Lizzie PopeSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by Lizzie Pope
It’s not every day that we test a car that we feel has been tailored to the needs of caravanners.
And not on every new car launch do we have the opportunity to tow.
The antidote to SUVs
It’s a car very much in the mould of the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer we recently reviewed.
That is, an estate that promises off-road ability to rival that of an SUV, because SUVs are big business, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.
And while the Mercedes and the Vauxhall are both jacked-up estates, the former takes it to a whole new level, with bells on – as you might expect with a starting price of £58,880, or more than twice that of the Insignia Country Tourer.
A strong starting point
We already know what tow car capability the latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate has – lots.
Very few cars receive such a glowing, 4.5-star rating – and that was ‘just’ the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 191bhp/295lb ft E220d.
The E350d 4Matic All-Terrain Edition, to give it its full name, has a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 under the bonnet, developing 254bhp and a whopping 457lb ft of torque.
It’s a wonderfully powerful, seductively torquey engine that never feels strained, and is the only one installed in the All-Terrain, available only with a nine-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive, and there’s just one trim level.
In fact, other than colour/upholstery choice, there’s just one option, too. But when you get so much as standard, that’s no hardship.
There’s an electrically retractable towbar with integrated 13-pin electrics, a reversing camera, Keyless-Go, 20-inch alloys, air suspension, a powered tailgate, intelligent LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting with a choice of 64(!) colours, a Burmester surround sound system, leather upholstery, heated front seats, smartphone integration with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, sat nav and more.
That single option? The Driving Assistance Plus Package (£1695), adding six driver aids.
Oh, and, don’t worry, there’s no change from the E-Class’s standard, gargantuan, 640-1820-litre boot capacity.
The important numbers
That go-anywhere ability comes from the four-wheel drive technology, but also the fact that the All-Terrain sits 29mm higher than the standard E-Class Estate – 14mm of this is the tyres, 15mm the air suspension.
And the air suspension can raise the car by a further 35mm in three stages. Ground clearance is between 121 and 156mm.
And with a 2100kg towing capacity and a 2010kg kerbweight (meaning an 85% match figure of 1708kg), there’s not a lot this wagon can’t tow – in fact, drivers only with B licences will have to watch that they don’t exceed their 3500kg limit.
The All-Terrain stands out from its E-Class siblings due to its SUV-aping styling front and rear, and its black wheel arch covers and side skirts.
It’s a bit love-it-or-hate-it, arguably detracting from an otherwise elegant design, but there are likely to be fewer disagreements once you settle inside.
Wrapped in leather-lined luxury, cocooned in supportive seats and with a pair of 12.3-inch screens on the dash creating an impressive widescreen appearance, this is a seriously comfortable place to be.
The electrically operated front seat has an excellent range of adjustment and the steering-wheel mounted gearshifter enhances the sense of space up front.
Rear seat passengers aren’t forgotten, either, with good legroom and their own air vents, although the transmission tunnel does steal some floorspace.
There are also plastic infills in the front and rear footwells – thoughtful, hose-clean protection against muddy shoes – but, weirdly, none in the boot.
Time to hitch up
Want to tow? You can deploy the towbar from the comfort of the driver’s seat at the touch of a button (there’s another on the bootlid).
Then use the rear-view camera to help you line up with the hitch head – and that camera has three modes, normal, widescreen and one that looks down onto the towbar.
Having the electrics integrated into the towbar means there’s no fiddling or scrabbling about to complete your hitching up.
On this occasion, we were towing a twin-axle horsebox loaded with ballast, to give a total towing weight of around 2000kg, at the upper end of the All-Terrain’s limit.
Oh, and we were towing off-road, starting by crossing a sodden field, before a brief stretch on Tarmac, followed by a steep uphill drive on a loose, rocky surface, a tight hairpin bend, then steep downhill. In short, more extreme towing than most are ever likely to do.
With All-Terrain mode engaged, the E-Class shrugged off these challenges, remaining composed and stable at all times.
Even when tackling a sharp descent you barely noticed that the heavy trailer was there. It was deeply impressive.
You get what you pay for?
It was much the same when we unhitched and embarked on a off-road drive on the remote tracks that criss-cross the Yorkshire Dales.
Mercedes-Benz has a long and illustrious history of producing unfalteringly capable four-wheel-drive cars, even if many of them weren’t previously sold in the UK, so the E-Class All-Terrain’s ability in this department came as no surprise.
In combination with the high levels of comfort and refinement despite the tricky terrain, thanks in no small part to the air suspension, there’s no doubt that wherever your caravan holidays take you, the E-Class All-Terrain will get you there.
Hitched up or solo, it is quite simply a lovely car to drive, with a cosseting interior ambience and generous accommodation.
Yes, there is no escaping the fact that it costs almost £7k more than the most expensive non-AMG E-Class Estate.
But if you’re wondering what tow car will effortlessly whisk you away on your next touring adventure off the beaten track, and your pockets are deep enough, Mercedes’ oh-so-competent E350d 4Matic All-Terrain Edition is very hard to argue against.