Ideal country estate

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By Nick Jones

Many drivers today feel pretty safe in their large 4x4’s with seven-seats, despite paying £400 a year in road tax.

So what is the alternative?

Well, for the average family man all the space needed is for the wife, two or three kids and their assorted clutter.

So if all of that will fit in a normal family saloon then all that’s really needed to make sure there is room for the dogs too is a family estate.

And an executive one, if you have the money, will provide a few more home comforts for those longer journeys.

One such car I’ve recently driven is the Mercedes-Benz E-Class 220 CDI, one of the German luxury marque’s entry-level estates but still costing £30,000.

It’s a big car, measuring nearly five metres in length, and is well over one-and-a-half metres wide, meaning you’d better have the garage extended if you are thinking of buying one and want to put it under cover at night.

The styling, despite the bulk, is very pleasing on the eye, with the front end mirroring that of the saloon.

The length of the car is exaggerated somewhat by the blacked-out B and C pillars (the ones between the doors and behind the back doors).

It also features luminous LED light clusters at the back for the rear lights.

On the inside, all E-Class Mercs get direct control adaptive suspension, which self-compensates for any large load you lump into the cavernous rear, which can swallow 1,900 litres with the rear seats down and also has a low load sill to make heaving in large loads relatively simple.

The boot has the quickfold seating system which can be operated either from the rear or the side doors.

You can also specify the Easy-Pack load compartment cover which rises automatically when the tailgate opens to improve access in the rear.

Staying with the interior for a minute, the traditional Merc materials are as dull as ever, but that’s no bad thing – quite the opposite actually, I like its sparseness and spaciousness and the fit and finish is, as you would expect, exemplary.

As soon as you climb behind the wheel you just know you are driving a car that’s as bulletproof as... a bulletproof vest.

On the engine front, I drove a diesel with 170bhp from four cylinders and twin turbos. Top speed was 130mph with the 0-60mph dash ticked off in nine seconds. But the emission figure of 150g/km is the cleanest of the entire E-Class range and fuel economy was brushing the 50mpg mark from my BlueEFFICIENCY model.

And with the five-speed automatic gearbox (an option here at £1,490) I feel totally at ease with the car and vice-versa.

It really is a simple car to drive and you do feel ultra-safe cocooned in that no-fuss and frills interior.

I think Mercedes-Benz has to be applauded for making the lower end of the range so much more appealing, rather than having to spend oodles of cash on the range-topping versions to get your kicks.

The boom in 4x4’s hasn’t helped the estate car one iota, but rest assured when you get one as good as this is, they’re just (if not more) practical, and perhaps more adept from a driver’s perspective, and for allowing the other half to borrow the keys without fear, of course. It is a car, after all.