Utility goes Uptown
The station wagons of my childhood were never like this
Unsung heroes of the highway, those long-forgotten barges bore the ravages and detritus of many a weekend road trip, as faithful -- and sophisticated -- as the ancient family dog.
Long since gone the way of drive-in movies, the wagon's all but vanished as primary people-movers, replaced by the minivan and SUV.
Those few that remain are generally of the premium German variety. Rather than bashed-up daily runabout, they fill the role of refined, yet practical cruiser.
The 21st century wagon
My tester, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon, is one such vehicle. I'm occasionally asked if some cars inspire a personality change, like adopting a different character upon sliding behind the wheel. Driving the E 350 wagon, I couldn't shake the feeling of respectability that came over me, as if I'd suddenly become a very pampered Stepford wife, or a respected member of the faculty.
Gliding serenely into a parking spot, I'd fantasize momentarily that my bank account had undergone the same transformation and that my past and pedigree had somehow become squeaky clean.
There's nothing sporty or sexy about the styling of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon -- heavens no. However, its clean, crisp lines create an impression of quiet elegance; and the standard-in-Canada AMG appearance package erases any hint of wagon-y frumpiness. My tester is particularly fetching in an understated pewter.
As expected, there's plenty of gadgetry in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon; and thankfully most of it is intuitive and easy to operate through the COMAND system.
The older I get, the more I love creature comforts and heated steering wheels get my vote for most coveted vehicle feature for cold Canadian winters. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 also boasts power-adjustable steering wheel, automatic-dimming mirrors, auto climate control (which continues to circulate warm air for a short period of time after shut-off; another nice cold-weather feature), active, self-levelling bi-xenon headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon also features a power liftgate that's activated with the key fob and head restraints that adjust at the touch of a button. The thickly cushioned leather front seats are 14-way adjustable, and the second row folds down to provide a total of 1,950 litres of cargo space -- easily ferrying a couple of friends and all their luggage home from the airport.
Lined storage bins are hidden under the front seats of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon (well hidden I might add, since I hadn't realized they were there until I looked over the manual).
Surprisingly, there's a hidden seat located under the trunk floor -- a small, rear-facing bench that flips out -- that proved a huge hit with a good friend's 9-year-old son. I wouldn't want to put anyone larger back there though, unless they're relatives who've overstayed their welcome.
A wagon with grunt
The E 350 received a new engine for 2012: it's still a 3.5L V6, but this one is a direct injection variant that delivers more power, but with greater fuel efficiency. It puts out 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque (compared to the previous model's 268/258) and is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350's fuel economy ratings of 11.2L/100km city and 7.3L highway don't exactly sound stellar in these days of ever-decreasing fuel consumption, but when you factor in the fact that the E 350 is a large, 1,945-kg vehicle with full-time AWD (hence the 4MATIC designation) that basically does the job of an SUV, those numbers sound much more reasonable. And the E 350 has a creamy smooth ride that no utility vehicle could ever hope to emulate.
Although one can switch from "Comfort" to "Sport" mode in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon to firm up the dampers and quicken the throttle response, it feels almost disrespectful to hustle such a regal cruiser along, and for the most part I was more than content to ride in comfort. While it's very composed, no one is going to accuse this car of having aspirations of sportiness.
The 3.5L is a fairly powerful engine; and while the E 350 is never going to win any stop light peel-outs (as if!), it has no problem whatsoever achieving respectable highway speeds. The cabin in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon boasts that typical vault-like Mercedes hush; so well-insulated is it from any road or wind noise that it's surprisingly easy to find that the speedometer has crept up to where it shouldn't be.
Newness at a price
It's too easy to become accustomed to the E 350's sense of refined practicality -- you'd almost wonder why anyone would opt for one of the ubiquitous SUVs that litter the marketplace. With the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350's $70,000+ starting price, it's a class above the typical utility vehicle and light years beyond those saggy barges of my distant childhood.
This 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC Wagon review was originally published on Auto-Venus.com.