the All Terrain mode to the test, we were invited to take the car for a spin around a local forest on our way back to the airport.
The small trailhead with sizable rocks scattered all over it showed to be no match for the All Terrain and formed a fun experience to get to know the true capabilities of the car. Now it is highly unlikely that buyers of the new All Terrain will take it off-roading on a regular basis, but the fact that it is possible is what this car is all about. It comes with the comfort and practicalities of a spacious estate and is capable of doing a little extra.
The fact that 4MATIC and AIR BODY CONTROL air suspension are standard will come at a price, expect a significant premium over the €48,665,05 from which the E-Class Estate is currently priced in Germany. Considering the competition, the Audi A6 Allroad Quattro, also with air suspension as standard, is priced from €55,800,00 and for that money you do get a 3.0-liter V6 TDI as standard. And what to think about Volvo with their new V90 series that is ready to take on the German premium segment. The Swedish brand just recently unveiled the V90 Cross Country, the base version of which comes with a four-cylinder engine and optional air suspension at the rear axle. It has a starting price tag in Germany of €56,350,00.
I would expect Mercedes to jump in a tad higher than the competition, especially considering its benchmark premium interior and driver assistance systems. So when you are ready to spend a little extra on your next E-Class, why should you invest in the All Terrain? Well, as always it depends on what you will use the car for. I can see how the All Terrain will appeal to fanatic skiers that regularly take their car up into the mountains during winter or people that are not afraid of a little adventure but do not want to commit to an SUV just yet.
Finally if you do not find yourself in such a situation, it might just be the case that you find the car visually appealing and are willing to spend a little extra to not have the ordinary E-Class. I see this happen all the time in countries that have no need for cars like this or in fact for all-wheel drive at all, yet there will always be people in the market for such a vehicle.
The E-Class All Terrain will in some cases be the only type of E-Class available for order, which is the case in countries such as Russia, Australia and New Zealand. The USA will not get the All Terrain, although I heard rumors that Mercedes-Benz USA might be reconsidering its stance after having seen the All Terrain in the flesh. In Europe it will arrive in showrooms from March 2017 with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder being the only option, while the inline-six diesel becomes available in the third quarter of 2017. We expect Mercedes-Benz to release pricing early next year.
My experience with the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain was a true adventure. From the summit of the Timmelsjoch pass to off-roading in the wilderness, the All Terrain is capable of comfortably bringing you to your destination. The diesel engines are powerful yet silent in nature further enhancing driving comfort. The All Terrain has all the perks from the E-Class estate, from the driving intelligence systems to its pristine luxurious and spacious interior, yet it is all put together in a slightly more versatile package.