by Jake Lingeman
The humble station wagon used to be the car for families as diverse as the Bradys, the Foremans, and probably the most famous, the Griswolds in National Lampoon's Vacation. But wagons fell out of favor for high-riding and cavernous minivans in the '80s and '90s, which then gave way to SUVs and crossovers, but some stuck around, including this, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain. Looking at the beefy black cladding on the arches, you might call this a crossover, but it's really an attempt at disguising the humble wagon in much the same way as Audi has the A6 allroad or Volvo has with the V90 Cross Country. Deception, it seems, is the key to saving the station wagon for future generations to enjoy.
With a price starting at a surprisingly reasonable $67,600, the E450 4MATIC All-Terrain Wagon - as it's officially titled - is a high-riding wagon powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six developing 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque before the EQ Boost mild hybrid assistance joins the fray. To fit in with its pseudo-SUV styling, all-wheel drive gives this wagon a penchant for dirt. However, from behind the wheel, it feels like a regular sedan, and with spacious seating for five, exceptional handling, and great fuel economy, this high-rider could be the best of both worlds in one exceptional package. Then, when you thought it couldn't get any better, the E450 All-Terrain has two rear-facing jump seats to make this a seven-seater.
Mercedes-Benz is dumping the entire E-Class Wagon range and only the All-Terrain and AMG E63 will be available going forward. Along with the rest of the E-Class range, the All-Terrain boasts a significant design upgrade both inside and outside for the 2021 model year. The old COMAND infotainment interface has been dropped in favor of Merc's newer MBUX infotainment system inside the cabin, while under the hood, the old AMG-derived twin-turbo V6 has been replaced with Merc's latest 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six with mild-hybrid assistance.
The price of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain starts at $67,600 for the E450 4Matic, excluding the destination charge of $1,050. This is some $40k cheaper than the only other wagon Mercedes sells - the AMG E63 Wagon - but that deficit can quickly be made up if you're liberal with the options. So, in the best interest of good consumer reporting, we specced an E450 All-Terrain to the max, and it nearly reached six figures. Fully loaded, it carries an MSRP of $96,910 including destination - nearly 50% more than the base price.
See trim levels and configurations:
|E450 4MATIC All-Terrain Wagon||
3.0L Turbo Inline-6 Gas
But it's the handling department that wagons excel at compared to equivalent SUVs. Around expressway cloverleafs, or roundabouts, or any curvy county roads, the E450 feels as planted as a sports sedan. It stays mostly flat, especially in the sportier drive modes, and the long wheelbase makes high-speed maneuvers feel safe. Then there's the standard air suspension, which is a crucial part of how this wagon feels.
Speaking of drive modes, the E 450 gets two off-road modes that both raise the vehicle higher than its standard 5.75 inches of clearance. The first one is for your average rutted roads, slippery roads and maybe driving on grass, which is always fun. Off-Road+ turns off the traction control and engages hill-descent control at speeds of up to 28 mph. We used the setting at a muddy piece of property and found it more than up to the task of navigating narrow two track roads and semi-deep, rocky trails.
Our only complaint in this area is the 20-inch wheels equipped to our tester with 245/40-profile rubber. They have a very low profile and though the suspension sucks up most of the bounce from the road, there's a harshness to the bumps that doesn't feel great. At one point we barreled from an asphalt road to dirt with a decent dip at the edge. The E 450 banged, loudly enough that we had to get out and check the tires for a flat. Stick with the standard 19s, which come equipped with slightly higher-profile 245/45 all-season tires. Better yet, ask your dealer to hook you up with some tall 18s lying around, even though these aren't technically an option.
We love wagons, in almost any form, for all the reasons we've mentioned above. You get all the dynamic benefits of a sedan with the space of an SUV. And modern wagons just look cooler than crossovers, although the Brady's Pontiac Satellite longroof was undeniably cool.
Mercedes no longer sells a regular version of the E-Class Wagon, with this crossover in its place to lure in buyers who might have set out in search of an SUV, and we think it's a smart move. This particular wagon, with the buttery-smooth inline-six and EQ Boost, is plenty fast for anyone not looking to lay rubber around every corner, and the stop/start system is up there with the Porsche Panamera hybrid as one of the best we've ever experienced. It's also about half the price of the AMG wagon, vastly more comfortable, and decently capable off-road. The interior strikes a fine balance of spaciousness, luxury, and practicality, and the driving dynamics are almost flawless. We wish Mercedes would include more standard driver assistance for the money though.
Personally, this writer isn't a fan of the black body cladding, but it's a necessity in a world obsessed with SUVs. Rivals like Volvo and Audi all have something similar, but the powertrain here is by far the best. Of course, rivals are cheaper and some are more spacious. We definitely think the 2021 Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain does enough to justify a lead in this segment, but we wouldn't sign a deal without test driving the Volvo first.
We love the AMG E63 S Wagon. It's impossible not to. But at $112K, you don't get double the utility for almost double the price of this E450. So this just makes so much sense. The paint colors are boring except for the Cardinal Red Metallic at $1,080 which gets our nod of approval. We'd stick to the standard 19-inch wheels but select the $900 Exterior Lighting Package for the intelligent LED lighting and adaptive high beam headlights. On the inside, we'd stick with a no-cost wood-look trim and choose one of the $1,620 leather upholstery options - not the $4,900 designo Nappa leather. Throw in massaging seats, a heated steering wheel, the Driver Assistance Package, Premium Package, and head-up display and you're all-in on a great package deal for less than $80,000 including destination.
These two vehicles are remarkably similar, right down to the cylinder count and mild-hybrid assistance. The Audi only has 335 hp to play with, but its 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds matches the Mercedes claim. Mercedes wins the fuel efficiency battle though, 2 mpg more efficient across the board than the Audi, and we peg it as having the smoother powertrain, too.
It's another win for the Mercedes when it comes to cargo capacity. It offers five cubic feet more room with the seats folded up, and it has a third row of seats in a pinch. Both have classy, comfortable interiors, but we think Audi pulls it off a little better, and it comes with more toys as standard, with more safety features and the likes of tri-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera, and a 16-speaker B&O sound system. Despite this, its pricing starts at $1,700 less. The Audi may represent better value in this regard, but the Merc makes the most sense to us from a practicality perspective, and the added fuel savings paired with more power - smoother power at that - sway us in favor of the E-Class, if only by a little.
Volvo's V90 Cross Country might just be the most handsome wagon out there, but looks alone can't win this fight. In one crucial way, Volvo is superior. The Swedish brand always includes a lot of safety features as standard despite its base price being nearly $13,000 less than the Merc.
The Mercedes does make the V90 feel old, however. Volvo's twincharged four-cylinder engines were impressive a few years ago, but not anymore. At just 316 hp combined, it's 46 hp down on the Merc and is nowhere near as refined. Yet the Mercedes is still able to match the Volvo's gas mileage.
We're thankful Volvo started this whole minimalist interior trend, but the Sensus touchscreen system is also starting to show its age. No matter how well you know it, you still have to look down to do something as simple as changing the cabin's temperature. The Merc's tech is much newer and much easier to use, and dare we say it, its interior also feels fresher. The Volvo may be slightly more spacious, but it doesn't have third-row seats, and the trunk is smaller than the Mercedes. We'll always have a soft spot for Volvo wagons, and the V90 CC is exceptionally cool, but the 2021 E-Class All-Terrain is a superior car, even if you have to pay a fair bit more for that superiority. If you're shopping on a budget, though, the V90 is exceptional value for money.