David MottonSee other tow car reviews written by David Motton
It is impressive with or without a caravan on tow, and has class-leading luggage space, but can the Mercedes-Benz E-Class justify its price? Let's find out
But it’s still a very practical estate, despite boot capacity falling from 695 litres to 640 litres.
And it’s packed with clever technology and driver aids.
What’s more, according to the official figures it delivers exceptional fuel economy for such a quick and heavy car, returning 72.4mpg on the combined cycle.
The E-Class is expensive, though. Our E220d SE test car has a list price of £38,700 before options.
We know the E-Class Estate is big, but how well has that space been used?
Is it worth the price?
And most important of all, what tow car ability does it offer caravanners?
Anyone shopping for a diesel E-Class Estate has a choice of three engines.
The range starts with the 148bhp E200d and there’s also the 254bhp E350d.
We’ve been towing with the mid-range diesel, the 187bhp E220d.
Judging by the specification it looks like a sensible compromise between the E200d’s affordability and the E350d’s performance.
Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-62mph time of just 7.7sec, but the car still returns 67.3mpg on average.
You’re unlikely to achieve that official figure on the road, but it’s a remarkable result for a car as heavy and powerful as the E-Class.
The E220d’s kerbweight is a hefty 1780kg, which gives an 85% match figure of 1513kg.
That’s well within the 2100kg legal towing limit (oddly, the gross weights given on the VIN plate suggest a figure of 2200kg).
We matched the car to a Swift Expression 636 with a Mass in Running Order of 1417kg.
With 295lb ft of torque and a smooth-shifting nine-speed gearbox, the E-Class effortlessly holds speed on steep hills and has plenty of overtaking punch when needed.
With the auto in ‘sport’ mode, the Mercedes pulled the Swift caravan from 30-60mph in 9.8 seconds.
It was still pulling hard when close to the motorway limit, as the 50-60mph time of 4.3sec shows.
Brisk acceleration is matched to secure and reassuring towing manners once up to speed.
Crosswinds and overtaking high-sided vehicles fail to trouble the E-Class, which feels unflustered on the motorway.
It’s the kind of car which makes long-distance towing almost stress-free.
The Mercedes performs well in an emergency lane-change, too. The steering is direct and, for a big car, the E-Class changes direction eagerly.
There’s some body lean when turning aggressively, and during our fastest attempts at the manoeuvre we could feel the caravan beginning to push and pull, but we were never worried that the Merc wouldn’t pull the tourer straight again.
The E-Class also took the hill-start test in its stride. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still on the 1-in-10 slope, and the torquey diesel engine easily pulled the outfit to the top of the gradient with no hint of wheelspin and very few engine revs required.
Our rear-wheel-drive test car was untroubled in dry conditions, although it may have faced more of a challenge in wet weather.
So it’s worth noting that the E220d is also available with ‘4Matic’ four-wheel drive for an extra £1620.
It’s the only one of the diesel E-Class Estate models which can be specified with four-wheel drive unless you count the new E350d All Terrain, with its raised ride height and SUV-inspired looks.
In regular towing the brakes felt strong and powerful, so we were surprised by the modest 11.1-metre stopping distance from 30mph.
Judging it purely as a tow car, that’s really the only disappointment.
The E-Class also impresses as an everyday drive, with one or two minor reservations.
Without the weight of a caravan behind it, you can really appreciate the E220d’s performance.
Peak pulling power arrives at low revs and with nine forward gears to choose from, the gearbox is well able to make the most of it.
However, the engine can sound strained at high revs. It’s nothing like as smooth and refined as the six-cylinder diesel in the E350d.
That said, once cruising along at a steady speed, engine noise settles into the background.
Other noises are well suppressed, so as long as your right foot isn’t too heavy, the E-Class is quiet at speed.
On the standard suspension fitted to SE models, the E-Class rides comfortably, aside from a little firmness at low speeds.
Stepping up to the AMG Line specification would bring stiffer suspension and there’s also the option of all-round air suspension.
