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2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain Test Drive Review
If you’re tired of luxury SUVs (and who isn’t?), but still want similar utility paired with all-wheel drive (AWD) and more ground clearance than a car, the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 All-Terrain could be the perfect solution.
People buy SUVs for many reasons. Some people prefer to sit up high for a better view out. Some people find them easier to get into and out of than a car. Some people want the added cargo space and utility. Some people want AWD for foul weather and heading into the wilderness. Some people want the rugged image. Some people want the feeling of safety. Some people want all of these things and are willing to trade the superior driving dynamics and greater fuel efficiency of a car in order to get them.
But now it seems like everyone has an SUV, and they’re getting tired. They’re getting old. They’re so Boomer. And some people—who perhaps view themselves as free-thinking individualists—might be seeking a new and different vehicle to drive that isn’t one of those wacky SUV coupes. Enter the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain wagon, which essentially applies a Subaru Outback treatment to a luxury station wagon—and to compelling effect.
Look and Feel
Mercedes sells two versions of the 2021 E-Class Wagon, each equipped with standard AWD. The new E 450 All-Terrain ($67,600 plus $1,050 for the mandatory destination charge) replaces the previous standard wagon, while the wicked Mercedes-AMG E 63 S ($112,450 plus destination) continues as a track rat dressed up as a luxury estate car.
Our All-Terrain test car had nearly all of the extras. Exterior upgrades included Designo Cardinal Red metallic paint, AMG 20-inch wheels, a panoramic glass roof, the Night Package with blacked-out trim, and the Exterior Lighting Package with outstanding headlights.
Since the standard E-Class is plain-looking, the All-Terrain’s SUV costume adds much-needed character. The tough-looking grille, gray wheel well and rocker-panel body cladding, and lower front and rear bumper plating give the car an appropriately rugged appearance, while the 20-inch wheels add significant presence. The Night Package, in my opinion, detracts from the All-Terrain’s differentiated styling.
Inside, our test vehicle had leather instead of the standard MB-Tex leatherette upholstery, multi-contour massaging front seats, ventilated front seats, the Warmth & Comfort Package, the Air Balance Package, the Premium Package, the Acoustic Comfort Package, and illuminated door sill plates. Technology upgrades included augmented video for navigation, the Driver Assistance Package, and a gesture-recognizing interior assistant system. All in, our All-Terrain rang up to $84,520 (including destination).
There is a simple elegance to the Mercedes E-Class’s cabin. This car’s stark backdrop of quality materials and complementary textures and tones successfully de-emphasizes what some might deem to be daunting technology. At the same time, it emphasizes the classy round air vents and the smattering of controls that are not embedded into the dual-screen Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. The result is an approachable environment that fosters rapid adaptation to the controls and displays.
For the 2021 model year, Mercedes expands the availability of its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine with the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system, adding it to 450-badged models across the E-Class lineup.
This light-electrified powertrain pairs the six-cylinder turbo powerplant with an integrated starter-generator (ISG) to reduce the load on, and eliminate belt drives from, the engine. It also boosts horsepower and torque when necessary, assists with off-the-line acceleration, and recharges the lithium-ion battery that powers a 48-volt electrical system. The result is greater downtime for the engine when the car is coasting and stopped in traffic or at intersections, and less work for the engine to perform when accelerating or running various features and functions.
With 362 horsepower peaking between 5,500 rpm and 6,100 rpm, and 369 pound-feet of torque on tap from 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm, the E 450 All-Terrain is responsive and quick. A nine-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to all four wheels through a 4Matic AWD system. The EPA says the All-Terrain should get fuel economy of 24 mpg in combined driving, and our test car returned 23.3 mpg in spite of enthusiastic driving on a mountainous testing loop.
Multiple driving modes tailor the car’s powertrain, Direct Steer steering effort levels, and standard Air Body Control adaptive, load-leveling, and height-adjustable air suspension. Each mode gives the All-Terrain a distinct character in keeping with the name of the setting, and an Individual mode allows the driver to mix and match different calibrations to specific preferences.
During the test drive, we regularly switched between the different modes, depending on the situation. Comfort mode makes the All-Terrain a cushy cruiser, while Sport+ transforms it into a genuine sports wagon, assisted by Dynamic Cornering Assist, a brake-based torque-vectoring system. For a light off-roading jaunt, we switched to Off-Road mode, which raises the ride height for up to 6.1 inches of ground clearance while calibrating the drivetrain for what feels like an equal power split between the axles and improved light-throttle response at low speeds.
As a result of the Dynamic Select driving modes, 4Matic AWD, and Air Body Control air suspension, you get multiple vehicles in one when you buy a 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 All-Terrain—all of them swift, reasonably efficient, and rewarding to drive.
Form and Function
When you spec a Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain with all of the comfort upgrades, you might decide to just go ahead and move in—permanently.
The test car had the Warmth & Comfort Package, which adds a heated steering wheel, heated front armrests, and rapid heating for the front seats. Additionally, it had the optional ventilated front seats for when the weather is hot and swampy, as well as the available active multi-contour front seats with massage. The Air Balance Package purified and perfumed the interior’s air, the panoramic glass roof lets in plenty of natural light during the day, the ambient lighting system created a personalized atmosphere at night, and the Acoustic Comfort Package quieted the cabin for a more luxurious motoring experience. All the test vehicle lacked was a premium Nappa leather upholstery upgrade.
Needless to say, spending time behind the All-Terrain’s wheel was pleasurable not only for the car’s driving dynamics. The front passenger has it good, too. But taller back-seat passengers might find rear legroom cramped. It’s also worth noting that triple-zone climate control, heated rear seats, and rear side window sunshades are optional rather than standard, and if you want dark-tinted rear privacy glass you’ll need to get it done by an independent shop after you sign on the dotted line.
