Most E-Class buyers choose diesel power. The four-cylinder E220 CDI delivers good performance given its efficiency, though it’s the only E-class that doesn’t get an automatic gearbox as standard. We prefer the stronger and smoother six-cylinder E350 BlueTec diesel. The diesel-electric E300 hybrid is also worth considering if you’re a company car driver, while petrol fans have four engine options, ranging from the four-cylinder E250 CGI, to the mighty V8-powered E63 AMG.
There are different suspension settings for various versions, but all E-Class Estates have self-levelling air suspension on the back end. SE cars have the softest setup for a more pliant ride, while AMG Sport models are lower and firmer. Full air suspension is available and an option, and it’s certainly effective, but it’s rather pricey.
An executive estate should be a haven of peace, and in six-cylinder diesel form, the E-Class is a very refined car. However, the four-cylinder diesels are way too grumbly and give off too much vibration, while the petrols sound wheezy and breathless too much of the time. All versions suffer from too much road noise, too, so overall, the E-Class is a lot less refined than its best rivals.
The Mercedes E-Class Estate is far from cheap, but strong residual values mean it’ll protect your investment well and it’s better equipped as standard than it’s rivals. Company car drivers won’t pay the earth to run one – the E300 diesel hybrid is particularly impressive for this. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are a bit higher than they are for some rivals on the rest of the range.
At first glance, the E-Class feels like a premium product. The materials in your eyeline are pleasant and there’s a sense of solidity. Look elsewhere, however, and the quality and finish of some panels are disappointing compared with some rivals. The car did well in the 2012 JD Power survey, and scored particularly well for reliability.
The E-Class comes with all the safety aids you expect – stability control and an impressive nine airbags – plus one or two things you don’t, including a driver-drowsiness detector and an automatic parking system. There are some impressive safety options, too, including a city-braking system that stops the car from low speeds if it senses a collision, and very clever headlights that can be left on main beam permanently without dazzling other drivers. Security kit is also comprehensive.
All versions have electric seat adjustment, which helps you find your favoured driving position easily. Some will find their seat won’t go low enough, though. Many functions are controlled with a central dial, but the on-screen menus can be distracting. The foot-operated parking brake and single stalk for the indicators and wipers take some getting used to as well.
The E-Class Estate has a cavernous boot, and access is easy because the tailgate and luggage cover are electrically operated. If you need even more space, the rear seats can be folded flat from the cabin or by tugging handles in the boot. There's plenty of head- and legroom in both the front and rear seats.
The Mercedes has class-leading standard equipment, with sat-nav, Bluetooth and USB, DAB radio, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, leather-effect interior, automatic LED lights and wipers all included even on base SE spec. Unless you really value a sportier look, AMG Sport isn’t worth the substantial premium for fancy seat and steering wheel finishes, and aluminium pedals. The options list is also as long as your arm to let you tailor the car to just how you want it.
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The fuel economy and high list price may be seen as drawbacks by some buyers, but we think this is the best model in the range. It's worth the extra it costs to buy and run.