Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, CanadianDriver.com
Unbeknownst to most North Americans, station wagons are cool. Europeans, who are less caught up in the SUV/CUV thing, seem to know this. Why else would there be such critters as the BMW M5 Touring, Audi RS6 Avant, Audi S4 Avant, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon and Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon running about over there? Not to mention numerous diesel-sipping wagons from a host of manufacturers.
For those with a high-end wagon itch on this side of the pond, Mercedes-Benz now offers a wagon version of the new-for-2010 E-Class, the 2011 E350 4MATIC Wagon. (The previous E-Class wagon was available in Canada as 2009 model year; there was not one for 2010.)
With a base sticker of $66,900, the wagon comes in at $4,000 more than the base E350 Sedan. It is motivated by M-B’s ubiquitous 286-hp 3.5-litre V6/7G-Tronic seven-speed manumatic combo and features 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive.
Full disclosure here: I’m a wagon enthusiast. I learned to drive in a ’65 Ford Falcon Futura wagon and my Dad was a serial Volvo wagon owner. I just bought a used 2005 Volvo V70.
So when I say this E350 Wagon, which comes fitted with standard AMG Styling package and 18-inch five-spoke alloys, looks cooler than the E350 sedan, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
But it does. Everyone who laid eyes on it thought this family hauler cut a pretty sharp profile. Naturally, the betrothed wants one, as do all her cronies at work.
Functionality is the wagon’s raison d’etre, and here this Merc comes up big. Load space is not compromised by a raked and pinched rear end. With 1,950 litres (68.8 cu. ft.) available, it has largest luggage compartment in its class and a maximum payload of 575 kg (1,268 lbs). Self-leveling rear air suspension is standard.
The second row 60/40 split seats can be flipped forward (with out fussing with the head restraints) from levers on the D-pillars. The load floor is almost flat and surprisingly low – lower than my Volvo. Surprising in that this is an all-wheel-drive car and beneath the floor lurks a fold-up rear-facing bench seat for two small (and presumably Gravol-numbed) humans.
In the tradition of the great North American station wagon, this barf-o-rama perch makes the E350 Wagon a real seven-seater. And don’t we all miss following a car for miles and miles with two green-faced brats making faces at us?
As would be expected, this wagon drives like an E-Class. Silky smooth, not overly sporting, yet shows the poise and long distant touring comfort we expect from this Stuttgart automaker.
Adding to the latter was the $900 Drive-Dynamic multi-contour driver’s seat with massage function and inflatable side bolsters that keep you in place when lateral gs are on the rise: gimmicky but fun, and defeatable if you don’t like it.
I found the car handles way better with this feature on. Okay, it doesn’t really. But when the seat pushes into you in the mildest of turns, you feel like you’re really flying.
I’ve always considered Mercedes’ COMAND interface (controlled by a rotary knob and surrounding buttons on the centre console) to be one of the best, and again, kudos to M-B for having a crystal clear LCD screen that is visible in all light conditions.
A nice feature for our climate is the residual engine heat usage wherein warm air blows into the cabin when the engine is shut off for short periods. A heated steering wheel and heated windshield washer system are also standard.
This tester was fitted with the $4,700 Premium Package that adds media interface (with iPod, USB and auxiliary connections), door-integrated roller blinds for rear side windows, Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system, COMAND APS navigation, Linguatronic voice control, DVD changer and SD memory slot, panoramic sunroof and proximity key with push button start.
Lane Keeping Assist and Blind Spot Assist are available for $800. The optional $2,700 Advanced Driving Assistance Package and Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control is bundled with Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist.
Both these systems expand on the passive warning systems by altering the car’s trajectory via targeted braking inputs if the driver does not respond to the visual and audio alerts. In practice, the car will nudge itself back into the proper lane if you drift, or similarly, pull itself away from a potential collision with a vehicle in your blind spot. Driver inputs instantly override the systems.
Official fuel economy figures for the 2011 Mercedes Benz E350 Wagon are 12.8 L/100 km city and 8.6 L/100 km highway on premium fuel. I saw 11.2 L/100 km over a week of mostly highway motoring.
This wagon’s immediate competitors are the 300-hp Audi A6 Avant ($68,200) and the 304 hp Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon AWD ($53,790). BMW hasn’t offered a wagon version of the 2011 5 Series here yet.
Shoppers kicking tires in the Mercedes showroom will notice the ML350 4Matic starts at $57,400 – a not insignificant $9,500 less than the E350 Wagon. This five-seat SUV has the same engine and drivetrain as the wagon and features marginally more cargo capacity. Also undercutting the wagon by a fair margin is the $58,900 ML350 BlueTEC with that terrifically torquey and efficient V6 turbo-diesel engine.
It’s fair to say the 2011 E350 Wagon will be a niche vehicle, not racking up ML-like sales. But for some, this finely crafted and functional family hauler will be a prefect fit. Just ask my wife.
Pricing: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon
Base price: $66,900
Options: $6,050 (Premium Package $4700, Drive-Dynamic driver’s seat $900, privacy glass $450)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $75,045
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)