July 24, 2024

ASKED WHY CERTAIN MODELS ARE IMPORTED TO THE U.S. by European automakers, while others are left on the docks. Please play along with me.

Homologation. Validating any vehicle for sale is expensive. You know, biometric crash-testing dummies are not easy to come by. Taxes and penalties may be added depending on the model’s emissions and consumption. The front end includes dealer training, inventory, and marketing. Management will say no if the costs exceed potential revenue. They don’t.

Last month, I was pondering this question while driving the Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic all-terrain wagon 2024, a new estate version of the newly facelifted E-Class sedan that will be arriving in early 2019. The weather was cool and clear between Munich and Brixen, a Tyrolean holiday resort. The roads were epic. It was like a jeweled ax on an extra long handle, swinging this powerful machine through Alpine switchbacks. The woodsman goes chop.

Powered by a hybridized/turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six gas engine (375 hp and 369 lb-ft) and equipped with permanent all-wheel drive, four-corner adaptive air suspension and special low-traction drive algorithms, the All-Terrain will let drivers slog up slushy roads or down unpaved trails with confidence, beyond the point where revered sport wagons of the past would have foundered.

It is important to note that the term “All-Terrain,” although it sounds great, is a little aspirational. The underbody clearance, approach/departure angle, and 20-inch all-season tires will allow it to stay off the hard trails even if airlifted by 0.8 inches. In a detour along a rutted path, I almost centered the wagon high on its protective plastron. Yank, you’ve gone too far.

The All-Terrain, while not an SUV by any means, is surprising and even useful. It comes with a 2-inch receiver trailer hitch standard, as well as a 4,500-pound rating for towing. Roof rails, which are visually striking and extend to the length of the roof, can be used to hold kayaks, bikes, and other recreational gear. The powered top-hinged liftgate opens onto 22 cubic feet of plushly upholstered cargo. The space increases to 65 cubic feet when the split 40/20/40 seatbacks are folded. This is plenty of room for my Irish wolfhounds named Sean and Mary.

It’s a good car. Why this one? SUVs and three-row crossovers dominate the American savannah. Large wagons have almost disappeared. The Touring version of the BMW 3 Series and the exemplary Cadillac CTS V Wagon have all fallen to their wheels. The annual sales of those left standing–Volvo V90 Cross Country, Audi A6 Allroad, Porsche Panamera, and the All-Terrain–wouldn’t fill Madison Square Garden.

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Sometimes, these things are mysteries. Nissan was reportedly beaten on each GT-R Coupe that it imported into the U.S., but it seemed to recover in marketing. I think that in the case of All-Terrain, one or more managers from the North American headquarters located in Atlanta could not give up on the wagon.

The All-Terrain would not be counted among the sexiest sports wagons in history, especially when compared to the low-slung Alfa Romeo 156 GTA Sportwagon and Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. The Merc is a thick car, even hefty. The Merc sits higher than the sedan to provide better ground clearance. It can also raise itself another 0.8 inches with its adaptive air suspension. The exterior is rusticated, like those of Volvo and Audi. This includes the chip-resistant composite panels along the rocker panel and around the wheel wells.

It’s definitely not meant to be sporty. Mercedes-Benz has developed a new algorithm-based system for steering and braking that leaves the primary controls feeling numb and luxurious. On my half-day test drive–taking in the fast and thrilling Autobahn of the South Tyrol–the control-loop-perfected suspension was laugh-out-loud lush, soft, and supple, like walking barefoot over a mink coat while someone you love is wearing it.

Not sporty. This high-sitting soft-roader, which is tuned for comfort, has a pretty athletic performance when you use a stopwatch. The hybrid motorworks can deliver up to 23 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque at full chat, totaling 375 hp. The nine-speed transmission feeds these maxima to the all-wheel-drive system.

Mercedes says that the All-Terrain can reach 60 mph on a drag strip in just 4.6 seconds. The 1/4-mile speed is in the low thirteen seconds. The All-Terrain is a hooss on wide, winding alpine roads. John Wick’s Sommelier described the All-Terrain as robust and precise.

The All-Terrain interior, like the E-Class sedan’s, is dominated by impressive expanses of glass. This includes the central touchscreen (14.4-inch), the driver’s screen (12-inch), and the optional touch screen for the front passenger. The glass doors reveal a wealth of technology, including 5G communications and wireless streaming (Android Auto or Apple Carplay), as well as a Burmester 21-speaker system that comes standard.

The “transparent-hood” off-road display, which combines images from multiple cameras to create a view of the terrain beneath, is a feature that will delight you. It’s as if the image was created by looking through glass flooring.

I give my approval to the person(s) who provided the All-Terrain the green light.


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