2019 Mercedes-Benz E450 Estate 4Matic AMG Line Premium Plus (CH)

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This rental was for a weekend based out of Zurich, in advance of a visit to the 2019 Geneva Motor Show. Since I was working in Zurich on a regular basis, the nature of the Hertz fleet has changed significantly, with much more of an emphasis now on premium and prestige badged cars, as I have noticed on those occasions when I have been back. Whilst none of these come cheap on the web site when you are booking them, nor, any longer, do the more prosaic models. And so I persuaded myself that I would indulge and book something better than the standard hatchback or family car, and selected a category for which the sample car was a BMW 3 Series Touring. Before heading to the rental car desk, I had a quick detour into the parking area, to see what was actually parked up. There were not that many cars, and most of them seemed to be Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac Escalade (both new to the fleet for 2019, I gather), but I did spot a 320d Touring, and a few other cars. Including this car, which as I saw it head on, I thought was a C Class Estate. At the counter, I was all poised to be given a Volvo V90, when I happened to mention that I would be doing a lot of miles, at which point the counter agent said she would give me something else, and a Mercedes key appeared. She thought that this car – an even more significant upgrade than the V90 – would please me even more. And when I went back into the parking area, I could see it was the Mercedes I had walked by earlier. Head on, a C and an E Class are hard to tell apart. The trick is to look at them from the side. On the Class, the side crease is well below the door handles whereas on an E Class, it actually goes through the doorhandles. This detail apart, the cars are hard to distinguish at a glance, Anyway, I had an E Class for the weekend, not a model I had driven in its latest W213 guise, so I was pleased, even if the photographer’s heart sank when spotting it that it was Obsidian Black Metallic, probably the most photographically difficult colour of the lot.

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The latest E Class Mercedes range, known under development as the W213 generation, made its debut at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, going on sale in saloon guise in the middle of the year with an estate model arriving later in 2016. Coupe and convertible versions followed in 2017 along with the potent E63 AMG cars. There had been an intensive 4 year development program costing over €1bn, and on launch, Mercedes said that this was the most technologically advanced car they had ever built. It did meet one initial problem, which was that unless you had a really expert eye it was more or less impossible to tell apart from the smaller C Class and larger S Class, as I have already noted here. However, when people got to drive it, this problem seemed less important and the car received good reviews, benefitting from a wide range of new engines which were a massive improvement on the outclassed ones that had come in the latest C Class a couple of years earlier. Like so many cars these days, the W213 E Class grew in every direction, being 43 mm longer at 4,923 mm, with a wheelbase that was also extended 65 mm to 2,939 mm giving more interior space. It is actually 2 mm narrower and 6 mm lower than its predecessor. The increased use of high-strength steel and aluminium is claimed to make the car up to 100 kg lighter than the W212 E-Class. Needless to say, the latest technological and safety features have all been included either as standard or on the extensive options list, but the ethos of the E Class largely remained unchanged. This is, after all, the car that was the doyen of the German taxi fleet and also popular with affluent families who valued its no-nonsense competence and quintessential Mercedes-ness. That reputation took something of a battering with the E210 generation’s propensity to rust and the follow-on car’s troublesome electronics, but the W212 did much to restore matters. I certainly rather liked the W212 I sampled in saloon and cabrio guises a few years ago. The question now was how the latest E Class would fare.

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The labelling on the key said that this was an E450, and indeed that was the badge I spotted on the tailgate when giving the car the pre-departure damage check. I confess I was not familiar with E450 as a member of the range, but Mercedes continue to ring the changes on the numbering of the cars, sometimes accompanied by engine changes and sometimes for “marketing reasons”. When I got in the car, I noticed that the floor mats said AMG, which confused me even more, as I did not recall seeing any AMG badging on the car. I did wonder if this was the follow-on to the E43 AMG when that short-lived model morphed into the E53 AMG with mild hybrid assist. My research revealed that in fact this model takes over from the E400, and that despite the 450 badging, the engine is actually a 3 litre twin-turbocharged 6 cylinder unit, developing 362 bhp and 370 lb/ft of torque. There is a very pleasant rumble when starting up, which settles down more to a purr as the engine warms through. It is very smooth and refined and there is ample power on tap as well as plenty of torque to give the car plentiful acceleration and to allow it to be a restful cruiser. It would be more restful still if the wind noise and tyre roar were better suppressed, though it would be overstating things to say that either are unduly prominent. Standard is a 9-speed automatic gearbox, which can be operated in manual mode with the wheel-mounted paddles. The gearbox seemed hyper-sensitive, and it seemed always to change down a gear on the motorway at any speed whenever even the slightest bit of acceleration was required. As a consequence, it could come across as very slightly jerky at times. As you might expect, there are multiple driving modes on offer, called Dynamic Select, though I left the car in Comfort for the majority of my test. During the course of the weekend, I covered 950 km, and needed to put in 83.8 litres of fuel so I could return it full. That computes to an impressive 32.16 mpg, which is a good result for a large and relatively powerful car.

