There was a time when the half-timbered station wagon was the beloved mode of transportation for the All-American family.
All those mile-long, Naugahyde-lined Buick Roadmasters, Chevy Caprice Classics, Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers and Ford Country Squires.
And who can forget Clark Griswold’s metallic pea-colored Wagon Queen Family Truckster from that 1983 cinematic gem, National Lampoon’s Vacation?
Alas, our love-affair with station wagons ended with the arrival of the tall-riding SUV. These days you can pretty much count the number being offered on the fingers of two hands.
One of the most enthusiastic wagon makers has always been Mercedes-Benz with its practical, great-looking, great-driving, long-roof E-Class Wagon. The zany 603-horsepower Mercedes-AMG E63 S rocketship is still one of my favorite cars on the planet.
Now, to ever-so-slightly widen the appeal of the newly-improved E-Class Wagon, Mercedes has taken a leaf out of Audi’s Allroad and Volvo’s Cross Country playbook by turning it into an SUV ‘lite’.
Say “hello” to the 2021 Merc E450 4Matic All-Terrain, a new, taller-riding, beefier-looking spin on the regular E-Class wagon. It’s for those who want to stand out from the SUV crowd, yet still want practicality and versatility in their daily driver.
Of course there’s plenty of visual smoke and mirrors going on here. Black plastic body-cladding around the wheel arches, an inch-and-a-bit increase in ride height, and standard 19-inch wheels – an inch taller than on the regular E wagon – do a good job of visually elevating the car.
Don’t expect to go climbing up Machu Picchu, or swamp-buggying in the Everglades with the All-Terrain. With only 5.7 inches of ground clearance and summer road tires, off-roading is not going to be its forte.
That said, Mercedes’ always impressive 4Matic all-wheel drive is standard, so dirt tracks, sandy beaches and flooded Florida side streets after a Tropical storm should be easily conquered.
And, truth be told, I don’t know any SUV-owning buddy who has ever muddied the tires dirty of their sport-ute. Grassy Little League parking lots are their biggest conquests.
What the Mercedes offers over pretty much every tall sport-ute, is driving joy. The All-Terrain comes with Merc’s Teflon-smooth, 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder. Add to this the so-called EQ Boost system which squeezes-in a 48-volt electric starter/generator between the engine and 9-speed automatic.
What this does is summon-up an extra 21 horsepower when called on, say when accelerating away from a stoplight, or passing slower traffic. It means a total of 362-horsepower and the ability to zip from standstill to 60mph in around 4.5 seconds. That’s quick.
This is one terrific powertrain package. The in-line six with EQ Boost is smoother than canola, super-refined and delivers truly seamless and linear power. It also helps return a reasonable 24mpg combined and 28 on the highway.
Inside, it’s all gorgeous Mercedes quality, craftsmanship and top-shelf materials. Lots of cool new tech too, like the twin 12.3-inch glass displays that sprawl across the dashboard. I love the Siri-esque digital assistant that responds so attentively to “Hey Mercedes”.
As a load-hauler the All-Terrain holds its own against similar-sized SUVS. With the second row of seats in place, there’s 35 cubic feet of space. Folding them flat increases it to a whopping 64 cubic feet.
And the beauty here is that the load platform is low – perfect for your canine friend to leap in and out – and the floor itself is Kansas-flat. There’s also a rear-facing third row seat that raises out of a well in the floor. Perfect for a couple of kids.
While this new E450 All-Terrain doesn’t come cheap – base price $68,650, or $84,790 exquisitely-loaded – you’d pay around the same for its closest SUV rival, Mercedes’ GLE 450 4Matic with a $63,550 base.
I sure know which model I’d prefer. Wagons-Ho!