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How do you sell a wagon in the US in 2020? Make it look like an SUV. Traditional station wagons continue to fall out of favor with American customers, yet higher-riding crossovers keep on selling like hotcakes. With that in mind: The Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon is dead; long live the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain.
The All-Terrain joins the Mercedes' US lineup as part of the E-Class' 2021 model-year update. It's essentially the outgoing E450 wagon with 2 extra inches of ground clearance, standard air suspension (previously an option), some rugged-looking body cladding and butch new bumper treatments. Overall, the look really works; the All-Terrain is definitely handsome, though I'm not sure if all the cladding works against my tester's rich shade of Cardinal Red. In any case, this crossover-like updo makes a whole lot of sense for the E-Class, better positioning it to take on other high-riding luxury wagons such as the Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo V90 Cross Country.
You can only get the All-Terrain in E450 4Matic guise in the US, meaning it uses Mercedes' 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 engine and all-wheel drive. The straight-six engine is the same one you'll find in a number of Benz's other products, producing 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, in addition to a supplemental 21 hp and 184 lb-ft from the 48-volt EQ-Boost mild-hybrid system.
With its ample low-end torque and smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission, the E-Class All-Terrain is super nice to drive. This wagon pulls away from stoplights with authority, thanks in part to the extra torque boost from the mild-hybrid tech (Mercedes estimates a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds). What's more, EQ-Boost irons out the action of the stop-start system, meaning I'm more likely to leave the fuel-saving function activated as this tech isn't usually my jam. This helps the portly, 4,350-pound E450 All-Terrain return respectable EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
The All-Terrain is the kind of car you wouldn't think twice about putting hundreds of miles on in one sitting, knowing you'll arrive at your destination as relaxed as when you left. The standard adaptive air suspension takes a lot of the credit for that balance and composure, mitigating larger impacts from broken pavement and generally delivering a solid, serene ride. Pro tip, though: Skip the 20-inch wheels you see on this test car. Good as they look, they allow for small initial impacts to be felt through the chassis. Plus, the surprisingly aggressive 245/40 front and 275/35 rear Pirelli P-Zero summer tires kind of go against the whole take-me-anywhere attitude of the All-Terrain. This E450 comes standard with 19-inch wheels and 245/45-series tires at all four corners; that's definitely the way to go.
On the other hand, throw the All-Terrain into Sport mode and the air suspension hunkers down, the steering adds a bit more weight and those sticky tires offer lots of grip while cornering. In other words, the few folks who might've otherwise bought a standard E450 wagon will be happy to know this thing can still hustle when provoked. And if it's performance you're after, AMG has you covered.
For what it's worth, the All-Terrain has Offroad and Offroad Plus driving modes that raise the suspension and reduce throttle sensitivity, but I don't recommend venturing too far off the beaten path in one of these wagons -- especially if you're rolling on 20s. Much like the new Audi A6 Allroad, this E-Class is an All-Terrain in name and appearance far more than in ability. Have a dirt road on the way to your campsite? Great, have fun. Want to hang with the Jeeps on the trails? Break into Mercedes' headquarters and steal the E-Class 4x4 Squared instead.
Also like Audi's new Allroad, the E-Class All-Terrain is an absolute tech powerhouse. On the driver-assistance front, the E450 is available with full-speed adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capabilities, active steering assist, lane-change assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping tech and Mercedes' new Exit Warning function, which will alert you if an object is approaching when you're parallel parked and about to open your door. (Cyclists will thank you.) The only bad news is that none of this safety gear is standard, so be sure to add the $1,950 Driver Assistance Package.
The E-Class upgrades to Mercedes' latest MBUX infotainment tech. A pair of 12.3-inch screens span two-thirds of the dashboard, the left display acting as a digital instrument cluster, the right one serving as the main multimedia interface. Like MBUX's integration in other Mercedes-Benz models, you can operate the software via controllers on the steering wheel, a touchpad on the center console, voice commands -- "Hey, Mercedes, I'm cold" -- or simply by touching the screen. I'm all about the latter, especially with the system's quick responses to inputs. Also, you should totally spring for the augmented reality navigation overlays ($350) because they make finding destinations a cinch.
Aside from the tech update, the E-Class' interior carries over largely unchanged, which is fine by me. This is an incredibly comfortable and stylish cabin, with nice details like open-pore wood, real metal finishes and a gazillion different ambient light choices. Front and rear passengers have lots of room to stretch out, and there's 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats. Fold 'em down and you've got 64 cubes at your disposal.
There's just one itty-bitty-teensy-tiny problem with the new E-Class' interior, and it isn't specific to the All-Terrain: the steering wheel. For some weird reason, Mercedes removed the thumbpad controllers for the infotainment system as well as the physical buttons and scroll wheels for the volume and menu controls. Instead, there are little capacitive-touch sensors which take getting used to. The four-way swipe pads for the screens aren't so bad, but the slider bar for the volume is infuriating. I inevitably always end up going too far up or too far down, or I press too hard and mute the whole thing. I'm not sure why Mercedes opted to fix what wasn't broken.
But like I said, that's a minor complaint in an otherwise flawless cabin, one that can be optioned to the gills with amenities like massaging seats, wireless phone charging, heated armrests and lots of different color and trim combinations. There's even a $1,100 Acoustic Comfort Package on the options roster, which offers increased cabin insulation and special acoustic glass. If silence is your definition of luxury, then this is a must-have add-on.
The 2021 E450 All-Terrain costs $68,650 to start, including $1,050 for destination. Load one up like the car you see here and you're looking at $84,790. That's a bunch of money, but it falls in line with Audi A6 Allroad pricing. The Volvo V90 Cross Country is the most affordable of the bunch, however, and it offers a lot more ground clearance. Plus, I think the Swede is the best-looking wagon of the bunch.
Really, though, it doesn't totally matter if the All-Terrain can out-Allroad an Audi. What matters is that it makes the E-Class wagon more appealing to US shoppers. If these off-road duds even manage to convince a few people to pass up a GLE-Class SUV in favor of longroof life, that helps ensure a brighter future for all Mercedes-Benz wagons -- the holy-grail AMG E63 included. The new E-Class All-Terrain is no better or worse a wagon than the old E450. But if some added cladding and an air suspension is what it takes to move these in the States, then I'm all in favor of a little off-road cosplay.