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The other driving dynamics were all fine, with no unpleasant surprises but equally, this is not really a car that someone looking for the ultimate driving machine would necessarily think would merit the title. The steering is light and does not have that much in the way of feel but it does mean that this large and heavy car is easy to drive at all times. There was plenty of grip, with the 4Matic all-wheel drive system sending power to all four wheels. There was no call to test the ultimate stopping power of the brakes but they did get quite a good workout on the day in the mountain where they remained consistent powerful all day. There is an electronic handbrake with a button on the dash. AMG-Line badging would usually suggest that handling has been prioritised over ride comfort, but actually that was not really the case here, with the E450 proving comfortable on the various surfaces of the test route even though it rode on 19″ alloys, a couple of inches bigger than those of the entry level cars. All-round air suspension is an option, not fitted to the test car, though as an estate you do get rear self-levelling. There is what Mercedes call Agility Control which has a number of different suspension settings. As the test was undertaken in early March, I got plenty of opportunity to drive the car in the dark and can report that the headlights were very good with a well-aimed beam of light. Despite the high waistline and relatively small glass area, visibility is also good, and there are cameras all round, which project an image onto the central display screen. Parking sensors provided an extra warning in tight spaces.

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The interior of the E450 could only be that of a modern Mercedes with all the same sort of design cues as you find in the rest of the range. Sadly that also means that the once-held reputation for quality and a feeling of indestructibility are no longer quite as much a feature as they used to be. Some of the materials used are of good quality, such as the leather that wraps the steering wheel, but the “metal” on the wheel and some of the switches looks tawdry, the milled inlays on the door casings are on the cheap side and the “wood” is so obviously plastic, though the matt finish to it is infinitely preferable to the swathes of gloss black plastic that you find so often in cars at present. Fit is good, though and there were no squeaks and rattles. The colour of the ambient lighting can be changed for 64 different hues, which some may see as bit of a gimmick, but that seems to the way of the modern Mercedes. There is what you could describe as like two adjoining smart phones in landscape mode which extend from in front of the driver to the right hand end of the centre of the car with the first part of this housing the instruments and the central part the infotainment display screen. The high definition graphics are crisp and clear. The instrument display comprises two large electronic dials for the speedometer and rev counter with the smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature inset in the lower portion of the larger ones. That leaves room for a digital display area for trip computer functions between the dials and you can cycle through the various menus using buttons on the steering wheel. The test car featured a Head-Up Display, which I appreciated. It included a speed limit recognition function as well as showing your current speed. The gearlever is on the upper right of the column, meaning that there is only one significant stalk, on the left, for indicators and wipers. There is a second lower stalk, but this is not for cruise control – which is on the steering wheel boss – rather it is to adjust the column. Lights are operated by a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash is dominated by a large 12.3″ colour touch screen for the combined audio and infotainment system, based on COMAND. It certainly looks better integrated than the “stuck-on iPad” look in the smaller C Class models. This proved easy to operate with what is best described as like a large mouse-type controller in the centre console making it relatively easy to select functions without having to take your eyes off the road. This has touch areas in it and also a haptic interface which some people prefer. There is a DAB radio, though this seemed rather to cut in and out, so it was quite hard to listen to at times. A Burmester sound system is included and the sound quality from the 13 speakers was excellent. The navigation was useful, with a clear map which was easy to assimilate from a quick glance, Beneath the unit was a line of those rather cheap metal effect buttons for the dual zone automated climate control. Overall, Mercedes have managed to pack in a lot of functions without the cabin looking over-burdened by switches and buttons.

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The seats of the test car looked like they were trimmed with leather, but in fact the material used is Artico, which is a man-made leather. It proved hard to distinguish from the real thing. As you might expect from a car of this class and price, there is electric adjustment for the front seats and the steering column also has lever to adjust it electrically. There is a 3 position memory so you can store the ideal position once you’ve found it. The seats had heating elements. Sadly, I never found the seat to be truly comfortable, the worst problem being that the seat cushion was too long for my relatively short legs. There is certainly a feeling of space, with ample width and plenty of headroom even allowing for the sunroof that was on the test car. I was surprised by the very cheap feel to the sunvisors, though I do recall that other Mercedes models have been similarly afflicted.

