Once, no American middle-class household was complete without a golden
retriever, a Walkman for each junior Master of the Universe, a swing set gracing
the back lawn, and a station wagon in the garage next to Dad's sedan. In today's digital world, only the dog remains a must-have accessory for the bourgeoisie, and the favorite family hold-all is the three-row SUV. Although the station-wagon segment has shrunk to a niche within a niche, a small bunch of well-to-do nonconformists still like their Allroads, Sport Turismos, and Cross Countrys. Against all odds, however, Mercedes expects an increased take rate for the second-generation E-class All-Terrain. We drove the 2024 E450 4Matic and were smitten by its style and ability.
Even though the All-Terrain feels at home on a variety of challenging surfaces and should be capable of tackling loose gravel and deep snow, don't let the plastic-clad wheel arches, the beefier bumpers, and a bespoke grille fool you: This luxury wagon lacks the serious ground clearance, the steep approach and departure angles, and the fording depth required for serious mud wrestling and rock climbing. Still, this special E-class is not just a pretty pretender. There are underbody protection plates front and rear, and the air suspension can be lowered by 0.6 inch (it lowers automatically above 75 mph) and raised by 0.8 inch (when fully raised, speed is limited to 9 mph).
Would-be off-roaders get a new widget with bespoke graphics and detailed information that's displayed on the optional full-width Superscreen. Available information includes a compass with position details, temperature and elevation readouts, a tire-pressure and temperature gauge, inclination and tilt-angle meters, a suspension-travel pictogram, and a ride-height adjustment button. And there's more, including hill-descent control that can be set at any speed up to 11 mph. The optional 360-degree surround-view camera system includes a so-called "transparent hood." This stitched-together view utilizes an underbody camera that turns straddling rocks and crossing streams into a live in-dash video experience.
Still, the All-Terrain is too precious for the Rubicon Trail, but riding a little higher than the sedan, it will safely take you right to the doorstep of a remote ski lodge in the middle of a snow storm, tow up to 4600 pounds of snowmobiles or trail bikes, and carry 65 cubic feet of prime claret in its luggage compartment. Even the multibeam LED headlights have an off-road mode that compensates for sharp dips and rises while broadening and intensifying the close-range illumination at low speed. There is no change to the familiar E-class air suspension supported by adaptive dampers and a pair of anti-roll bars, but like all E450 models, the All-Terrain gets the stronger Sport brakes with larger-diameter 14.6-inch front and 14.2-inch rear rotors.
The only engine available in the U.S. is the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, which now develops 375 horsepower (up from 362) along with 369 pound-feet of torque. Though it doesn't increase the engine's peak output, the hybrid-assist system can inject up to 23 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque to improve both drive-away smoothness and kick-down performance. As a result, the portly five-seater can accelerate in an athletic 4.6 seconds from zero to 60 mph, according to its maker. EPA fuel economy estimates are not yet available, but in a full-day drive through the tourist-infested Dolomite Alps, we saw a perfectly acceptable 22 mpg. Since the combustion engine and deceleration events are constantly recharging the hybrid battery, repeat leadfoot action is not an issue except when nailing the throttle for good on the autobahn. Unlike the new E-class sedan, the wagon is not available with rear-wheel steering (due to packaging constraints), and the All-Terrain also can't be had as a plug-in hybrid.
Although one can select different dynamic settings in a personalized driving program, the car works best overall in Sport, which is nicely balanced and commendably involving as long as you can live with the brash, artificially enhanced exhaust note. The inline-six is a gem, now more than ever thanks to the electric torque boost that summons its full instant strength when the combustion engine is still collecting its wits.
We hopped from one famed mountain pass to the next, and while the All-Terrain felt big and heavy on the ancient spiraling twisties, the go-almost-anywhere Benz remained stoic and stable pulling out all the stops when the road opened up. Coherent, compliant, and controlled, this car deserves four stars out of five for its strong cornering grip and nicely balanced ride—we had no problem maintaining an energetic flow through bends fast or slow. Although the steering is neither super-precise nor ultra-sharp, it puts you in charge with poise and confidence. The brakes take a bit of effort, and the pedal feels a little numb, but the system delivers the goods with resilience and vigor, again and again.
The All-Terrain elements give the new E-class wagon a veneer of go-anywhere capability that speaks to today's much smaller cadre of wagon buyers. But at its core, this is a true station wagon, rather than a crossover, and therein lies the crux of its appeal.
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