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At first glance, a thundering great station wagon might not seem an obvious choice as a classic of the future.
But how many of those well-heeled buyers who ordered a new 123-series 280TE in 1978 could have imagined that their faithful workhorses – if well kept – would appreciate to the extent that they have in recent years?
And this particular car offers a combination that looks increasingly as if it will soon be a thing of the past.
Firstly, it’s powered by a very big, very powerful diesel engine – and the black pump has a similarly big black mark blotting its copybook these days, with successive governments doing their best to ensure it is taxed off British roads.
And secondly, it’s a very large estate car, a body style that is swiftly becoming a unicorn as buyers migrate wholesale to the dreaded ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’.
Such is the extent of this migration, in fact, that even our test All-Terrain model features plastic cladding and a 29mm ride-height lift in order to make it look like a soft-roader.
(Given the choice, we’d far rather have had the lower-slung AMG Line Estate.)
It doesn’t take long behind the wheel of the latest W213 version of the E-Class to question this logic. Because this E400d is a quite magnificent thing, and the centrepiece is that mighty engine.
Muted almost to the point of silence as you waft around town, it urges two tonnes of air-suspended Benz with muscular authority.
Switch the drive mode to ‘Dynamic’, however – which firms up those air springs, sharpens the steering and alters the engine mapping – and it takes on a different character.
The figures look impressive enough on paper – 60mph from rest in a little over 5 secs, and a 155mph limited maximum – but they really don’t do justice to the sense of monumental thrust when you bury the throttle.
It’s not unlike a 747 on take-off – with a similar effect on the natural world, environmentalists will no doubt tell you – and accompanied by a guttural roar of induction, two hard-blowing turbochargers and an unmistakable straight-six growl.
Inside, the finish has the sense of restrained opulence that always marks out the very best Benz products.
The digital dash is like a giant iPad, the controls feel unbreakable and you’re cosseted and comforted by soft leather, thickly grained ash and satin metalwork.
The fact that it looks so remarkably sleek for such a big car does mean that the interior isn’t quite the airship hangar that it was in E-Class estates of old.
But as long as you have 1820 litres or less to cart around there can be few faster, more comfortable ways to do it.
Just try to avoid gouging that leather or scratching the paint as you ferry the odd piece of Thomas Chippendale’s finest…
Images: Will Williams
- Engine 2925cc twin-turbo diesel ‘six’; 335bhp @ 3600-4000rpm; 516lb ft @ 1200-3200rpm
- Transmission nine-speed auto, AWD
- 0-62mph 5.4 secs
- Top speed 155mph
- Mpg 29.7-36.2
- Price £64,895