When I was 12 years old or so, I used to fantasize about jacking up my family’s brown Pontiac station wagon on huge off-road tires. I also believe a big-block 454 and a flame job were part of the daydream. There’s a Pee-Chee folder rotting away at the bottom of some Southern Californian landfill with my exact design scribbled on it.
Now, I’m not accusing Mercedes-Benz of digging through my old trash, but when I first saw the E400 All-Terrain 4×4 Squared, my immediate, incredulous thought was, “Wow, I’ve been dreaming of this thing for 30 years.”
What on planet Earth is it? Mercedes builds a wagon it doesn’t (yet) sell to Americans called the E-Class All-Terrain. Think of it as Benz’s Audi Allroad version of the E-Class wagon; the grille is off the GLE SUV, the wheel arches are flared, there’s a skidplate, and it has increased ground clearance, thanks to adjustable air springs.
Now, suppose you were to take that soft-roader and insert honest-to-goodness portal axles underneath it, giving the finished product 17 inches of ground clearance? Well, you’d have this serious, go-anywhere luxury off-roader that Mercedes is calling the E400 All-Terrain 4×4 Squared.
The how and the why are simple. A Mercedes engineer named Jurgen Eberle thought it would be cool to put a station wagon on portal axles. Portal axles allow for massive ground clearance because the half shafts enter the top of the wheels rather than the center. Think Hummer H1. Mercedes has a long tradition of utilizing portal axles dating back to the first Unimog in 1946. Recently, Mercedes put portals on the iconic G-wagen, creating the G500 4×4 Squared. A key difference with the E400 version is that the axles are independent. They’re also designed from the get-go to bolt right into the E-Class chassis. Jurgen got an engineer buddy of his to 3-D print the bigger fenders.
There’s only one in the world, and once teleported to a dingy Swabian rock quarry, I got to drive it. With all that ground clearance, the 4×4 Squared wagon can go anywhere, and it does so in near-perfect luxury. Imagine driving over pillows. Huge piles of pillows. That’s what you feel from behind the wheel. Herr Eberle “wanted people to like it,” so he ditched the All-Terrain’s diesel engine in favor of a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. Should the odd beast go into production, expect to see Mercedes’ new M256 inline-six under the hood. After driving over essentially every muddy, rocky, fallen-log, and water-trap obstacle I could, I strongly advocate that Benz hog-tie the accountants in a broom closet and build this lovely mutant.