Sunday 23 April 2017

Class act with dash of magic

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate could not be faulted on a beautifully smooth trip down memory lane, writes Campbell Spray

A NUMBER of Christmases ago, when the reality of the Santa Claus experience was up for grabs, the family were due to spend the festivities with our great friends, the Rowes, in deepest Cavan.

Our bright son thought this would be the ultimate test for the bewhiskered man in the red coat. There's was no way that Rudolph would know the way to Jim and Evelyn's home. When he was told that actually Santa was very clever and would find his way there, it was taken with a pinch of salted carrot. When the car was being packed up on Christmas Eve, the parcels were checked many times by young hands in case there had been human intervention to help Santa's sack. There wasn't; but what there was the next morning was incredible magical delight when a table tennis cum pool table was discovered on the landing outside their room surrounded by many boxes of delights.

Father Christmas did indeed exist, and the magic lived on for years to come as one small boy silenced his younger sister's doubt by telling of the power of that Cavan holiday.

Some might say that a midnight run by a white-haired, harassed father in a borrowed estate car had played a part in such happiness. But that would be too cynical. Nothing must spoil the mystery of Christmas.

Such memories came flooding back last Monday when I, dog and the two children (actually now adults of nigh on 21 and 18) headed up again to see Evelyn. Now there are just photographs and memories of Jim, who died eight years ago, but the magic of our visits to Cavan lives on. Again the car of choice was an estate; this time the very convincing and beautifully smooth Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

If ever a car was to help you develop a love for this underrated type of body design, this cavernous estate is it. Of course, it swallowed the three of us -- and four-legged Sam -- as if a dinosaur had taken a leg of chicken. It didn't even give a murmur of protest when we folded down two of the rear seats and put in Marcus's much-loved Raleigh bike -- fittingly once Jim's.

But if the space was regal, the actual driving abilities of the new E-Class shone through on our trip up the incredibly fast and smooth new M3. It is an expensive toll of €2.60 each way, but the blessing of cutting out Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells cannot be counted in pence.

The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate -- fourth model in the new E-Class series after the saloon, coupe and cabriolet -- has been billed by some as an ideal option for those in search of a more eco-friendly, load-bearing alternative to the SUV. Perhaps, but I doubt it. SUV buyers are a breed apart.

The car is the fifth generation of a model whose history dates back to 1977 since when over one million models have been sold.

The marque claims that it is the largest estate car in the premium segment, with a load space that can be expanded from 695 to 1,950 litres. There is an option of having a third row of seats. The tailgate opens and closes automatically at the touch of a button. Other practical features are a folding load compartment floor that can be raised up and secured in various positions to increase usable height, and the very necessary securing net to prevent loads from sliding around in transit.

It has all of the body design features seen in the saloon with a strong shoulder-line that emphasises its estate car pedigree. In addition to its larger load space, interior dimensions have been increased to give more rear elbow room and head clearance.

Prices start with the 200CDI being introduced at €44,185 (ex works). However, prices and options rise pretty steeply so that the test car I was driving came in at €62,736, but this was the 250CDi BlueEFFICIENCY model in Avantgarde trim and with a great automatic box. It was really loaded with spec, especially on the safety front.

Yet this price in itself is remarkable compared to what it would have been a few years back. This month in 2007, the most basic old model E-Class estate cost close to €59,000.

On the technical side, the new estate has all of the features found in the E-Class saloon, coupe and cabriolet including the much-publicised drowsiness detection system, automatic emergency braking, adaptive high beam assist and nine airbags. Air suspension with self-levelling at the rear is an additional enhancement. The economy and emissions advances are first class and have helped the massive price reduction.

But there is no doubt that this estate is a class act at any price. It looks and feels its value and attracted many envious glances during the week's test.

I am very drawn to estates, although the E-Class would be too big even for my ego. The smaller Volvos, Saabs or Subarus would be more my thing.

When I was driving to Cavan with my son beside me and daughter and dog behind, I was tempted to say that this was what driving was all about. Marcus has just passed his test and Rachael is about to begin lessons with Aviva, but neither has nor will see more than a little of the open road in their initial driving.

The E-Class estate was a totally safe environment. It simply devoured the trip at the legal maximum in minutes. Even in Monday's atrocious weather, there was not the slightest tremble.

It was a wonderful day of too much food but plenty of love, laughter, stories and the odd almost tearful memory. I couldn't fault it -- or the E-Class.

Sunday Independent

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