While America at large has fallen out of love with the station wagon, a small group of enthusiasts and devotees keeps the genre alive in the United States. It's a mostly affluent crowd, with the remaining long-roof options coming from the likes of Volvo, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. But even those holdouts have tacitly acknowledged that to sell Americans a wagon, you might need to pretend it's something else, namely, a crossover. This means adding fender flares, body cladding, and off-road pretensions, as exemplified by the Audi Allroad and Volvo V90 Cross Country. Mercedes, which nobly resisted this trend (in the U.S., anyway), now recasts the faithful E-class wagon as the All-Terrain. Allroad, All-Terrain, all right, let's bolt on the lift kit.
The All-Terrain's been available in Europe since 2017, but since it was diesel only, we didn't get it in the U.S. The Volkswagen diesel scandal has terrified every German carmaker. Petrified by VW's plight, Mercedes purged the All-Terrain's diesels from the order sheets, and there went the car's chances for a U.S. launch. But now Daimler's added an attractive gasoline engine to its European lineup, and that's the one that will be exported to the States. Meet the Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic All-Terrain.
Compared to the lower version of the E-class—which lives on in the Mercedes-AMG E63 S model—the All-Terrain is distinguished by its increased ground clearance and its unpainted front, rear, and side cladding, which lends it a somewhat rugged appearance. The simulated underfloor protection, which Benz calls a "stylized skid plate" is executed in a mirror chrome finish.
The E450 All-Terrain is not all show. Its minimum ground clearance is about two inches more than the 3.7 inches afforded by the 2020 wagon, and its air springs can raise the body to a higher level than on the regular E-class. There are two specific off-road drive modes that sense slippery and rough surfaces and react accordingly. While not a true off-roader, this car will be able to travel farther off pavement than most owners will ever dare to go. Dirt roads, mud, and snow can be more easily traversed in this E-class, and that capability could turn it into a favorite in zip codes that combine bad weather with high median income.
With the exception of the slightly elevated seating position, the All-Terrain's on-road driving experience is virtually identical to that of the regular E450. The infotainment system and user interface have been significantly upgraded as well, but we have a particular gripe: Unlike the previous twist-and-push scroll knob, the new console-mounted touchpad lacks grace in operation, requiring constant corrections and far more driver attention. At least the central screen is touch sensitive, and you don't need to learn a car-specific dialect to use the cloud-based "Hey Mercedes" voice command system. But we hear that Mercedes-Benz is contemplating bringing the pre-facelift system back to some markets, and we certainly hope the U.S. is among them.
While a diesel would perfectly suit this wagon's attitude, the hybridized inline-six on the E450 All-Terrain is a very appealing powerplant as well. Emitting a silky purr, it cranks out 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque channeled to all four wheels through Mercedes-Benz's homegrown nine-speed automatic transmission. There's also a 21-horsepower starter-generator dubbed EQ Boost that fills in low-end torque with an additional 184 pound-feet. All of this translates into quick reflexes and a sprint from zero to 60 mph in an estimated 5.0 seconds, despite the All-Terrain's crossover-like heft (4600 pounds). Top speed is governed at 155 mph in Germany, but we suspect the inevitable all-season tires will serve as an excuse to keep U.S.-market models to a maximum of 130 mph.
The standard air springs help make the All-Terrain a supremely comfortable long-distance cruiser. The setup is on the plush side, but this car is happy to play in the corners as well. It's spacious, too. At 194.8 inches long—half an inch longer than the GLE-class SUV—it offers plenty of space for all seats. Well, except maybe the third row, which faces the rear and folds out from the floor. Those two seats are best used as a perch from which kids can make faces at the driver behind you, in time-honored station-wagon fashion.
As with the other E-classes, road and wind noise is effectively squelched, and the driving experience is altogether luxurious. The materials are of high quality, but we lament the fact that there's no interior option that reflects the All-Terrain's rugged pretensions. We mean, maybe not offer a hose-it-out interior, but surely they could hide a hatchet and a snakebite kit in there somewhere, or set up a collaboration with Jack Wolfskin. Outside, the colors are carried over from the regular E-class as well, and the 15-spoke wheels have about three times too many spokes for a rim that's supposed to connote rough-and-ready outdoor adventures. It would be good if Daimler offered a few earthy colors and wheel designs that would look a bit more at home in the dirt.
It's hard to say whether the E450 All-Terrain will make customers fall in love again with the station wagon. But we think it has a better chance than the regular wagon. And we think it is good enough to get a few GLE customers to reconsider how high they need to ride. We expect pricing to start near $70,000 when the All-Terrain makes it to dealers at the end of this year.
You Might Also Like