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Review and photos by John LeBlanc
Pop quiz time.
What do the Porsche Cayenne, Cadillac SRX, Range Rover and this Mercedes-Benz E500 4Matic all have in common?
Besides clogging up school drop-off zones in some of the tonier Canadian neighbourhoods, the correct answer would be that these are all wagons – whether their respective makers want to admit this or not – designed first and foremost to be practical.
Tall, roomy shapes, apertures a plenty, and lots of power from their V-8 engines and all-wheel-drive systems to haul friends, family and flotsam through any type of weather or to any special occasion. And if that trip is only as adventurous as making sure Billy and Suzie get to their early morning violin practice, so be it!
Of course, some companies are not afraid to label their utilitarian vehicles for what they are. Take for instance this Mercedes-Benz. Its official title is E500 4Matic Wagon, but after having the car grace our family’s humble driveway for a week, I’m ready to rename it “The Mother of All Wagons”.
Of course, if you are “The Mother” of anything, it means you are the grandest, the best, the queen of your realm, and as with most Mercedes cars, you pay plenty for these regal rights. At a base price of $90,950, the E500 4Matic test wagon is exactly $71,585 more expensive than a Ford Focus wagon. Unfair comparison? Maybe.
One does get most of the now indispensable trappings of automotive luxury – power leather seats, four-zone climate control, real wood trim and a full number of airbags – for that price. And Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system does comes standard on all their wagons sold in Canada, including the E320 4Matic, which, by the way, is less expensive by almost the cost of that Focus.
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Nevertheless, for a minute, move those budgetary issues to that same part of your mind where you promised to organize your sock drawer last year, because this most practical of all Mercedes’ certainly has a few tricks up its fenders to make up its price difference.
One presumably buys a luxury wagon because one has a lot of luxurious stuff to tote. No doubt, the E500 4Matic wagon’s sweptback rear roofline conspires against having some of the vertical space its taller competitors enjoy. Still and all, luggage space behind the E500 4Matic wagon�s rear seats is more than a Cadillac SRX V-8 ($60,930); fold the Mercedes’ seats down and you’ll have 950 litres available. And when it comes to getting all of that stuff into this wagon, Mercedes could not have made it less strenuous.
To open the rear, top-hinged hatch door, hold down the button on the key fob or, from the front seats, a button on the driver door. As the hatch door opens up, the cargo cover lifts itself up and retracts out of the way. But wait, there’s more.
Our five-passenger luxury wagon had the optional power sliding cargo floor. This substituted the folding, rear-facing two-passenger third -row seat that is standard on all E Class wagons. Push a second button on the hatch door and the floor glides towards you like a butler requesting your overcoat.
I bored my family with this party trick way too many times, but the reality is the sliding floor doesn�t exactly slide out quickly. I ended up getting frustrated myself, waiting for the “hatch butler”, and would just toss whatever I had into the back cargo area like a regularly configured wagon.
As I tossed myself into the 10-way power front seats, each with 3-position memory linked to the optional SmartKey user-recognition feature, I immediately noticed our test wagon’s interior was designed in typical E Class accouterments. A cream-and-beige leather combination with, soft carpeting and conservatively applied hand-polished Burl Walnut wood trim on the dash, console, doors, shift gate and shift knob started to account for some of the Mercedes’ price.
Mercedes goes out of its way to make this is a very comfortable vehicle – wagon, or not.
Standard features on the E500 4Matic wagon include such niceties as four-way tilt/telescoping power steering column, four-zone digital climate control with electrostatic dust and pollen filter, and heated front seats.
For the valuable packages that ride up front, the E500 4Matic wagon is equipped with eight air bags, including dual-stage front bags, four side-impact air bags and head protection curtains, plus seat-belt emergency tensioning devices and belt force limiters.
Extra charges on our wagon were for the ski sack/pass-through ($320), the heated steering wheel ($455), Harman/Kardon Sound System ($1,165), and an appearance package that added a bodykit and an 18-inch wheel and tire combo ($2,540). Notwithstanding my test wagon’s final $96,481 price, it’s still priced less than a Range Rover HSE ($98,000).
When you want to haul more than your dry-cleaning, press the accelerator with vigour and this courtly luxury wagon storms away like a muscle-car, and you will have discovered one of the E500 4Matic wagon’s hidden charms – the 5.0-litre V-8 under its hood.
This is the first eight-cylinder wagon Mercedes has ever offered in North America, and like the E500 sedan, it produces 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery is just as smooth as the four-door, and despite weighing 181 kilograms more, Mercedes claims similar 0-100 km/h times of around six seconds. That’s a quicker straight-line acceleration time than all of the luxury wagons mentioned above, and similar to Audi’s admittedly sportier S6 Avant ($88,650).
The E500 4Matic wagon�s standard Airmatic Dual Control adjustable air suspension has three settings. The sportiest transforms the Mercedes from Clark Kent-conservative-family/stuff-carrier, to Superman-muscle-car-sport-wagon that would certainly leave those taller wagons behind on a twisty paved road.
With Mercedes’ admirable 4Matic all-wheel-drive standard, competing against those other luxury wagons in the school parking lot on an icy winter day should be no problem. Steering is light enough to be manageable around town, while offering the right amount of weight and accuracy at highway speeds. It still can’t match the laser-like steering feel of the less expensive S6 Avant, though.
In reality, the E500 4Matic wagon’s primary competition may come from within its own ranks as in the form of the E320 4Matic wagon ($76,300).
Keep in mind that the E320 4Matic Wagon’s 221 horsepower V-6 provides adequate acceleration, and delivers equally smooth gear changes with the same 5-speed automatic transmission as in the E500 4Matic.
That said, if you can afford to appreciate The Mother of All Wagon’s vigorous V-8, superior driving dynamics and luxurious interior, then the E500 4Matic wagon’s price difference becomes moot.
Technical Data: 2004 Mercedes-Benz E500 4Matic Wagon
|Options||Ski sack/pass through ($320), heated steering wheel ($455), Harman/Kardon Sound System ($1,165), appearance package ($2,540)|
|Price as tested||$96,481|
|Type||5-door, 5-passenger luxury wagon|
|Layout||Longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||5.0 litre V-8, SOHC, 24-valve|
|Horsepower||302 @ 5600|
|Torque||339 lb-ft @ 2700|
|Tires||245/40R-18 all-season performance|
|Curb weight||,920 kg (4,231 lb)|
|Wheelbase||2,854 mm (112.4 in)|
|Length||4,868 mm (191.7 in)|
|Width||1,822 mm (71.7 in)|
|Height||1,495 mm (58.9 in), with roof rails|
|Cargo capacity||690 litres (24.4 cu ft/), 3rd-row seat lowered|
|1,950 litres (68.9 cu ft), 2nd and 3rd-row seats lowered|
|Fuel consumption||City: 15.0 litres/100 km (19 miles/Imperial gallon)|
|Hwy: 10.6 litres/100 km (28 miles/Imperial gallon)|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/120,000 km|