Used test: BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90 interiors
Posh used estate cars are as practical as SUVs yet have much more affordable running costs, but which load-lugger from BMW, Mercedes or Volvo is the best?...
What are they like inside?
All three cars have ‘sports seats’ with part-electric adjustment, but only the E-Class and V90 have adjustable lumbar support as standard. Our 5 Series and E-Class had optional fully electric seats fitted, yet the V90’s still feel the most comfortable and supportive the moment you slide into them, and they stay that way on a long drive.
With the seats in their lowest positions, you sit higher in the E-Class and V90, contrasting with the low-slung, cocooned driving position offered by the 5 Series. Which is the best mostly comes down to personal preference, although taller drivers might find the E-Class’s dials obscured by the steering wheel.
On which point, all of our test cars have digital instrument displays, although Mercedes-Benz made you pay for that privilege. In all three cars, these screens are great additions because they show extra information, such as sat-nav directions, conveniently near your eye-line.
The 5 Series has the most logical and easy-to-use dashboard, followed closely by the E-Class. Next to these, the fact that you have to use the V90’s touchscreen even to alter basic functions such as the air-con is both a faff and a distraction.
We’ve no complaints about the clarity of the V90’s standard tablet-style 9.0in touchscreen. It has plenty of features, too, including sat-nav, wi-fi and online services. The problem is that it’s like an iPad to use and swiping screens or trying to pick out small icons while driving is hugely distracting. Also, it seems strange for a brand that’s pathological about safety to not offer an emergency call system; this is standard fitment in its two rivals.
Inside, the 5 Series seems comparatively unadventurously styled, but it wins the contest for perceived build quality, being solid and smartly finished, with the classiest plastics. This is no small matter given that these are luxury estates. The V90 may have some usability bugbears, but boy does it look sharp, with plush materials that seem almost as robustly screwed together as those of the 5 Series. In some respects, the E-Class appears the most swanky inside, thanks to plenty of wood, chrome and glossy black highlights, but there are more low-rent plastics at key touch-points, and some of the panels feel flimsy when you prod them.
You can’t miss the wall of colour that are the two 12.3in screens in front of you while driving the Mercedes. Both, however, were optional extras fitted to our test car, but we’d recommend you find an E-Class with this upgraded set-up because the standard infotainment screen is a rather small 8.4in affair. Along with the bigger screens, the upgraded setup brings enhanced connectivity, although the rotary dial interface isn’t as slick as the BMW’s and its menus are slower to respond.
As standard, the 5 Series gets a crystal-clear 10.3in touchscreen that you can also control with a rotary dial that's located by the gear selector; this is easier to use while you’re driving than a touchscreen. Either way, the BMW's is by far the most user-friendly interface; it’s super-easy to navigate and there are no delays while the system loads functions. The only disappointment is that smartphone mirroring was an optional extra when new.
Front seat space is more than fine in all of our contenders; it’s in the back where noticeable variations appear. True, even with optional panoramic roofs fitted, head room in each is similarly generous in all three cars, but the V90 simply smashes its rivals for rear knee room. The 5 Series only just pips the E-Class in this respect, but factor in the shortage of foot space under the E-Class’s front seats and, while it’s hardly cramped, the latter car is certainly the tightest in the back.
It’s neck and neck between the 5 Series and the E-Class for boot space. Both can easily swallow eight carry-on suitcases in their main boot area (below the tonneau covers), while the V90 only just achieves that feat. However, there’s a handy trough under the E-Class’s boot floor that swallows the deciding ninth case. Or, if you can find an example with them fitted, provides couple of extra fold-up seats, making it the only car here with the potential to seat seven. The 5 Series gets two underfloor storage compartments, but they’re much shallower than those in the E-Class, while the space under the V90’s floor is shallower still.
All three cars enable you to fold down their rear seats at the touch of a button. These are split 40/20/40 in the 5 Series and the E-Class, while the V90’s are less usefully divided 60/40. In each of our protagonists, the rear seats lie almost flat once folded, leaving a vast acreage between their lipless boot openings and the backs of the front seats.
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