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The rear seat is very spacious. Even with the front seats set well back, there is lots of legroom and the car is wide enough for three adults easily to fit across it. the central tunnel is not that wide so would not be too much of an obstacle for the middle passenger to straddle. Headroom is also generous. There is a drop-down central armrest with cup holders in the upper surface and odds and ends can go in the rather small door pockets or the map pockets on the back of the front seats. Larger in capacity than its rivals, there is a vast boot, accessed by an electrically-assisted tailgate. Not needing to touch it is probably a good thing, as the back car seemed to suck dirt onto it rather more than happens with most other cars. The space is long, and deep under the standard cover and it is regular in shape with little intrusion from the wheel arches. There is a stowage net on one side to hold bits and pieces in place. There is a large underfloor cubby. New on the S213 generation, the rear seat backrest angles can be varied through about 10 degrees, so a bit more cargo space can be created in exchange for the rear seat passengers sitting a little more upright. Even more space can be created by dropping the 40:20:40 asymmetrically split rear seat backrests down. the resulting load bay is long and flat. To release the backrests, there are electric switches located in the load compartment and to the right and left next to the backrests. Standard self-levelling air suspension means that even if the car is heavily loaded, the rear of the car will still be as level as if there were nothing in the boot. All E-Class Estate models are available with an optional folding bench seat in the boot, for £1,250. This provides an extra rear-facing two Artico-covered seats, which are specifically designed for use by children under 115 cm (3 ft 9 in) in height and which are stored under the load compartment floor when not in use. An Easy-Pack load securing kit can be specified for an additional £295. This provides rails in the load compartment floor with a telescopic bar that means luggage can be safely clamped against the rear seats or side wall. Neither of these features were on the test car. Inside the cabin there is good provision for odds and ends with a deep centre cubby under the armrest, a well-sized glovebox and door bins.

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Mercedes offer a vast range of E Class models. There are four bodystyles: Saloon, Estate, Coupe and Convertible. There is a long wheelbase saloon sold in China and there are two versions of the Estate, with the choice of the standard model such as the test car and the All-Terrain offering a raised ride height and styling changes, which is aimed at rivalling the Audi All Road and Volvo X-Country. Then you choose an engine, with a mix of petrol and diesel models on offer. It used to be the case that the vast majority of E Classes sold in Europe were diesels but that is changing and the plug-in hybrid models have grown steadily in popularity. Petrol powered cars – with the name not really telling you the size of the engine – ranging from 4 cylinder E200 (181 bhp), E250 (208 bhp) and E300 (242 bhp) cars all using the same M274 2.0 turbo unit, the 6 cylinder E350 and now E450 models as well as the E53 and E63 AMG monsters. Diesel cars come as the E200d which puts out 150 bhp from a 1.8 litre engine,and the 2.0 litre engine E220d (191 bhp) and E300d (242 bhp) as well as 6 cylinder E350d and E400d cars, and there are hybrid E300e and E300de models as well. 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard on the higher end models and an option on all bar the entry level cars. There are two core trim levels on offer before you reach for the vast options list which comprises both packages and individual items. You can tell some of them apart are there are two different front ends, with the grille being the recognition point. Even the entry level cars are well equipped In the UK these are known as SE and come with Garmin Map Pilot navigation system; Agility Control suspension; Easy-Pack automatic powered tail gate; Parking Pilot including Parktronic and reversing camera; chrome roof rails; 64-colour selectable LED interior lighting; Keyless-Go starting function; heated front seats; DAB radio; and 17-inch alloys with a five-spoke design. For an extra £2,495, AMG Line adds AMG exterior styling with 19-inch alloy wheels in titanium grey; upper dashboard finished in Artico leather; black ash wood trim; brushed stainless steel AMG sports pedals with black rubber studs; and a three-spoke AMG steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather. Premium and Premium Plus packages are also available. The Premium pack (£2,795) includes Keyless-Go Comfort package; Memory package; and a panoramic glass sunroof. For an additional £1,100, Premium Plus adds the Burmester surround sound system with 13 speakers; and a Multibeam LED Intelligent Light System. My test car came in Premium Plus spec. There are several more option packages. Next-generation driver assistance systems include a Lane Tracking Package (£595) that includes Passive Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist; and the more comprehensive Driving Assistance Plus Package. The Driving Assistance Plus package costs £1,695, and includes Drive Pilot, which combines three innovative assistance systems; Steering Pilot, Distance Pilot Distronic, and Speed Limit Pilot. Steering Pilot detects road markings and actively assists the driver by one-sided braking, guiding the car to stay within its lane. Distance Pilot Distronic uses radars to maintain a set distance from the car in front, while Speed Limit Pilot detects a change in speed limit and automatically alters the car’s speed without intervention from the driver. Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, Evasive Steering Assist, and Pre-Safe Impulse Side are also included in the Driving Assistance Plus package. Comand Online is available for £1,495 and increases the standard 8.4-inch navigation screen to 12.3 inches. Customers can opt for the 12.3-inch cockpit display – creating a widescreen effect inside the cabin for just £495.

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There is lots to like about the E450 Estate. It is very spacious, and in this guise goes well without being as thirsty as you might fear. It drives well, though with more of an orientation for comfort than fun but as a family hauler that is probably the right balance to have struck. It is not perfect though, with the rather chintzy aspects of the interior being the antithesis of what Mercedes used to deliver, but which does not seem to have harmed sales. Is it the best in class? That I am not sure, as there are two obvious German rivals – the 5 Series Touring and the Audi A6 Avant – and two others, the Jaguar XF SportBrake and the Volvo V90. I’ve not driven any of them, but would guess that the BMW and Jaguar might be more fun, the Volvo the nicest inside and the Audi perhaps the best overall package. Let’s hope I get the chance to try them all soon and see if I am right.

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