The star, the space, the seats! It put me in a good estate of mind
I get a consistent stream of enquiries from people looking for cars with seven seats. No, they don't want SUVs or people carriers (MPVs). They want an 'ordinary' car. An estate preferably. But they don't want the seats rigidly fixed. They want flexibility, for occasional use.
You'd be surprised how few meet the criteria.
You can get plenty of people carriers and some SUVs with the option.
There are not too many others.
This new Mercedes estate has such an option. That means it costs more, of course. And they are little seats. And they face backwards; suitable for the smaller tots. They fold flat and pop up surprisingly easily from under the (huge) boot-area floor.
And, oh dear, did the sight of those little seats bring back memories.
As vividly as the print on this page, it brought me back nearly 20 years when I tested a Toyota Camry estate that had the same facility and we had the little bodies to fill them. Oh the sense of adventure and fun as we set off for the warm welcome of south Tipperary.
This time around the seats were empty. The 'tots' now want lifts to Michael Bublé or Trinity.
But here's the funny thing. Without any prompting, the former occupiers of the tiny-tot seats chorused that they 'liked' this car. One said it was a 'grande dame'.
For a car that is, strictly speaking, not 'new' (though it has had the biggest midlife makeover in Mercedes's history), and one that I always regarded as a slightly lugubrious load carrier that happened to be a Merc, that was praise indeed. The response to this surprised me.
Incidentally before Mercedes wrought such wide-ranging changes in this I also drove its diesel hybrid. I await it in the new body. It is a major piece of work if you are putting up heavy mileage. The combination of diesel and hybrid technology worked exceptionally well.
This conventional 2.2-litre diesel was worked hard, too. With the seven-speed automatic box at my disposal, we drove hard and soft and it never raised its voice. Its major attribute is steady/smooth.
There were several journeys across town, to the airport, down the sun-kissed country and loads of running around; the sort of driving that means you are in the car a lot. Glad of the big seats, though I would have welcomed better lower lumbar support.
I got a wonderful driving position in this. Never changed it. I also got a slow puncture thanks to picking up a nail. The space-saver spare is under the boot floor – yes under the tiny-tot seats. That gives you an idea of how much space there is back there.
My cabin had dark leather and, of course, 'wood' inlay that helped create a rather placid atmosphere. I think you might go for something lighter and brighter. It's classic Merc I know, but I think some of the switchgear and surrounds are looking a bit dated.
The car itself looks a good deal better than the old one. In a way the revision has taken that heavy, bulky look off the estate in particular.
But the price of my version, including the extra two rear seats, is prohibitive. I think €60,000-plus is just too much. You can cut your cloth according to your measure and not buy one as well equipped and the price comes down a fair bit.
If you buy Classic or Elegance versions, you get your traditional triple-louvre grille and bonnet-mounted star. However, Avantgarde versions have a sports style grille with the three-pointed star inset in it.
And now a small confession. I felt a little bit of ego/snobbery driving along there with the star sitting proudly on the bonnet of my Elegeance test version.
I hear a lot of family folk talking about estates being a lovely option for them. Another confession: I never rated the E-Class as much of an addition for a family. I always thought estate versions of the BMW 5-series or Audi A6 to be better alternatives for the well heeled. I'm allowed change my mind a little, am I not?
I mean how many cars can you sit in and inwardly take pride at a star on the bonnet, as you swish over the miles, while your smallest passengers can look out the rear as the road disappears behind them?
Mercedes E-class estate
* Mercedes E-Class estate, seven-seater, E220CDI, automatic, 2.2-litre diesel (2,143cc, 170bhp), 141g/km, €280 (manual), €390 (auto) road tax depending on model.
* Equipment includes air con, heated front seats, leather upholstery, lots of airbags (window and knees), several safety technology/aids such as warnings about getting drowsy while behind the wheel and collision prevention assist.
* Prices from €50,765 for manual; €53,765 for seven-speed automatic transmission. Elegance version on test with seven seats: €60,336. Remember delivery and related charges are extra.