Wednesday 7 December 2016

watch this space!

Published 22/05/2010 | 05:00

Space is -- as Einstein or someone like that once said -- relative. I know people (no names, of course) who could fill a tanker with clothes they 'need' for a three-day break.

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I, on the other hand, am now so sparing in what I bring anywhere that I'll settle for an outsized matchbox to carry my few essentials.

So you might as well get two things straight about this new Mercedes E-Class estate. One is: it is huge in the true sense of the word (4.895 metres or nearly 16ft long). The second is: I don't know too many people who really need that much room.

And you pay the penalty for the extra with a car that might, for some, be far too long, big and awkward to park. Thank God I had the parking assistance in my test car. Just to give you an idea of how large it feels (it is also 1.85 metres wide and 1.47 metres high), I can tell you I got out of a Land Rover Discovery (a fair old mountain in itself) and felt I had got into something bigger.

But hey, don't let me put you off. If you have a zillion children and they have a friend each and they all want to use your new E-Class as a playschool, then this is the car for you.

I exaggerate (a little), of course. The E-Class estate has always flaunted its size, claiming to be the largest estate on the market. It is a title that will not be easily conceded, judging by this.

They have done tremendous work to the interior. But there is no doubt in my mind, after 850 kilometres or so, that such length impacts noticeably on handling and ride, despite a selective damping system that is supposed to make it smooth and sporty.

This is no BMW 5-series Touring, a car where they have managed to keep things taut and tight. Nor has it the top-of-class mix of comfort and zip you get in the Volvo X70.

No, this is a big comfy executive that rolls along at an amiable pace and makes you feel like one big happy family.

Well, it is not quite that easygoing. The engine had real bite and a quick look at the 0-100kmh figure (7.8 seconds) shows how sharp and biting it can be.

In the main, however, this is a big tourer with well-to-do families firmly in its sights. The luggage area is massive and has so many combinations of seat-drops and fold-flats, I'll take their word for it.

You are looked after rather well.

Certainly, the driver gets the best of what is going: a big, strong, comfortable seat (mine had lumbar support adjustment, which was most welcome) while back-seat passengers have massive leg room.

There are several little storage areas -- like the one under the front passenger seat -- that are just a notch above the average. The one I mentioned was great for leaving a purse or small handbag in safety.

Estates are not normally my cup of tea; never have been. But they have evolved and have more going for them now than ever.

The so-called 'demise' of the SUV is one reason. The latter virtually wiped out the estate at the height of the boom. God, they'd laugh you off the posh road back then if you were seen with anything other than the latest over-muscled SUV. I mean, who needed all that 4x4 power and its attendant fuel-soaking capability? A smart estate with two-wheel drive and far more space makes a much stronger case these days.

Especially when you have a car whose engine, aerodynamics, tyres, mirrors -- the works -- have been streamlined to cut fuel consumption (that's why they call it Blue EFFICIENCY). And especially when you can order a seat-bench for two in the luggage area, so you have a seven-seater. Not bad for a starting price, before options, of around €44,000 for a prestige marque.

Whether or not you need all the space the E-Class provides is another question entirely and one, I feel, that will only be answered on a case-by-case basis. My preference is for the saloon version but I can see the practicality of this winning its share of what is -- like space -- a relatively small market.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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