Here’s an interesting thing that’s happened lately: for years, we car enthusiasts begged automakers to give us more wagons as we moaned about the dominance of crossover SUVs. Now, thanks to America’s insatiable demand for anything with a hatch, we have more wagons on sale than we’ve seen in years. If cars can feel feelings—and scientifically, there’s no way to prove they can’t—then the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Wagon must be experiencing some smug amusement.
The E-Class wagon has been there through it all, as other wagons disappeared or got renamed “coupes” and replaced with overweight crossovers called “Gran Turismo” models. That’s because this Mercedes-Benz has a huge cult following among well-heeled American owners, especially on the coasts. You need only drive one to realize why.
(Full disclosure: Mercedes needed us to drive a 2018 E400 wagon so badly it had one dropped off at our office for a week with a full tank of gas.)
The current W213 and S213 E-Class dropped in 2016 as a 2017 model. Here in America, the only wagon variant we get is the all-wheel drive E400 4Matic. It comes equipped with a 3.0-liter biturbo V6 engine good for a claimed 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque.
Actually, there is one other E-Class wagon you can buy stateside. If you’re willing to nearly double the E400’s base price you can have the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon, which has a 603 HP biturbo V8 engine and is what dreams are made of. I pray that someday I’ll be able to drive that rolling temple of high-speed haulage.
The E400 4Matic Wagon starts at $64,045, just about $5,000 dearer than the base price of an equivalent E400 4Matic Sedan. But the cost of entry gets crazy high as you pile on options; our tester rang up at $89,860.
It’s not cheap. But it at least it never feels that way, either.
Driving this car made me think about a recent Morning Shift I wrote, one that reported more big-budget buyers are opting for fancy, loaded American trucks and SUVs over the beloved German luxury brands.
The truth is that in 2018, very few cars are terrible anymore. Even your average economy car can be ordered with heated leather seats, navigation, phone integration and an impressive suite of safety features. If that’s the case, what does a supposed real luxury brand like Mercedes have to offer?
I’ll tell you: a whole bunch of crazy stuff you didn’t know existed, and maybe now, can’t live without.
Stuff like the air cabin fragrance system, that makes the wagon periodically smell like a nice hotel room and can be diffused several different ways; multiple customizable options for ambient lighting; surround cameras that engage automatically when the car’s sides come up on tight spaces; contrasting-color Nappa leather seat trims; warming arm rests on the center console and doors to keep your elbows comfortable; one of the more advanced semi-autonomous suites available today; and multiple options for your massaging seats.
If a piece of automotive accessory tech exists right now, it’s probably an option on the E-Class. You may not need it, but you’ll be thrilled when you learn it exists, and I suppose that’s what luxury is all about.
The Dynamic Seats are a perfect example. These have have been a Mercedes option for a good decade now, but are smarter and better than ever these days. In this E400, each side bolster individually would adjust as I went into a turn, even as simple as 90-degree turns in city driving, as if the car was catching me on one side.
Now, I turned this feature off, because I kept feeling like the car was hugging me, and I do not like to be touched. But still! Tasteful excess, you could call it.
In general the current E-Class proves that of all the luxury manufacturers, Mercedes’ interior game may be the most on point right now. The inside of this car is a deeply pleasant, comfortable, airy place to be, something that blends tech with class better than most.
Granted, in some areas it doesn’t feel quite as premium as that S560 coupe we floated around Detroit in. Namely on a few of the switch materials, the steering wheel, the wood dash insert and the center console. But hey, “it’s not an S-Class” isn’t exactly a fair criticism. Most cars aren’t. That’s like finding a random, average person on the street and calling them a bitch because they can’t guard against Russell Westbrook.
The inside is still lovely, and Mercedes’ sweeping digital dashboard remains pretty to look at—though I did find myself occasionally frustrated with controlling it via the touch pad on the center console. There’s the mouse pad thing, a click wheel right below it, and two touch pads on the steering wheel, all of which are surrounded by their own arrays of buttons and allow you to perform various functions.
But the learning curve on which thing does what and how to use it can be annoying—more so than the exact same system was on the S-Class in Detroit, for whatever reason, perhaps because I was on more familiar roads in New York—and it’s all often much slower than it would be to simply use a touch screen.
Mercedes has a new infotainment system coming soon called MBUX, and that will include the pad as well as a touch screen, which should alleviate the issues here.
Otherwise, it’s hard to want more from the inside of your car in 2018 than this.
The interior, and the fact that said interior is extra-large, are the real stars of the show here. The car’s a good driver, but let’s just say that the E400 leaves plenty of room for AMG performance version to make sense. It wouldn’t be right to call this one a true “sport wagon”, though it is competent.
As mentioned earlier, while the car is called E400, this engine’s a 3.0-liter V6 with two turbos. The brand new revived inline sixes with even more power haven’t made their way into many models including this one yet.
