Keys duly snaffled, I drove home to fill up the car with assorted bags, play items (cricket bat, balls of varying shapes and sizes, Frisbee, etc), food, drink and bedding – you’ll be reassured my car isn’t the one pictured below.
It all fitted in marvellously, and I was chuffed as the electric cover whirred into place over the boot space. Except that it was then I remembered that we were also taking a table football table and this needed collecting en route.
This is where the E-class’s greedy nature really comes to the fore. With rears seats folded the volume increases to a massive 1,950 litres (300 more than a Volvo V70) and it swallowed whole the large, heavy-boxed, table football with no trouble at all, with everything else packed in around it and all below the window line. Its ability to munch luggage is amazing.
The car also has great gadgets. Active seats balloon the side bolsters through corners to hold you in place, but these were bettered by Distronic, the active cruise control.
It made the 300-mile journey – A14, M6, M5 and A30 – an absolute doddle. I have never got out of a car feeling so mentally fresh and relaxed after such a long trip.
Because it regulates your speed in relation to the car in front, Distronic takes away the hugely stressful element of driving – the one which involves monitoring your spatial relationship to the car ahead, especially on busy motorways where vehicles constantly change speed.
It lets you apply your concentration to other areas, such as what’s happening further in front, to the side and behind. For a driver doing a lot of miles a week, this £1,280 option is a brilliant – almost invaluable – safety aid, and having done thousands of miles using it in a Volkswagen Phaeton and this E-class, I’ve yet to have any reason to doubt its electronic judgement of what is happening ahead of me. Fit it in an E320 CDI Estate, and it would cost £12 in BIK tax a month, which is the bargain of the century.
While you are placing your hands in the lap of the computerised gods, it’s also worth specifying Parktronic for the E-class estate, because it’s a very large car and difficult to work out where the extremities are. It’s £590, but any bump repair at a Merc garage, however small, won’t be far off that, so it could well end up paying for itself quite quickly.
The engine in this car, like most big diesels, is quiet when it’s not being pushed, but has a roar to it under hard acceler-ation, and allied to the superb auto gearbox, makes the E320 CDI an easy car to cruise in.
And, with a hefty 369lb-ft of torque, the E320’s performance is unaffected by lugging football tables, people or anything else about: it feels amazingly strong no matter how full up.
That’s on the back of test combined fuel consumption of about 35mpg and CO2 emissions of 194g/km, putting the Euro IV version in a decent 27% BIK tax bracket, so when it comes to fuel and tax costs, it’s pretty good for such a big, expensive and comfortable car.
In nearly every way, the E-320 class estate performs consummately. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for, and the big Merc is a prime example of that.
Engine (cc): 3,222
Max power (bhp/rpm): 204/4,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 369/1,800
Max speed (mph): 145
0-62mph (sec): 8.2
Fuel consumption (mpg): 38.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 194
Transmission: 5sp auto
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/17.6
On sale: now
Price (OTR): £36,865