Unheralded adventurer
THE GOOD
  • Cooler than cool
  • Supple suspension
  • Outstanding engine
THE BAD
  • Expensive, especially with options
  • Steering wheel touch controls
  • No full-screen phone-mirroring

I’m no pessimist, but if I were to put together a list of the most underappreciated – and likely short-lived – cars on the market, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 All-Terrain would rank somewhere near the top.

The relative success enjoyed by Audi and Volvo with their similar offerings notwithstanding, it strikes me that this rugged wagon is destined to be the kind of secret that’s so well kept we’ll be talking about it in a few short years as a distant memory of what could’ve been. Of course, I hope I’m wrong, because this E-Class is simply spectacular.

Styling: 10/10

Restyled for 2021, this macho wagon is the business. It retains the sleek and striking profile of the standard wagon that came before it, but it’s been beefed up with body cladding to look slightly more rugged than before. In my eyes, this is among the most stylish vehicles on the market at the moment, period, with the pricey red paint of this tester ($1,400) the perfect finisher.

The interior wouldn’t be out of place in any modern Mercedes-Benz model, with only the front floor mats boasting about its enhanced image. It’s certainly a stylish space, and while the open-pore wood trim that would normally reside on the dash and doors would be my choice instead of the optional gloss-black bits with contrast stripes seen here ($1,000), it’s modern elegance personified.

Practicality: 9.5/10

Yes, SUVs have their place in the market, but the room afforded by this E-Class’s elongated roof makes it an ideal alternative. There’s some 991 L of space for stuff behind the back seats, while stashing the 40/20/40-split folding bench opens up 1,812 L overall. More than outright room, though, accessing the cargo area is made easy by the impossibly low liftover height of the back bumper.

While the car’s powered cargo privacy cover isn’t exactly ground-breaking stuff, the stowable net that can be hooked into the ceiling is as handy as it gets, whether for keeping a dog in the back without the need for one of those ugly metal barriers or stopping cargo from spilling over the seatbacks. The second row isn’t quite as spacious as the one in the GLE-Class SUV, with the footwells in particular proving to be a little narrow for adult-sized feet, but shoulder- and headroom all around is comfortably accommodating.

Comfort: 10/10

The E 450 All-Terrain has also made me reconsider my position about opting for the air suspension in other Mercedes models. Well, sort of. I still don’t think doing so is strictly necessary in, say, the E-Class sedan or GLE-Class sport utility – two vehicles I tested recently that feature standard adaptive dampers but no air springs. They’re both fine without the latter, but this E 450 wagon is fantastically smooth and supple on its standard air suspension. (As an added bonus, it also allows the ride height to be raised for low-speed driving on, say, an unmaintained access road.)

Even on its optional 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,250) the All-Terrain exhibits exemplary ride quality, while the cabin is a cocoon of tranquility that’s free of outside interference. While the version I drove did without front-seat massage and ventilation, the contouring proved comfortable and supportive, matching well with the serenity of the drive experience.

Power: 10/10

The lone engine available under the hood of this E 450 is all but perfect, with velvety smoothness throughout the rev range. It’s a 3.0L inline-six-cylinder – a gift from the gas-burner gods if there ever was one – that produces 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the latter of which kicks in at just 1,600 rpm for unbroken bursts of acceleration when called upon.

Either of the AMG-tuned E-Class wagons are the way to go for those seeking a side of sportiness to go with this car’s practicality; however, with a slick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission channelling the turbocharged torque to the all-wheel drive system, and a mild hybrid system that can chip in with an additional 21 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, this adventurous version can still complete the sprint to 100 km/h in a little more than five seconds.

Driving Feel: 9/10

With its air suspension and relaxed demeanour, the E 450 All-Terrain isn’t a sharp and sporty machine, but it’s nice to drive nonetheless. Sure, it’s a little sterile, with a bit of body roll when cornering; and there isn’t a ton of steering feel, artificial or otherwise. But it’s mild-mannered and easily managed no matter how it’s driven, while the brakes make it sure-footed even on loose gravel. That’s also where the car’s all-wheel drive system can be felt doing its best work, shuffling torque to the wheels with the most traction in order to keep it all moving in the intended direction.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

Jumping back to that mild hybrid system, it says it right there in the name: this isn’t the full-fledged fuel-saving technology found in the Toyota Prius. However, it does result in some meaningful fuel savings, with the ability to coast with the engine turned off, while the car’s various electrical components can be powered by the 48-volt system, thus reducing their draw on the gas-burning part of the powertrain.

Officially, the E 450 All-Terrain is rated to use 10.6 L/100 km around town and 8.4 on the highway, resulting in combined consumption of 9.6 L/100 km, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Naturally, that’s premium-grade gas, but it’s 1.0 L/100 km less than the similarly sized Audi A6 Allroad, and about the same as the slightly smaller Volvo V60 Cross Country that’s powered by a four-cylinder engine.

