We’ve loved station wagons since before shoppers decided they were lame, and we still keep a special place in our hearts for the few manufacturers who still sell them. Audi, Jaguar (not for long), Porsche, and Volvo all sell wagons, but Mercedes-Benz has been doing the long-roof longer than the competition. For 2021, however, Mercedes is making its E-class wagon a little less wagon-y and renaming it the E450 All-Terrain, presumably in an attempt to attract buyers who would otherwise choose an SUV.
The good news about this change, which comes along with a refresh to Mercedes’s entire E-class lineup, is that it is mostly cosmetic. The E450 All-Terrain has chrome trim and plastic cladding that last year’s wagon did not, and there’s now a “power bulge” (ugh) on the hood to draw attention to the new engine, which is the main mechanical update and is shared with the rest of the E-class lineup. The headlamps, taillamps, grille, and front bumper designs have been tweaked, and Mercedes has updated its driver-assistance and infotainment offerings. But the shape is unmistakably familiar.
Even the turbocharged 3.0-liter seems like an old friend. It’s a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six paired with a 48-volt hybrid system that replaces the twin-turbo V-6. The output of 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque exactly matches that of the outgoing V-6. More important, the starter-generator system that can add up to 21 horsepower to the mix, the turbocharger, and the nine-speed automatic work together to deliver seamless and linear power. Unlike the similar but more powerful engine in the E53, the E450’s version lacks an electric supercharger to add instant low-rpm punch. EPA-estimated fuel economy improves over the V-6 with 24 mpg combined compared to 22 mpg.
Our E450 All-Terrain hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds in our testing and was through the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds, compared to 4.7 and 13.3 seconds in our still-missed 2019 E450 wagon long-term test car. That quicker acceleration comes despite the All-Terrain’s 123-pound weight gain over the 2019 wagon.All-Terrains have an air spring at every corner, while the old wagon had air springs only in back. To match the SUV styling and to boost ground clearance, the All-Terrain rides 1.2 inches higher than its predecessor. The All-Road comes standard with 19-inch wheels, an inch larger than the wagon, and 20-inch wheels are optional. On the 20s and summer tires, our All-Terrain returned 0.89 g on the skidpad, or 0.02 g worse than our long-term wagon. Ride quality seemed bumpier and jumpier, and the whacks from hits were louder than before. It even became a bit unsettled over a potholed highway on-ramp. While we haven’t sampled the 19-inch wheels, we’d guess that the extra sidewall might improve ride quality.
Inside, however, things feel right. Gorgeous open-pore wood trim is standard, there’s enough ambient lighting to illuminate a new-age cigar bar, and the seats—leatherette is standard, but ours were leather—are comfortable, supportive, and for $450, both heated and ventilated. Plus, there’s an absolute ocean of cargo space: 35 cubic feet with the rear seats up, 64 cubic feet when they’re folded. The load floor is low, making loading heavy items a breeze. The double 12.3-inch screens for media and driver information displays are standard this year, as is Mercedes’s Siri-esque digital assistant that responds to “Hey, Mercedes.” An impressive augmented-reality navigation feature is optional and overlays directional arrows and directions onto a camera view of the road. It’ll be a godsend for drivers who need down-to-the-lane assistance to avoid getting lost.
If we’re being honest, we could have done without Benz changing the look of the wagon to appeal more to SUV buyers. We didn’t see any problem with the design and function of Benz’s wagon. But the sad truth is that, as much as we love the Mercedes wagon, we aren’t buying them. If these changes trick more crossover shoppers into buying the E-class wagon and help keep the Benz wagon alive in the United States, we’re happy to swallow the medicine.