Mercedes-Benz E 220 CDI BlueEfficiency
Estate Sport review
by Mike Grundon (24 February 2012)
I can't help feeling that if I watched the magical self-opening rear hatch of this Mercedes-Benz E-class estate, then climbed into the boot and started crawling towards the front seats, there's a good chance the carpet under my hands and knees would turn to snow-covered pine needles and I'd emerge into a mysterious world of lions, witches and talking animals. It's an absolute wardrobe of a cargo-hold.
I have a friend who justifies his ownership of a previous version of this luxury estate by explaining it's the only car big enough to accommodate all of his dance band and their instruments in a single load. He wouldn't be disappointed by this latest version. Frankly and succinctly, it's simply cavernous.
And yet it's also surprisingly manoeuvrable. The car is over 16 feet long, nearly seven feet wide and it weighs more than 1.8 tonnes, but narrow country lanes, tight city car parks and switchback corners are no trouble if taken with care. It can turn a complete circle in a space about a couple of paces wider than twice its own length, and while weaving with such a huge amount of metal requires some forethought, very little seems beyond it.
My test car is the 220 CDI BlueEfficiency Sport Edition, powered by a four-cylinder 2143cc diesel engine with twin turbochargers pumping the power up to 168bhp, all directed through a seven-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels.
The stats say it'll jump up to 62mph in 8.6 seconds and heave itself on up to a top speed of 134mph, and yet they also claim it can do an average of 53.3 miles on a gallon of diesel. So how are these two things – performance and economy – possible in one car?
Mercedes-Benz says it's the programmable gearshift that helps. It allows you to choose between a high revving Sport mode, a Manual mode that allows you to employ paddles under the steering wheel to sort the cogs out, and an Economy mode that generally gives a more leisurely response and changes up gear sooner, unless you stamp hard on the go pedal when it'll rev its big heart out to surge you off down the road.
So does the compromise work? Well, it’s complicated.
Performance isn't too bad, although the acceleration isn’t going to rip your eyebrows off. Calling it the Sport Edition is perhaps a little optimistic. It comes with the bodykit and trim from Mercedes-Benz's own performance wizards at AMG, but that's where the sporting pretensions end.
It will surge out reasonably quickly from a rolling start when overtaking, particularly in Sport mode which allows the engine to spin up to and beyond the maximum power point at 3000rpm before changing gear. However, pulling away from standstill, it's a bit lazy about choosing and engaging a cog before you move off. It's only a momentary delay but when pulling out into heavy traffic or dashing across a busy junction, it induces a temporary moment of self-doubt and sphincter-gripping tension.
The economy figures quoted by Mercedes-Benz are simply a mystery to me. I've done close on 700 miles of mixed motorways, trunk routes, town and country lanes, and if the onboard computer can be believed I've failed to better 40mpg, which is less than the bottom-bracket 44.1mpg claimed for purely urban driving. The 53.3mpg official average is away ahead of me in the mist of the middle distance.
I promise you, almost all the time I was on my own in the car in Economy mode and I kept the start/stop mode engaged to switch off the engine when the car was stationary. The only conclusion I can reach is that either the trip computer is wildly wrong, I've suddenly become a much heavier-footed driver, or the figures are more misleading than usual.
One extra-cost addition to this test car is worthy of note just here. The fuel tank has been extended from the usual 59 litres to a gaping 100 litres and it only adds an extra £100 to the cost of the new car. Money well spent, I'd say, and though it'll make the cost of a top-up dizzyingly frightening, it'll space out the pain and extend your range hugely.
Of course, indoors the car is extremely comfortable wherever you're sitting. The driver's seat is part electrically adjustable with manual slide and lumbar support controls. It also has a three-level heating element in it – great if you have a bit of backache or the frost is dusting the three-point star on the bonnet.
That seat can be an intimidating place, though. The driver is faced with an impressive selection of buttons, levers and knobs, to the point of it being bewildering. After ten days I'm still fumbling my way round them, even leaving aside the navigation and media complex.
Do we really have to cram controls for the dipped beam, front and rear wipers, screen wash and indicator all onto just one stem? And does that stem have to be so close to the cruise control stick? I've lost count of the number of times I've set my cruising speed when all I wanted to do was turn right.
I've driven cars with more technology than what's in front of me here, and yet I've found them much easier to find my way round. But there are a few trick elements worthy of note, like the cool blipper-operated self-opening tailgate, the mood lighting in and around the passenger bay and the very effective adaptive headlamp system to see you safely round corners in the dark.
If you need a massive load carrier, there's never been a better estate car than the E-class. It's huge inside and this particular car can tow a braked trailer weighing over two tonnes. But treat the marketing of this Sport Edition with caution. It's not as urgent as the moniker implies and it doesn't appear to be anywhere near as economical as the figures would suggest.