Curse the crossover, for it is almost single-handedly killing the wagon in North America.
CUVs are surging while wagon sales are flatter than the Great Plains, belying the belief that bigger is somehow better. Head to Europe and the death knell is tolling much more quietly, the continent a stronghold for wagon love. Take the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for example. Roughly a third of European sales each year are wagons — a number that jumps to 50 percent in Germany — compared to less than 10 percent in North America.
But the automaker isn’t ready to wave the white flag on wagons this side of the Atlantic, launching a redesigned 2017 Mercedes E-Class wagon that epitomizes the modern German automobile through its combination of practicality and futuristic driving tech.
Baby Got Back
Like the new E-Class sedan that hit the market this summer, the 2017 E-Class wagon inherits fresh styling that reflects the rest of Mercedes’ current lineup. In fact, those familial looks are even more pronounced on the wagon, with a rear profile that looks like a slightly squeezed version the new GLC-Class crossover, and an arching roofline similar to that of the CLS-Class sedan. It’s proportionally perfect from any angle, showing off the ideal dimensions of a car that combines the capacity of a crossover with the styling of a sedan.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Review
Open the rear hatch, and the E-Class wagon offers 22.6 cubic feet of cargo room behind the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats and 64.3 cu. ft. with them tucked into the floor (640 liters and 1,820 liters, respectively). That compares to 19 cu. ft. (540 liters) of trunk space in the sedan, and the GLE-Class’s 24.4 cu. ft. with the rear seats up and 71 cu. ft. with them folded (690 liters and 2,010 liters, respectively). Better still, the large rear opening and low load floor make packing the car for everything from a trip to the cottage to a trip home from Costco a breeze, while the rear doors open nice and wide for plenty of room to strap in a car seat or two.
North American versions of the E-Class wagon also benefit from a rear-facing bench seat that folds into the floor, adding room for two more passengers in a pinch.
Like the 10th-generation E-Class sedan, this new wagon is loaded with plenty of standard and optional tech features aimed at comfort, convenience and safety.
A 12.3-inch high-res infotainment screen is standard kit, and features the latest version of Mercedes’ COMAND system that is easy to use if a little frustrating for its lack of touch sensitivity. Smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a cinch, and as many as three mobile devices can be run at once through the onboard WiFi hotspot. The infotainment system also features a 3-D map display, though the navigation system can be a little slow to react to quick sequences of turns, something that may not pose a problem in Middle America but is headache-inducing on the snake-like streets of old Europe.
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The large infotainment screen can be paired with a second 12.3-inch unit, part of the Premium package, that replaces the analogue gauge cluster with a digital display that can be reconfigured to display all relevant information within the driver’s sightline.
The 2017 E-Class wagon also features the available Drive Pilot suite of driver assistance systems, allowing for near-autonomous driving. The adaptive cruise control has the ability to follow another vehicle at a pre-selected distance at speeds as fast as 130 mph while steering itself around turns — a feature suited perfectly to the German autobahn. Active lane change assist allows the driver to simply press and hold the signal arm for perfectly executed lane changes without touching the steering wheel.
Other driver assistance systems that can be added to the wagon include lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, emergency brake assist, camera-based traffic sign reading, and a self-parking system that will park the car in parallel or perpendicular spaces without driver intervention. The car is also able to retrieve itself from a parking spot through a smartphone app, a feature that has yet to receive regulatory approval for use in North America but could be here as soon as next year alongside the ability to lock, unlock and start the car from a connected device.
The added weight of the extra glass and sheet metal means the E-Class wagon skips the four-cylinder E 300 trim and heads straight for a V6-powered E 400 badge. With 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque on tap, the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter certainly isn’t short on power. It also makes it in a hurry, with all its torque coming online at a tremendously low 1,200 rpm, leaving only a sliver of room for turbo lag. The trick is a pair of smaller turbos that take less time to spool, providing power the instant it’s needed. Paired with a nine-speed automatic, power delivery is smoother than a cold weissbier on a hot day, while the standard all-wheel drive system splits torque between the four wheels for maximum efficiency, with a rear bias aimed at improved acceleration.
With either the steel or air suspension on board, road imperfections are almost imperceptible, the car floating over them like they’re not even there, while the steering is a little vague at times, proving that this is no sport wagon. Even with its Dynamic Select system that allows the suspension, steering and powertrain to be adjusted in favor of a more spirited drive, the E-Class wagon lacks the sporty characteristics of some of its adversaries. Yes, it will touch speeds upwards of 120 mph on unrestricted stretches of the autobahn with ease, but it does it with a zen-like calmness, not the typical Mercedes-like eagerness.
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Those cruiser characteristics are reinforced in the cabin, with eight different types of trim throughout the interior and about the same number of leather choices for the supportive seats, creating a cozy atmosphere that puts elegance before athleticism.
The lone black mark on the dawning of the new E-Class era is the Mercedes-AMG E 43 — or, more specifically, that it isn’t coming to North America. Powered by the same 3.0-liter engine as the E 400, larger AMG-specific turbos push output to 396 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, while 0-to-60-mph times drop to about 4.5 seconds (0 to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds). The good news is that an E 43 sedan will be available on this side of the Atlantic within a few short months, while a V8-powered E 63 wagon will likely be on its way in a year’s time.
The Verdict: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon
Like the sedan before it, this E-Class wagon does a lot of things right. From an interior as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife to a tech package that surpasses just about anything else on the market, it may be the pinnacle of European luxury and practicality. Here’s to hoping drivers outside of Europe realize it, too.
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