Luckily this is a pretty solid motor with good punch and passing abilities; put your foot down and it’ll move, though not with any extreme sense of urgency. It’s a cruiser first, a luxury motor whose focus is on the aforementioned passing power and maintaining Autobahn speeds rather than outrunning true sports cars and track day shenanigans.
It’s quick, but it is not fast and the sensation of speed is somewhat dulled but how plush the car is. Though The E400 still does zero to 60 mph in the respectable low five second range.
Comfort is as much a part of this car’s underpinnings as its interior. Ride quality with the air suspension is, as you might expect, near-impeccable; our tester laughed at New York’s pothole-lined streets. I strove to dodge them only to spare the wheels and tires. It’s as smooth and comfortable as the interior is quiet and isolating. Driving an E-Class is a genuinely relaxing experience.
But when you want to have some fun behind the wheel, you find that while the E-Class is quick, it’s not athletic. Its natural state is somewhat wallowing and soft, with its cushy ride giving way to plenty of body roll.
Granted, you could dial up the car’s various steering, throttle, handling and ride settings with the Sport and Sport Plus modes, but I found results to be decidedly mixed there. Those higher modes yield an overly aggressive throttle that’s cumbersome in city and everyday driving as the nine-speed automatic takes on a kind of hair-trigger quality. It doesn’t feel quicker or sportier in these settings, just uneven. Most of the time I left it in its standard comfort mode and was happy enough with that.
I don’t mean too much of this in a negative way, by the way: the car’s mission is comfort first, and it truly excels at that. If you want truly energetic driving dynamics, upgrade to that AMG 63 S, or get a second car for winding weekend roads. I suspect plenty of E400 owners will.
Beyond that, it has many options for when you’d like the car itself to take on more of the driving. There’s Drive Pilot, which can effectively take the wheel on a straight highway road for up to 60 seconds, an automatic parallel park function, and another move that changes lanes in semi-autonomous mode at the flick of the blinker switch.
The E-Class definitely doesn’t skimp on the warning lights, however; if you get too close to something, or something gets too close to you, even when such things are under control in the normal chaos of New York City driving, the car will let you know. Aggressively.
Now we get to the real value proposition with this admittedly pricey wagon: how amazingly practical of a package all that fancy stuff is loaded into. A good wagon should make you wonder why anyone would buy its sedan version, and the E-Class certainly made me feel that way.
With all seats up and full of people, you get 35 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s more than double the sedan’s 13.1 cubic feet. Empty the car and fold down all the seats and you’re availed of 64 cubic feet, according to Mercedes. This is better than compacts like the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC, and midsize oddballs like the GLE Coupe and BMW X6.
The point is, this is very much a car with car handling dynamics, but it offers crossover-like space and utility. Yes, the handling errs on the side of comfort, like I said earlier, but it’s still worlds better to drive than most hatches-on-stilts and truck-based SUVs out there.
And then we have the most wonderful party trick of all: the third row of jump seats, all the way in the back.
This is a longtime Mercedes wagon feature and it lives on delightfully today in the form of two panels that pop out of the floorboard and are assembled up by hand.
Yes, they are tiny. Mercedes doesn’t recommend they get used by anyone over four feet tall, although I could probably put one Kristen Lee-sized human in the back in a pinch. Yes, they’re kind of uncomfortable. But dammit, they work, and they’re just fun to have.
To me, these seats are kind of the car’s killer app: it can haul five people plus two small kids, and the rear jumps are such a weird, unusual joy to use that they make the car so much more delightful and interesting than any sedan ever could be. Putting the seats together and then hanging out in them with my beloved car children was what really made me fall in love with the E-Class wagon.
I don’t know much I’d really end up using these if I owned the car, but I could, and isn’t that kind of extra-awesome what luxury cars are all about?
After a week in the E-Class wagon, it’s easy to get why people—even in recently wagon-averse America—love these things, why they have enough of a following that Mercedes can keep selling them on our shores. This is easily one of the strongest products in Benz’s lineup, a lineup that I increasingly feel has the slight edge at the moment over the other German luxury brands.
Of course, one key question we haven’t hit yet: why buy this when you can get a Volvo V90, for about $12,000 less? I can’t answer that for you, as I sadly haven’t driven a V90 yet.
But I have driven Volvo’s other newer offerings like the XC90, and it’s also world class in terms of comfort, safety features and tech. The V90 may also have the E-Class beat in the looks department, but that depends on your own tastes. (Also, the Volvo doesn’t have rear-facing jump seats. Sad.)
Realistically, I’m not sure how many buyers Volvo can lure away from the cult of the E-Class wagon. Maybe some, maybe none. But between these two automakers—plus don’t forget the new Volvo V60—and Jaguar, Porsche, Buick, Mini and a few others, America is in better wagon-shape than it’s been in decades.
And hey, if the $89,000 price tag for the leader of the pack is too much for you, it’s only a matter of time before depreciation brings one of these into your price range.