First drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain

Mercedes' footsure E-Class All-Terrain is a wagon laced up in hiking boots

Mercedes-Benz has sold four-wheel drive station wagons for over three decades, but they’ve typically lacked the ground clearance needed to truly venture off the beaten path. The new All-Terrain version of the 10th-generation E-Class breaks with tradition by offering Mercedes’ time-tested 4Matic all-wheel drive system in a rugged package that’s ready for adventure. Digital Trends traveled to the snow-covered Austrian Alps to put it through its paces.

Sport utility wagon

The All-Terrain is based on the brand-new E-Class station wagon, but it stands out with a tough-looking design inspired by Mercedes’ high-riding SUVs. The styling is characterized by a model-specific twin-slat grille with a large three-pointed star emblem, silver trim on both bumpers, as well as black cladding over the wheel arches and the rocker panels that protects the body from dings and scratches.

The modifications are more than skin-deep; this is a Mercedes, after all. The standard air suspension is programed to provide the All-Terrain with more ground clearance than a regular E-Class wagon. There is also an additional driving mode appropriately named All-Terrain that raises the suspension a little more at speeds of up to 21 mph, modifies the throttle response and the transmission’s shift points, and dials in off-road-specific stability and traction control settings. Engineers told us they applied lessons learned from decades of designing SUVs when they were developing the new E variant to ensure it’s not all show and no go.

The driver can navigate the infotainment system by using futuristic, smartphone-like surfaces built into the steering wheel.

In its highest position, the All-Terrain offers over half a foot of ground clearance. It also boasts approach and departure angles of 17.3 and 16.9 degrees, respectively, and it can drive through nearly a foot of water.

The E-Class All-Terrain wasn’t designed with the United States market in mind; the only long-roof E we’re getting is the regular wagon. In Europe, the base model is named E220d. It uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that makes 195 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 1,600 to 2,800 rpm. The oil-burner is a brand-new unit that’s part of Mercedes’ modular engine family.

For buyers who need more grunt, the E350d All-Terrain packs a 3.0-liter V6 that generates 254 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and a spectacular 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,600 rpm.

A nine-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles comes standard regardless of how many cylinders are under the hood. Power is transferred to all four wheels via Mercedes’ permanent 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

Driven by tech

Mercedes has always been at the forefront of automotive innovation, and this showed as soon as we slipped behind the wheel. On the highway, the All-Terrain drives like a standard E wagon with a cushier suspension and a little bit more body lean due to the extra ground clearance. It cruises effortlessly for miles on end while providing the smooth, quiet, and compliant ride that motorists expect from an E-Class. The six-cylinder diesel’s acceleration is linear with only a small hint of turbo lag, while the transmission shines with its unobtrusiveness. The shifts are virtually imperceptible regardless of whether the nine-speed is going up or down in the gear pattern, and it never fumbles to find the right gear.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

A full suite of state-of-the-art, semi-autonomous tech features makes driving on the freeway more relaxing. These systems include adaptive cruise control, steering pilot, and a function named active lane-change assistant that lets the E autonomously change lanes. All the driver has to do is activate the turn signal in the direction of the desire lane change for more than two seconds and the E moves into next lane carefully yet confidently, assuming the coast is clear.

After getting off the freeway to drive towards the Alps, we were surprised by the All-Terrain’s sure-footedness and agility while driving on the twisty, icy roads that lead up to Hochgurgl – as it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg. A high-speed jaunt up to the border between Austria and Italy revealed the All-Terrain’s true character.

4Matic makes snow and ice disappear from the road – metaphorically, of course.

4Matic makes snow and ice disappear from the tarmac – metaphorically, of course. In normal driving conditions the All-Terrain confidently presses on with virtually no wheel spin, even up relatively steep roads packed with dense snow. Launched hard from a standstill, it only takes a few seconds for 4Matic to work its magic and provide grip to all four wheels. The system doesn’t defy the laws of physics, but it felt like their limits had been pushed as we entered a snow-covered bend about as fast as we would on a dry road and the car followed the curve without skidding into the compact car-sized snow bank.

The extra ground clearance allows the All-Terrain to go where standard wagons simply can’t. Taking it off-road is admittedly a little nerve-wrecking at first – we’d rather abuse a 30-year old Lada Niva than a shiny new Mercedes – but it manages to clear obstacles such as rocks in the trail that would leave dents in the exhaust and rocker panels of standard wagons. The generous amount of low-end torque helps it crawl in first gear, and 4Matic again comes to the rescue if the wheels begin to slip.

In the lap of luxury

The All-Terrain’s cabin is fit for a king, but the most striking part of the interior is the large glass panel that takes up nearly half of the dashboard. It’s actually made up of two separate high-resolution, 12.3-inch screens: the first replaces the instrument cluster, and the second displays the infotainment system. Clever packaging makes them appear as one fluid unit. The infotainment is controlled via a knob on the center console, via voice commands, or via futuristic, smartphone-like surfaces built into the steering wheel.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Both units are fully configurable. The infotainment screen can display navigation directions, vehicle settings, and entertainment options, among other functions; we particularly liked the mode with digital gauges that show how much horsepower and torque the engine generates in real-time. A split-screen function allowed us to frantically browse through Austria’s radio stations without having to get rid of the all-important navigation directions.

Speaking of navigation, the All-Terrain benefits from the vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology that’s offered on the regular E-Class. In more straightforward terms, the E can “talk” to other Mercedes nearby. For example, a triangular warning icon popped up on the navigation screen because a car ahead sensed that there was ice on the road.  It gave us the precise location of the patch and, sure enough, a few minutes later we drove over water running down from the side of the mountain that had iced over.

Conclusion

The E-Class All-Terrain is a do-it-all tribute to Mercedes-Benz’s tech prowess. It buttons down and hugs the road in sport mode, it has an insatiable appetite for miles on the highway, and it’s unfazed by snowy mountain roads. If there was ever a Swiss army knife on four wheels, this is it.

Highs

  • Sure-footed 4Matic system
  • Tech features galore
  • Outdoorsy looks

Lows

  • Not U.S.-bound
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