Our correspondent Charles Rangely-Wilson loves his Audi A6 allroad. But can the new Mercedes All-Terrain E350d 4Matic persuade him to change?
Hmmm. Let’s see now. All-terrain? All-terrain? Something familiar in that. If only I could guess which iconic German mud-plugging estate this new Mercedes is playing top trumps against. Oh yes! It’s the car in my driveway: the Audi A6 allroad.
It’s a war of words as much as machinery. Alle Straße? Pish. Ich ein Alles Gelände wagon haben.
As if to prove it, Mercedes launched the car in northern England in mid-winter and set, as our mid-morning break, the task of towing a horsebox up and down a muddy woodland track. Our lunchtime rendezvous was a bothy nestled under precipitous rocks way up high on a Northumbrian grouse moor.
The setting was breathtaking and the road to it did kind of make the point, if only they hadn’t obviously graded a few troublesome high-points on the track. Or diligently trailered luxury portaloos up there, too. If you’re in the market for an all-terrain, you’re also happy to wee behind a rock, in my opinion.
I’m picking nits, however. Mercedes has thought this car through inside and out, to the extent that it makes for a very convincing alternative to an SUV, especially if you want a less formidable and showy presence on the road and the dynamic qualities of a car.
The all-terrain’s driving mode for example, will puff the body up by a sump-saving three-quarters of an inch over rough ground, adding to the built-in one-inch height advantage over the standard E-Class estate, to create a total ground clearance of almost six and a half inches.
That’s not so very far behind something like the Discovery 4, at seven and quarter inches. However, in the Mercedes, as with the Audi, you can also hunker down almost as low as the standard car, saving fuel and improving dynamics for when you are driving on the road.
As for the actual business of crossing the gloop, in its all-terrain driving mode the Mercedes did indeed take a horsebox effortlessly up and down slopes that looked mildly inadvisable to my untrained eye.
No horses were involved of course, although there was ballast.
As striking as this ability to traverse hostile oomska was the towbar. The Mercedes All-Terrain E350d comes equipped as standard with a towbar that, at the touch of a button, emerges priapically from under the bumper, along with a towing camera that emerges keen-eyed from behind a flap that keeps it clean – a touch-of-genius deal-maker in its own right. If you tow a horse trailer at all, you probably tow it a lot. Reversing solo, towing-ball to towing-cup, is an absolute breeze in this car.
Most of what marks the all-terrain out from the standard E-class is cosmetic, but the standard equipment level of this edition is so generous there’s no need to specify anything snazzier. Besides, you can’t. I rather like the fact that it has one trim-level and a luxurious one at that.
Not forgetting, of course, that the E-Class is in itself a useful estate. Its 140-gallon boot, for example, eclipses all opposition apart from the Skoda Superb (which Mercedes probably wouldn’t admit is opposition anyway), but even that can be swollen to a wardrobe-swallowing 150 gallons by easing the rear seats into a more upright setting. These are all real-world practicalities that match the car with the things you actually want to do with it.
I like my Audi allroad and it would take a lot to win me over from it. However, the new Mercedes is a formidable opponent that packs all sorts of the latest technology into a very practical mud-and-wellies package.
Mercedes All-Terrain E350d 4Matic: The details
Priced from: £60,757 (as tested)
Combined fuel consumption: 41.5mpg
Annual road tax: First year £800, £450 thereafter
0–60mph: 6.2 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
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