But for most drivers, most of the time, the standard set-up will be just fine.
That said, if you’re a keen driver, you may find the E-Class a little uninvolving. The steering is precise but there’s not a lot of feedback, and there’s body roll when cornering enthusiastically.
But the comfortable suspension, strong performance, and minimal wind and road noise make the Mercedes-Benz E-Class a very accomplished thing to drive.
We all know that it’s not just what tow car talent a car has, for your caravan holidays it needs to have great luggage capacity, too.
The old E-Class stood out for refusing to compromise practicality for good looks.
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class treads a delicate path between the old model’s unrepentant practicality, and the need to inject a little more style and desirability into the car. It pulls off this tricky balance very well indeed.
With a 640-litre boot capacity, today’s E-Class Estate has 55 litres less luggage space than before.
But it still trounces its key competitors – an A6 Avant has a 565-litre boot, and the BMW 5 Series Touring has 570.
It’s easy to make the most of the Merc’s luggage room. The boot floor sits low to the ground and the opening is wide and unobstructed, so it’s easy to load the car.
There are switches either side of the tailgate to release the rear seat backs, which are split 40:20:40.
With them lowered there’s a very slight slope to the floor, but the capacity increases to a huge 1820 litres. Again, this comfortably eclipses the German rivals.
Rear-seat passengers have plenty of legroom, although the twin sunroofs fitted to our test car steal a few centimetres of headroom.
There are air vents between the front seats, and a fold-down armrest with twin cupholders in the centre.
Up front, headroom is limited by the sunroof, but many will find this a small price to pay for the extra light which the glass roof lets into the cabin.
There’s enough legroom for drivers well over six-feet tall to get comfortable, and we found the driving position kept us ache-free even after a long day behind the wheel.
Even among upmarket estate cars, the Mercedes E-Class isn’t cheap: our SE-spec test car costs £38,700.
However, research by What Car?’s Target Price team suggests that savings of around £4000 should be achievable.
Your money buys climate control, sat nav, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, a DAB digital radio, cruise control and leather upholstery.
Running costs should be affordable. The official combined figure of 67.3mpg is remarkable, and on a mixed route of A-roads and motorways we saw 27.9mpg. The car emits 109g/km of CO2.
For company car drivers, that puts the car in the 23% benefit-in-kind tax bracket.
Euro NCAP’s safety experts have awarded the E-Class five stars, scoring 95% for adult occupant protection and 90% for child occupant protection.
It comes with a three-year, unlimited-mile warranty.
|Engine size||1950 cc|
|85% KW||1513 kg|
|Towball limit||84 kg|
|Maximum towing limit||2100 kg|
|Torque||295.0 lb ft|
|Official MPG||67.3 mpg|
As an estate car, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is just about as good as it gets.
It’s pricey, even compared with other upmarket brands, and the old model had even more space for your holiday luggage.
But otherwise there’s very little to complain about.
There’s noticeably more room for bags than in rivals from Audi and BMW, and the 40:20:40 split rear seat is very practical.
People are just as well catered for, with plenty of space front and rear. The optional sunroofs eat into headroom, so you may want to avoid them.
The E-Class is a highly capable tow car as well as a supremely practical estate. Stability at speed is excellent, even in windy conditions.
There’s enough power and torque for heavy-duty towing, too. In fact, as much as we’ve enjoyed towing with the more powerful E350d in the past, the E220d is more than strong enough to handle any prudently matched caravan.
In solo driving, the E-Class places comfort over excitement, but if you spend more time on motorways than B-roads that’s no bad thing.
The engine sounds a little strained at high revs, but you don’t need to do that often.
It’s an expensive car, but What Car?’s research suggests big discounts are achievable.
And the E220d’s fuel efficiency should keep running costs affordable for company car drivers and private owners alike.
For now, the E-Class Estate sets the benchmark for prestige wagons.
- It is an excellent tow car
- Luggage space is class leading
- As a solo drive, it is wonderfully comfortable
- The engine is impressively efficient
- Its stopping distance was underwhelming