Mercedes-Benz Presents the Ultimate Parenting Machine
It is said that having a child changes a person. Not me. My first son, Richard, was born this past March, and I still strongly feel that unless you’re going off-road, there’s no reason to buy an SUV over a station wagon. Keep in mind that “I like sitting up high” is not a reason; it’s an ipso facto after-the-purchase excuse. As such, I just bought an Audi Allroad. Sure, it has a little spatter of cladding to make it look SUVish, but I distinctly remember kicking the last-generation Allroad out of SUV of the Year because it was a station wagon.
However, I’m not—despite rumors to the contrary—blind and dumb. I am well aware that SUVs and crossovers are handily winning the war. Not just against wagons, either. Sales of sedans and coupes are dropping as two-box vehicles are on the ascent. However, live long enough, and you see everything at least once, and it appears, at least for the time being, that wagons just might be making a comeback, albeit a small one. For instance, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is up 252 percent year on year. Plus, wagon-enthusiast consumers will have more choices real soon. The Volvo V90 is about the go on sale (the Volvo V90 Cross Country—another high-riding, silly-cladded wagon like the Allroad—is already on sale), followed by the poorly named Buick Regal TourX. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to the wagon at hand: the Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic wagon.
The most important thing for Americans to remember about the E-Class wagon is that the odds of you being able to find them at your local dealer aren’t great. They’re not quite special order (the AMG E63 wagon, however, is), but they’re rare, and dealers tend not to stock too many of them. Best to spec out your own, of course, and let M-B build it for you. That’s a particularly un-American way to buy a car, however. These days, wagons seem almost particularly un-American, though, so it fits. Odds are that if you visit your friendly neighborhood Mercedes dealer, they’ll have 10 times more GLE SUVs than they will E400 wagons. Hey, stock what sells. That’s (probably) the first rule of business. However, for those of us with more discerning taste than the masses, it’s best to think wagon. What a wagon it is.
I was watching Silicon Valley (the HBO show) with my wife. A bright orange Lamborghini Aventador appeared on the screen, billionaire doors up. “What sort of car is that?” she asked me. “That’s an Aventador,” I said. “You’ve ridden in three of them. Two were Superveloces.” I say this to illustrate that my wife is not what you would call a car person. That said, I wanted her to drive the big Benz wagon to see what she made of it vis-à-vis her Allroad. I always find her insight fascinating because she tends to focus on different things than me. I’ll never forget giving her a full-on launch control run in a Nissan GT-R. What did she think? “It’s loud and bumpy.” After running the E400 wagon down to the coffee shop, she sent me two photos. One was of the gorgeous next-level deco woodwork Mercedes has draped all over the interior. The other was of the starter button; she loved it. “My favorite part!” she informed me. I’m not going to say that Mercedes is making the best interiors in the business. I am saying that this station wagon’s insides are more memorable to some than three Lamborghinis.
As for details about the E400 wagon, international bureau chief Angus Mackenzie wrote an exhaustive piece about the car where he explained, “If the E-Class sedan is the heart of Mercedes-Benz, the E-Class wagon is its soul.” You will get no argument from me on that front. You will also learn that Angus felt the E400 was remarkably quiet for a wagon, is fairly certain it rides well, and believes what steering and transmission issues exist would be easily fixed with a little software tweaking. Oh, and that it’s “still the world’s best wagon.” After a week with the E400, I’m more or less in agreement with Angus, save for one thing: The Cadillac CTS-V wagon with a stick is the world’s best wagon. But I digress. On my own I discovered that a Stokke stroller that takes up the entire cargo area of the (admittedly one size smaller) Allroad only takes up about half the space in the Benz. Also, I find the E-Wagon quite good looking, unlike the E-Class sedan. Especially in Lunar Blue.
Right, testing. Here’s what our boys found out when they took the family hauler to the track. First, it’s lighter than I thought it would be—4,370 pounds (1,982 kg). The old, smaller E350 4Matic wagon with its 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 clocked in at 4,412 pounds (2,000 kg). Predictably, then, 0–60 mph has been reduced from 6.3 seconds to 5.1 seconds. The story is the same in the quarter mile, with the previous version of the E-Wagon needing 14.8 seconds with a trap speed of 95.5 mph (154 km/h). The 329-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 needs only 13.7 seconds at 102.1 mph (164 km/h). That’s a pretty big improvement. Here’s what the man getting these numbers—road test editor Chris Walton—had to say: “It happily accepts a two-pedal launch, and it upshifts in manual mode automatically, right at redline, every time, with very smooth shifts that are not even visible on the acceleration graph/curve. It produces very consistent quarters due to the AWD and metronome upshifts. This wagon is deceptively fast, in the 13s for the quarter mile at over 100 mph (161 km/h). That used to be muscle car fast.”
That’s on par with the progress made in figure-eight lap times. Old wagon: 26.2 seconds. Next gen: 25.7 seconds. Impressive. That said, I took a few laps myself, and the E400 wagon is not a sports car. Here’s what our figure-eight guru testing director Kim Reynolds thought: “Even in its Sport Plus mode, it’s kind of sloppy—more so than it should be. The active seat bolsters are actually needed in this case because you’d be tossed around a lot otherwise.” The only thing that didn’t radically improve in terms of performance is the braking distance from 60 mph. The E350 wagon needed 110 feet. The E400 needs 108. An improvement, yes, but I’m not writing home about it. All in all, you can see that the new version, complete with its nine-speed transmission, is dynamically better in ever way.
We walked out the front door on Easter morning to take the kid to a neighbor’s party. My wife and I both noticed that the Benz’s front wheel was up on the curb. I did not recall parking it like that. In fact, I distinctly remembered parking it the previous night because I used the still impressive around-view parking cams to stick the car in a very specific spot. (I line the front passenger up with a pathway that leads to our front door.) I ran inside to get the key, and when I ran out I could see debris all over the street. Hit and run. The impact was so hard it pushed the Mercedes forward a car length and up onto the curb. The driver-side rear end and tailgate took the brunt of the damage. Not only did I have to call the cops, but I also had to call Mercedes-Benz and let ’em know their $81,085 USD car got smashed up.
A neighbor of mine found the car that hit the Benz. I’m not saying what kind because I’m not sure where the case is, legally speaking. The working theory is that the guy was drunk, ran the stop sign, slammed into the Benz, limped about a quarter mile down the street, abandoned his car, and then Ubered home. (The offending car is registered in another county.) I can tell you that the full-size luxury car that hit the E400 looked much worse for wear. I decided to back the Benz off the curb. No problem. I wondered if the tailgate worked. Yup. Opened and closed with the push of a button. I then drover her around the block, worried if not convinced that the rear suspension would be all mangled. Nope. The car felt fine. So fine in fact that I decided to drive it back to the office, 25 miles (40 km) from my house. Even at Sunday holiday Los Angeles freeway speeds (80 mph (129 km/h)), there was no indication, no notion, nothing that told me the car had just been in a serious accident. To me, and especially because I now have a child, that’s the most impressive part of this wonderful machine. Dang it, the kid has changed me.
|2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 Wagon 4Matic (Sport)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$81,085|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door wagon|
|ENGINE||3.0L/329-hp/354-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,370 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||194.2 x 72.9 x 58.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.7 sec @ 102.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.7 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/25/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.91 lb/mile|