Real-world testing, meanwhile, saw this Mercedes burn just 8.1 L/100 km during the course of a 200-km evaluation drive spanning city, highway, and country driving, including slinging some gravel on a beautiful backroad. A full week of testing, meanwhile, finished at 8.6 L/100 km over the course of some 490 km. That’s better than the turbocharged Subaru Outback – the only mainstream model like this on the market (although it runs on regular).

Features: 9/10

While that relatively efficient powertrain is among this car’s most impressive attributes, the array of standard and available equipment is what makes it a proper premium vehicle. LED exterior lighting all around, a panoramic power sunroof and separate fixed glass panel in the back, more sound-deadening than a music studio, and swathes of genuine leather wrapped around perfectly shaped seats is just the start.

Twin 12.3-inch digital displays span much of the dash, with one acting in place of a traditional instrument cluster that’s completely reconfigurable and can even call up a full-screen map view. The other is touch-responsive and houses a navigation system that uses augmented reality to project turn-by-turn directions on a live camera view of the road ahead, as well as a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, a wireless phone charger, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections. In typical Mercedes fashion, neither smartphone mirroring system spans the entire width of the screen, with disappointing dead space on either side, but the display itself is top quality and the interface takes little time to get the hang of.

Safety: 9/10

Standard safety fare includes seven airbags throughout the cabin, a government-mandated back-up camera, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. There’s also rain-sensing wipers, a self-parking system that works for both parallel and perpendicular spots, and a pre-collision system that can tighten the seatbelts and close the windows in the event of an impending crash.

Of all the options added to the E-Class wagon I tested, safety-related or otherwise, my two favourites were the head-up display that’s part of the Technology package ($2,400) and the Intelligent Drive pack ($3,000) that includes a bevy of the brand’s best advanced safety and driver-assist systems. That’s where Mercedes’s adaptive cruise control system is packaged alongside active lane-keeping and radar-based blind-spot monitoring that, when combined, make up one of the best highway driving suites on the market.

User Friendliness: 9/10

The driver-assist suite isn’t altogether new, however, Mercedes updated it to include sensors in the steering wheel that ensure the driver remains in control. Even letting one hand off the wheel can prompt the system to issue a warning. Ignore it and the system will shut off, and can even bring the car to a stop if conditions dictate the need to do so.

Sure, it’s not hands-free like Ford’s forthcoming system that’s supposed to work on divided highways, but it works well to ease the stress of highway driving, providing gentle steering inputs while maintaining a suitable gap from preceding vehicles. It can even execute seamless lane changes on its own with nothing more than the signal activated and a clear path for it to make the move.

Despite the amount of advanced technology that can be fitted to the E 450 All-Terrain, most of the various systems are as simple to interact with as any other. Climate control is manipulated using buttons and rockers, while the infotainment system is simple enough to grow accustomed to. The only disappointments remain the redundant console controller that’s a holdover from the days before touchscreens, and the finicky touch controls on the steering wheel that are used to navigate the twin screens on the dash.

Value: 7/10

Mercedes wants $80,900 before freight and tax for the 2021 E 450 All-Terrain – slightly more than the similarly sized Audi A6 Allroad ($78,500), and quite a bit more than the slightly smaller Volvo V60 Cross Country ($50,900). More crucially, it’s more expensive than the Mercedes GLE 450 that employs the same powertrain ($77,500), although adding the optional air suspension to that SUV puts it within $1,000 of this E-Class.

The bigger problem here is that the options added to my tester make it $94,000 before freight and tax, yet it’s still missing at least a few features that should be included in a car that gets this close to six figures like ventilated and massaging front seats. To get those would further add $4,100 to the asking price, while other options like soft-close doors ($550) and tri-zone climate control ($850) would push this E-Class past the $100,000.

The Verdict

In fairness to the E 450 All-Terrain, its rival from Audi can easily cost as much after a visit to its equally impressive options list. That doesn’t necessarily make the price of this Mercedes any easier to stomach, but maybe this will: it’s unquestionably one of the most impressive cars I’ve ever driven.

As a total package, this wagon nails the concept of the true SUV alternative with sleek and adventurous styling, outstanding space and versatility, and one of the best powertrains out there. There’s no way to sugar-coat how expensive this wagon is – especially when optioned the way it needs to be. There’s a price to pay for premium-car perfection, and this is it.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L   Model Tested 2021 Mercedes-Benz E 450 All-Terrain
Engine Cylinders Turbo I6   Base Price $80,900
Peak Horsepower 362 hp @ 5,500–6,100 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 369 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm   Destination Fee N/A
Fuel Economy 10.6 / 8.4 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $94,200
Cargo Space 991 / 1,812 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$13,200 – Premium Package, $3,400; Intelligent Drive Package, $3,000; Technology Package, $2,400; Hyacinth Red Metallic Paint, $1,400; 20-inch Alloy Wheels, $1,250; Piano Black w/Flowing Lines Interior Trim, $1,000; Tire Pressure Monitoring System, $450; Dash Cam, $300