Both diesel engines drive through a slick nine-speed automatic gearbox. For most buyers, the 192bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel in the E220d will be the default choice, and it's our pick of the range, too. Why? Well, it’s pretty punchy once you get above 1500rpm, enough that it’ll match a BMW 520d Touring and Volvo V90 in whisking you up to 70mph with relative ease and then settle itself into an effortless cruise.
That said, neither of 2.0-litre units is the smoothest engines of its type – for that, you’d need the 2.0 TDI 190 in the Audi A6 Avant. And if you fancy something silkier in an E-Class, you need to move up to the six-cylinder E400d. This is a super-refined engine and pretty quick, enough that it’ll breeze you past slower traffic, although the trade-off is that it’s quite pricey to buy and run.
As for petrol power, there's a 2.0-litre four-cylinder option, badged E200. We're yet to try it in the E-Class Estate, but it's actually a little slower than the diesel E220d and costs almost exactly the same amount to buy. We'd stick with the diesel.
But if pace and power are your main concerns, you need to look at the AMG range, starting with the E53 4Matic. Unsurprisingly, with a 429bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6, it’ll fling you down the road mightily briskly; 0-62mph takes just 4.5sec. It also has a mild hybrid system that all but eradicates turbo lag, so the throttle response is impressively sharp.
There will be a crazy few, though, who believe the E53 isn't quite quick enough. It isn't a full-blooded V8 AMG engine, after all. If that sounds like you, check out our dedicated review of the full-fat AMG E63 and E63 S models, complete with 4.0-litre V8s turning out up to a mind-boggling 604bhp.
As standard, regular E-Class Estate models come with self-levelling air springs at the rear and mechanical springs and dampers at the front. Now, if you stick with SE trim, this set-up should be supple enough to keep you happy. AMG Line models use firmer settings that give the ride a bit more shake and shimmy over rougher surfaces. This is mildly grating rather than uncomfortable, though.
In either case, test-drive a car with optional air suspension; it’s an expensive upgrade, but it delivers a dramatic improvement to the ride. Thus equipped, the E-Class Estate wafts you along at speed in a manner absolutely in keeping with its luxury image. It’s still not perfect, as demonstrated by the occasional thud over razor-edged crags in town, but besides that, you’ll find the E-Class is well on terms with the best-riding estates out there.
The AMG E53 and E63 models use specially tuned suspension that's firm but not overbearingly so considering the cars' performance intent. They both offer a plethora of driving modes to alter the stiffness of the suspension as well. In Comfort, they do a respectable job of soaking up everyday rough road imperfections, even if they are still on the firm side at low speeds. In Sport Plus, meanwhile, you'll corner flatter but at the expense of ride comfort.
Where the E-Class Estate really scores is its high-speed refinement. Having that ninth gear – most of its rivals have ‘only’ eight – means the engine ticks away at a largely inaudible 1375rpm while you're doing 70mph, while wind noise is ever so well suppressed. Only a bit more rumble from the tyres stops it beating the peace and quiet served up by the 5 Series Touring at cruising speeds.
Its handling is less laudable but still tidy. The Volvo V90 in sporty R-Sport trim is more stable and stays flatter through bends than even the firmer AMG Line E-Class models, which roll about more and feel less stable during high-speed direction changes. On the plus side, nicely weighted and precise steering makes the Mercedes easy to place the nose exactly where you intend. The E53 and E63 versions, meanwhile, feel altogether better tied down.
And don’t forget, these full-on AMG models all have four-wheel drive for added traction in the depths of winter. This is something that you can specify on the regular versions, too.