We don’t hide our love for station wagons here at Car and Driver. They offer better driving dynamics and almost as much versatility as lumbering crossovers and SUVs, and, well, we think they’re cool. The coolest, of course, are also the hottest—stuff like the 556-hp Cadillac CTS-V wagon—but wagons with less than a gazillion horsepower can be good, too. It’s with that in mind we check out this latest entry into the segment, the cargo-haulin’ version of the Mercedes-Benz E-class, which arrives about a year after the latest E-class sedan.
Only One Flavor
Although non-AMG E-class sedans and coupes come in E350 V-6 and E550 V-8 flavors paired with rear- or all-wheel drive, Mercedes deemed the U.S. market worthy of just one wagon configuration: E350 4MATIC. That means a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a seven-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Base price: $57,075.
For that rather sizable amount, you get a spacious and refined seven-passenger package capable of hauling a good amount of stuff in all weather conditions. Yes, the E350 wagon has three rows of chairs, with the final row being a rear-facing bench that pops up from the cargo floor. This setup was super-cool in the previous E63 AMG wagon, where its occupants could see the dropped jaws of Audi R8 4.2 drivers as they were dispatched by a suburban mall runner. In the E350 4MATIC, they’re simply unique to the segment. (If you happen to work for an automotive magazine, they make a great perch for car-to-car photography, too.)
The cabin is a nice, well-appointed mix of fine plastics, wood, and soft-touch surfaces and includes nine airbags, 14-way power front seats, and a seven-inch infotainment screen. A power liftgate, a rearview camera, stability control, and a driver-drowsiness monitor are on the long list of standard equipment, too. Our particular example sported black leather seating ($1620), an active-bolstering driver’s seat with massage ($660), and the $5950 Premium 2 package that bundles navigation, the COMAND infotainment controller, an upgraded Harman/Kardon stereo, heated front seats, active bixenon headlamps with adaptive high-beams, and rear side-window sunshades. It had Palladium Silver paint ($720) and 18-inch split-six-spoke AMG wheels with Continental all-season rubber ($750). The as-tested price was $66,775, which included the no-cost Sport Wagon package, which we’ll get to in a second.
The E-class wagon is rated to hold 35 cubic feet of stuff behind the second row and a healthy 69 cubes with all the rear seats folded flat. Mercedes claims the car will accommodate a grandfather clock and three passengers; we didn’t have such a timepiece on hand to test that assertion, but we were able to fit a pair of six-plus-foot metal loading ramps in the back with little trouble. Overall, the E wagon edges its closest competitor in the U.S., the Audi A6 Avant—that model takes 34 cubes with all seats up, 64 with the rear seats folded—and nearly matches the capacities of taller luxe-UVs such as Mercedes’ own M-class, the Lexus RX350, and the BMW X5.
More Handsome Than the Sedan
We haven’t warmed much to the E-class sedan’s styling, but the wagon wears the Ponton-inspired rear-fender contours much better than the four-door, particularly with the Sport Wagon package. That pack includes a unique three-bar grille (a four-bar version is standard), AMG-inspired fascias and rockers, and a slightly lowered sport suspension. Inside, it adds black ash wood trim. Combined with the fetching wheels, our E wagon drew a surprising amount of compliments from SUV-driving suburbanites.
On the road and at the test track, however, the E’s performance couldn’t match its aggressive looks, unsurprising with 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque motivating 4300-plus pounds. Although certainly not poky—and wholly competitive with many V-6–powered crossovers—our E350 wagon made it to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.3 at 92 mph. We have yet to strap test gear to an A6 Avant with its newly standard supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, but the A6 sedan with that engine hit 60 in 5.5 seconds, and we can’t imagine the Avant taking more than six seconds. The E350’s all-season tires and stability-control system limited it to 0.82 g around our skidpad, and braking was so-so, too, as the Benz turned in a 176-foot stop from 70 mph. Such figures are fine for a high-riding crossover or SUV, but they’re not great for a wagon.
Hitting the road confirmed that the E350 wagon is much happier cruising in a straight line than hustling around tight corners. Push this wagon hard, and it exhibits a healthy amount of body roll in spite of the sport suspension. The biggest disappointment was the steering, which was vague overall and too light, with unpredictable appearances of increased effort that killed any sense of linearity. Stick to a serene driving style, though, and it delivers a more smooth, relaxed, and ultimately more satisfying experience.
We Still Like It
And so despite its underwhelming performance (we weren’t expecting much, given the E350 sedan’s last-place finish in a five-car comparison test), we liked the E350 wagon more than most comparable crossovers and SUVS; its sharp looks and refined road manners make it a very appealing luxury hauler. Our observed fuel economy of 21 mpg—the EPA rates it at 16 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway—was respectable, too.
However, we’d opt for the Audi A6 Avant 3.0T were it our money. It will be replaced soon and only seats five, but the Audi is nearly as capacious inside and tops out at about $60,000 ($54,135 base). In addition to that awesome 300-hp supercharged 3.0-liter, the A6 Avant equals the Benz with standard all-wheel drive and an available Sport package, and—key for enthusiasts—it’s more capable and fun to drive without sacrificing much utility. But for nonenthusiasts with a more tranquil luxe-wagon experience in mind, the choices are limited to this Benz and, well, this Benz. There’s not much wrong with that.