Few things in life are as retro as a station wagon.
Regardless, few cars are less retro than Mercedes-Benz's E350 Station
Once the wagon-of-choice for the well-heeled, Mercedes-Benz’s venerable mid-sizer has survived the wagon-killing onslaught of the SUV and its domesticated, sedan-based spawn, the crossover.
Its DNA dates to the late-‘70s, but the 2014 E Class wagon is fresh and vital. Fully made-over in 2010, the entire E Class family receives sweeping mid-cycle updates this year. A handsome new front end debuts, along with a batch of new safety technologies, an auto stop-start system and a new diesel engine.
There are four 2014 E-Class body styles — sedan, coupe, wagon and convertible — and they are available with a mix-and-match assortment of engine choices. Engine choices range from a turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, a gasoline V-6, a gas-electric hybrid and a pair of turbocharged gas V-8s.
None of the E Class cars is slow, but the top ranks are filled by performance-oriented AMG models rated at up to 577 hp. Should you be inclined, you could invest $103,000 in a 550-hp station wagon that moves out like a panicked cheetah.
The E-Class platform is rear-drive, with M-B’s 4Matic AWD system available on all trims and standard on several.
We spent five days driving a E350 4Matic wagon in Northern Arizona. Swift and agile, it buried miles of string-straight stretches of AZ highway and wound through high-desert canyons with the insouciance of a grand touring machine.
Its standard dual-zone automatic climate-control system beat back the withering heat as we relaxed in the 14-way power seats, with memory, enjoying tunes emanating from the optional harmon/kardon surround-sound system.
All E350s but the high-performance AMG variants are available in same-price Luxury and Sport trims, the latter bringing larger wheels, a lowered suspension, tauter ride and sharper handling. Our tester was equipped with the Sport package, which enhanced its corner-carving capabilities without any apparent degradation of ride quality.
Inside, a new "three-tube" gauge cluster looks cool and improves readability. A choice of wood veneers lets owners personalize the cabin. A new analog clock dresses up the dash.
Four adults will enjoy high levels of comfort, but five is a crowd. A small rear-facing third-row seat accommodates small children, though motion sickness is an obvious threat.
Standard gear includes automatic LED headlights, sunroof, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system. The wagon adds a power liftgate and rearview camera.
Once mastered, the knob-based COMAND electronics interface remains requires less driver attention than touch-screen systems and its voice-command functionality is first-rate.
Mind-bending new safety technologies is one that knows when a driver has grown drowsy and can suggest a rest break. Another uses a stereoscopic camera to help keep the car in its lane. In a baby step in the direction of self-driving cars, it also enables the E to semi-autonomously follow a line of cars ahead.
Which is as far from retro as it gets.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic wagon
Vehicle base price: $51,400
Trim level base price: $58,600
As tested: $70,215
Options included 19-inch AMG wheels; 3-spoke sport steering wheel; harmon/kardon surround-sound stereo; rear side-window sunshades; adaptive, automatic high-beam LED headlights; parking assist with around-view camera; intelligent cruise control; steering assist; blind-spot warning; collision
EPA rating: 20 city/27 highway/22 combined
Premium fuel required