Want the Best Off-Road Wagon Available? Move to Europe

The best off-road wagon out there is now made by Mercedes-Benz.

There is an illogical absence of station wagons in the US automotive landscape. In lieu of those practical, efficient, compact machines, American consumers favor crossovers and SUVs. We apparently prefer being higher up from the road. Fine — but the penalty we all have to pay for this as-yet-not-adequately-explained-by-science preference is that we’re all stuck with a “choice” not all of us have agreed to. Yes, just like politics.

Anyway, station wagons are few and far between in US showrooms, particularly sport wagons and the kind of fully capable multi-terrain machines that Subaru has, to its credit, stuck with like glue throughout the years. We do now have the Audi Allroad, which is a great machine, but now I wish we also had the option of the new Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain, which I drove in the fantastically festive Austrian Alps of early December.

The E-Class All-Terrain is a marvelous combination of the best of the current E-Class, including its smart styling, upscale luxury and semi-autonomous drive capability, and the more rugged bits and pieces injected into Mercedes’s larger off-road machines, SUVs. The result is a sleek, unobtrusive machine that can motor up an icy mountain road at nearly full trot, without giving driver or occupant the kind of frights that might otherwise turn some as white as a field of fresh powder.

Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain

Engine: E220d 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 9-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 194
Torque: 295 lb-ft
0–60: 8 seconds
Curb Weight: 4,232 pounds

There are also stylistic flourishes signaling the car’s departure from conventional E-Class aesthetics, including an SUV-derived grill and black wheel arch covers that are flared slightly to accommodate the higher stance and beefier wheel/tire combo. I think body-colored wheel arches would be cooler, but Mercedes works most of its magic in the All-Terrain’s suspension and transmission anyhow. The transmission includes the multi-mode Dynamic Select feature (comfort, sport, eco, etc.) that, coupled with those slightly larger wheels and higher tire sidewalls, not only makes for smooth-as-glass, ultra-quiet road manners but it also effectively smooths out the dips and bumps by virtue of its default tuning. For hairier moments of wilder terrain, the car has the added bonus of the All-Terrain mode, which is based on that in the Mercedes GLE, an SUV.

The system, when selected, raises the chassis via the air suspension by 20mm, for speeds up to 35 km/h, though you can go a bit higher via manual control, which provides a ground clearance range of 121mm to 156mm. The system also provides a detailed off-road screen showing a diagram of the car with steering angle, suspension height, and angle of slope and inclination all represented graphically. There’s a compass, too — because off-road types love that.

In terms of traction and durability, this has to be the best off-road wagon out there.

I tried the car out on both snowy mountain passes and deep-woods trails. In the woods, the car easily surpassed what any conventional sedan could do, seemingly limited only by things like approach and departure angles and ground clearance — factors that give SUVs an edge. But in terms of traction and durability, this has to be the best off-road wagon out there. Going further, in the snow and ice, I honestly can’t recall feeling more confident. Without a direct comparison at the ready, I’d be inclined to give this lower, more streamlined wagon, with its persistent Mercedes-grade stability-and-traction-monitoring systems, an edge over SUVs — and certainly any other wagon — when it comes to straight-up bombing runs up and down icy roads. It’s honestly that good.

Too bad you — at least, our US readers — can’t have one. The All-Terrain is a rare bird, blending the off-road readiness average buyers could realistically expect with the style and luxury of the esteemed Mercedes marque. It’s a sublime daily driver and rough-houser that punches well above its weight. There might indeed be a glimmer of hope for Americans, however. Over dinner, one of the Merc execs hinted to me that its US dealers, initially opposed to receiving the All-Terrain, have changed their tune, recognizing the car’s prowess and appeal. (Vehicle market decisions are heavily influenced by dealer knowledge of their customers’ wants and needs.) Will it actually come here? Not immediately — there are knotty issues of engine options since the All-Terrain doesn’t currently offer one engineered for the US market, and bumper design, which would similarly have to sync up with US regulations.

Let’s hope it makes it here. Failing that, we can all move to Canada.

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