Amusingly, the E 450 All-Terrain has a rear-facing jump seat in the cargo area—just like station wagons of yore. It’s suitable only for younger children, and it is a genuine source of aggravation when deploying and stowing it. Plus, it takes up precious space underneath the cargo floor that might be better used for hidden storage compartments. And, whenever you want to use it, you’ll need to find somewhere to stash the carpeted cargo mat.
Without the jump seat raised, the E-Class All-Terrain offers 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat, and it's fully visible to anyone peering in from outside unless you pull the cargo shade closed. Fold the rear seats down, and this wagon hauls up to 64 cubic feet of cargo.
To create its MBUX infotainment system, the automaker pairs a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display under a single piece of glass. They’re presented within a rectangular wide-screen housing mounted like a big tablet computer behind the steering wheel and across the top of the dashboard.
Touch-sensing steering wheel controls allow drivers to swipe, scroll, and select content within both displays. Additionally, aside from its touchscreen surface, the infotainment system offers a center console touchpad surrounded by primary function switchgear. The company’s outstanding “Hey Mercedes” natural voice recognition system also stands ready to respond to questions and commands.
Together, these methods of interaction help to simplify what is truly complex technology. You’ll spend lots of time getting the E-Class set up to personal preferences, but once you’ve settled on a configuration, interaction with MBUX is remarkably intuitive.
If you upgrade with the optional MBUX Interior Assistant, various interior features will anticipate and respond to gestures in order to make using the E-Class even easier. For example, if its dark outside and you reach to open the glovebox, the overhead interior light on that side of the car automatically activates so that you can see what you’re doing. Or, if you reach up to use the touchscreen, it will enlarge icons to make them easier to see and activate.
The infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, and a navigation system with three free years of map updates and live traffic data. Mercedes Me connected services are also free for three years, though the WiFi hotspot offers a short one-month/1GB data trial period. A wireless smartphone charger is optional.
A Burmester surround-sound system is part of the optional Premium Package, and it makes that collection of extras well worth the $2,300 spent. Augmented video for navigation is also available, adding graphic overlays atop a video feed supplied by the car’s front camera, helping you to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings. It is especially helpful at night. Mercedes also offers an embedded Dashcam function for the E-Class All-Terrain, as well as a head-up display (HUD) and a set of rear-seat USB ports.
Just as MBUX is as complex as modern infotainment systems get, so too is the E-Class All-Terrain’s collection of safety systems, especially when the car is equipped with the optional Driver Assistance Package. This upgrade installs 15 additional driver aids—on top of the already robust standard equipment offering.
Among the more unusual standard features, Car-to-X technology communicates with other Mercedes models on the road. For example, if another Mercedes driver encounters slippery driving conditions on your planned driving route, you’ll get a notification to watch out for this. Car-to-X communication is just one of the many building blocks required for the auto industry to transition to an autonomous-driving future.
Additionally, every E-Class All-Terrain has Emergency Call Service that is free for the lifetime of the vehicle. Pre Safe Sound is also standard, designed to protect your hearing during a collision, while Crosswind Assist helps to stabilize the All-Terrain on windy days.
The Driver Assistance Package is an exceptionally sophisticated collection of features, adding numerous active driving aids. For example, when using the Active Distance Assist adaptive cruise control and the Active Steering Assist lane-centering assistance system, when you signal a lane change to pass slower vehicles ahead, an Active Lane Change Assist system actively steers the All-Terrain into the adjacent lane as long as another vehicle isn’t in the car’s blind spot.
Know, however, that the All-Terrain’s driver aids don't make it autonomous. It requires the driver to keep his or her hands on the wheel and to pay attention at all times. While trying to take in a sunset while cruising along the coast of California, the driver-monitoring system decided I was too complacent for my own good and shut off the adaptive cruise control.
Among the contents of the Driver Assistance Package, two technologies stand out for their thoughtfulness. The first is Pre Safe Impulse Side, which springs into action when a vehicle is about to collide with the side of the All-Terrain. It rapidly inflates an air chamber in the front-seat bolster closest to the door, forcing the driver or the passenger toward the center of the car to add a little extra protection at impact.
The second is Active Emergency Stop Assist. While using Active Distance Assist and Active Steering Assist, if the driver lets go of the steering wheel and does not retake control when prompted by the car, Active Emergency Stop Assist presumes a medical emergency is occurring. It slows the E-Class down, activates the hazard flashers, and brings the car to a safe stop in its lane of travel. Then, it uses the Emergency Call Service to summon help from first responders and directs them to your exact location so they can render aid. Mercedes is not the only company offering this kind of technology, but it certainly is effective.
If you’re looking for a safe AWD station wagon dressed up like an SUV, the Mercedes-Benz E 450 All-Terrain is not the most cost-effective choice. Get a Subaru Outback, instead.
But if you want those traits combined with more luxury, more style, more sophistication, more technology, more performance, more driving dynamism, and, let’s be honest, more prestige than a Subaru could ever hope to provide, the All-Terrain is one of your only choices.
You have two alternatives. The Audi A6 Allroad is one of them, and it’s about the same price as the Mercedes. The other is the Volvo V90 Cross Country, and it’s a significantly better value. Loaded with every option, the Volvo is priced right about where the E-Class All-Terrain starts.
And if no member of this trio meets your requirements, we’re afraid you’ll need to join the faceless SUV-driving masses or resort to choosing one of those odd coupe SUV thingies in order to stand out from the crowd.
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