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The latest 4Matic is the best yet - but it's not coming to the UK
5 January 2010

What is it?

The fourth generation of a car that has long deserved a place in the UK but which continues to be overlooked - the Mercedes E-class 4Matic.

Visually, there's very little to distinguish the 4matic from its rear-wheel drive E-class sibling; a new set of standard fit alloy wheels, marginally higher ground clearance and 4Matic badges being the only tell tale signs.

Owing to the cost involved in re-engineering its additional front driveshaft and planetary gear set for right-hand drive, however, the new E-class 4Matic and a whole raft of four-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz siblings, including the C-class, S-class and new GLK, are not available in the UK.

What's it like?

Uncompromised in ordinary driving situations, and ideally suited for any severe winter conditions.

The added traction and grip enhancing properties afforded by its permanent four-wheel drive system as well as its fast acting stability control system helps limit slip and provide confidence inspiring progress even on the most treacherous of snow covered roads.

The planetary drive differential doles out drive in a nominal 45:55 split front-to-rear but can vary it to a level of up to 70:30 when sensors detect greater grip at the front end or subsequently 30:70 when the rear end is deemed to possess the better traction.

The various electronic driver aids - stability control, traction control and anti skid - have been specially calibrated to enhance traction and operate in the same unobtrusive way as they do in standard rear-wheel drive E-class models.

Of particular note, is the E-class 4Matic's ability to pull away smartly on icy surfaces without any undue wheel spinning antics thanks to its limited slip centre differential, which limits the torque going to all four wheels to just 37lb ft when it detects big variances in traction front to rear.

By doing away with the additional gear set for the front axle, Mercedes has been able to package its latest 4Matic system without any significant changes to the E-class's three-link front suspension.


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It has also been able to retain the positioning of the steering pump ahead of the engine. The upshot is a more direct and responsive feel to the steering along with added fluidity and willingness to the handling in dry conditions. It also rides superbly with excellent suppression of road noise.

The four-wheel drive E350CDI is even more likeable given that the additional 70kg brought on by the new four-wheel drive hardware has no great effect on performance or fuel consumption, which is put at over 40mpg.

Should I buy one?

The Mercedes E350 CDI 4Matic is an enticing proposition but you'd have to endure the every day difficulties involved in running a left-hand drive car here in the UK. For despite continual promises that it would find a solution to enable its burgeoning line-up of four-wheel drive 4Matic models to be sold in right-hand drive guise, Mercedes-Benz is yet to deliver on them.

That's a pity, because the latest generation of the E-class 4Matic is by far the most accomplished yet.

Join the debate


7 January 2010

Sounds good. I refuse to start the winter tyre debate here as well, mostly because I've been involved too many times, we're all going round in circles! Of course, we all know what the best E class would be - the estate version of this.

7 January 2010

It's a lovely car, if I was in the market for an executive saloon or estate, the E-Class would be top of my list. However, it's pretty short-sighted of Mercedes to still be unable to offer their 4MATIC system in 2010 when Volvo, Audi, SAAB, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar can.

7 January 2010

[quote Dark Isle]it's pretty short-sighted of Mercedes to still be unable to offer their 4MATIC system in 2010 when Volvo, Audi, SAAB, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar can.[/quote]

the first four are front wheel drive brands, so making LHD/RHD 4WD variants is not an issue. Does Jag do 4WD?

Mercedes has focused on Europe and N.America for its four wheel drive versions for obvious reasons - cold northern European winters, the Alps and the snow belt of the US plus Canada. UK has had little demand for genuine AWD beyond Audi's necessitated Quattro - to compete adeqautely with powerful rear drivers from BMW and Mercedes(and Jag latterly). Australia doesn't come into it - no one's going to take an Aussie dollar 100k+ E class into the Bush and Japan restricts imports. So the issue was why spend money engineering RHD 4WD when the sales return was so minimal.

7 January 2010

I test drove one when I was in the market for sometihng similar (got a V70 AWD - the Merc was just too expensive when "optioned-up").

Very, very nice.

But, in my opinion, they have only just caught up with Subaru as regards the AWD system. Previous 4Matics were not so good; nowhere near as good as the Audi Quattro, and also behind Subaru.

8 January 2010

[quote BigEd]the first four are front wheel drive brands, so making LHD/RHD 4WD variants is not an issue.[/quote]

You're right, of course, but I was thinking more in terms of marketing and image than engineering. Four wheel drive appears to be big business at the moment, and with wet autumns and springs as well as icy winters dragging on for longer than ever I'd imagine the market is growing. To top it off, the 4x4s Mercedes currently sells (M, R and GL) have been going out of fashion for a while now. Those customers might want to trade down into something more akin to an Audi A4/A6 Allroad, Subaru Legacy Outback or Volvo XC70. I can't help but feel it's a missed market for Mercedes, and I want them to do well as I'm a big fan!

[quote BigEd]Does Jag do 4WD?[/quote]

Yes, The X-TYPE petrols are four wheel drive. They're winding down the range, so I think you can only buy a 3.0 V6 estate with that system now. :-)

8 January 2010

Seems very shortsighted of Merc & BMW not to offer their excellent 4WD saloons and estates in the UK. I live in Switzerland and have a 530xD. It is brilliant. Not just in the snow but whenever the road is a wet, icy or just cold. Before making a decision I tested a normal rear-wheel drive 530D and the traction control was blinking like a Xmas tree light. Hardly ever comes on in the 530xD.

8 January 2010

With car systems becoming more complicated all the time, I wonder if it isn't just 4 wheel drive models that the UK will miss out on in the future, but whole model ranges?

8 January 2010

If people stopped buying SUVs perhaps M-B would reconsider but until they do the voulmes are too small.

However I cannot see that there would be many drive train differences between LHD and RHD markets. Surely it is just the steering rack, steering column and the peddle box or does part of the drive train sit behind the passenger footwell on LHD models?


8 January 2010

Worldwide RHD models now account for more sales than the US market. Remember that India and chunks of Asia are RHD - all expanding markets. With that proviso we could see more cars coming to the UK. Merc has already confirmed that next-gen 4wd E-class, C-class and GLK will be coming here.

8 January 2010

[quote Chas Hallett]Worldwide RHD models now account for more sales than the US market. Remember that India and chunks of Asia are RHD [/quote]

true, but so misleading.

Take out Japan - which permits tiny numbers of western imports - and the 'wordwide' RHD market for ritzy, Merc E-class style four wheel drive variants is basically UK, Australia and marginally S.Africa. So, from the 'worldwide' RHD total exceeding the US's approximate 11m units per year market size you're down straightaway to somewhere less than 4m, without Japan's around 5m units a year. Of those possible <4m RHD units I would guess the market for RHD 4WD high-end primarily sedan-based cars, like the C-class, E-class and S-class plus the odd boutique soft roader is less than 1%, or <40,000 units, which perhaps explains why until now Mercedes hasn't bothered with RHD 4wd for anything other than its full-size off-roaders. As you say, the expansion of the Indian middle-class, around 100m people potentially, may have swung this for Daimler more than a very cold winter in UK and projected Global Cooling, caused by record low solar activity.


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