The new E-Class estate was launched in May 1996. The S 210 had the characteristic design features of the saloons and was distinguished from the predecessor model by an even more spacious interior. Not only did this mean more comfort and freedom of movement for the passengers, the cargo volume of the luggage compartment also increased by 70 litres on average. Thanks to a rear bench split in a ratio of 1/3 to 2/3 that could be fully folded with seat cushions and backrest, the luggage compartment and rear passenger seats could be positioned to suit individual needs.
The estate featured all the technical innovations that also distinguished the E-Class saloon. In addition, the designers placed a special focus on passive safety, and for this they developed a completely new body structure. The changed position of the tank that had to be moved to behind the rear axle under the load compartment floor necessitated a highly reinforced structure to ensure occupant safety in rear-end collisions. To this end the supporting parts of the rear seat backrest and its locks and anchorages were given a particularly sturdy construction. What's more, the S 210 had a visual warning function if a backrest was not properly arrested.
High-quality headrests at the rear, three three-point seat belts and load-securing rings for cargo were standard features in the estate and contributed to the high standard of safety. As with the saloon, customers could choose between the three design and equipment lines CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE, which differed in terms of equipment and comfort.
The E-Class estate featured engines familiar from the saloon: for the market launch customers could choose between a five-cylinder turbodiesel with displacement of 2.9 litres and direct injection plus two four-cylinder petrol engines with displacement of 2.0 and 2.3 litres respectively, and for the first time in an estate a 4.2-litre V8 engine with five-speed automatic transmission as standard. In addition, a variant with a 2.5-litre diesel engine was produced for export to Italy. The four-cylinder and five-cylinder models came with a five-speed manual transmission as standard; the new five-speed automatic transmission with slip-controlled torque converter lockup and electronic control was available as an option.
In 1997 the engine line-up was thoroughly modernised and the new engines were presented on two dates. In March the E 320 six-cylinder model was added to the S 210 sales programme. The completely redesigned 3.2-litre V6 engine assigned to the M 112 series was produced in the state-of-the-art engine plant in Bad Cannstatt and was characterised by a number of groundbreaking innovations. Intelligently selected lightweight materials enabled a weight saving of 25 percent compared with the in-line engine familiar from the saloon, and the first light-alloy cylinder liners to be used worldwide contributed to reducing fuel consumption thanks to their particularly low-friction surface.
Three-valve technology and twin-spark ignition enabled a considerable reduction of pollutant emissions. The omission of an exhaust valve reduced the heat loss in the exhaust gas flow and also created enough space for a second spark plug that was conducive to short flame travel and optimum combustion control. A further new feature was the active service system ASSYST, which constantly analysed the oil quality in the engine. This enabled maintenance intervals as needed corresponding to the actual conditions of operation, allowing them to be extended from 15,000 kilometres to 22,500 kilometres on average.
The E 320 estate was also available as an all-wheel drive variant marketed under the name 4MATIC, which was already familiar from the 124 model series. But despite the same name there were fundamental differences between the two drive systems. Designed as permanent all-wheel drive, the new 4MATIC was combined with the electronic traction system ETS, which replaced the standard differential locks of conventional all-wheel drive vehicles. ETS switched on automatically as soon as at least one wheel spun on slippery terrain and increased the brake pressure on this wheel until a specified speed difference was reached. This increased the drive torque on the wheels with good road adhesion and achieved maximum traction.
The new 4MATIC models were developed in cooperation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch Fahrzeugtechnik GmbH (SFT) and were produced at the company's factory in Graz. The scope of production at SFT comprised adaptation of the body-in-white, painting with water-based paint and full vehicle assembly. The body-in-white, engine, transmission, rear axle and interior appointments were provided by Daimler-Benz, whilst the all-wheel drive components were produced or procured by SFT. The joint German-Austrian project was based on more than 20 years of successful cooperation in the development and production of the G-Class all-terrain vehicle (model series 460 to 463).
In addition to the E 320 4MATIC, Mercedes-Benz offered a further all-wheel drive estate. It featured the same 2.8-litre V6 engine as the saloon and was launched several months before higher-capacity variant. The E 280 4MATIC saloon and estate were available from February 1997 following the start of sales in December 1996 and the world premiere at "AutoRAI" Motor Show in Amsterdam, whilst deliveries of the 3.2-litre version of both body variants did not start until June.
At the same time as the V6 engine, in March 1997 a new diesel engine was also introduced in the E-Class: the 130 kW (177 hp) 3.0-litre turbodiesel with four-valve technology and chargecooling familiar from the S-Class and all-terrain vehicle was now also available for the 210 series saloon and estate. This meant that a further six-cylinder variant was added to the E-Class estate sales programme. The electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission was standard for all S 210 models with a six-cylinder engine.
March 1997 saw the introduction of a whole host of improved equipment and features for the entire range of models in the E-Class 210 series (with the exception of the V8 models). Particularly important features included the driver authorisation system ELCODE that perfected theft protection and comfort and was operated via an electronic door and ignition key, and brake assist BAS, which was able to detect emergency braking and build up maximum brake servo assistance more quickly than before.
At the International Motor Show in Frankfurt in September 1997 Mercedes-Benz presented two further E-Class estate. The E 240 had a 2.4-litre V6 engine corresponding to the concept of the variant introduced six months previously with displacement of 3.2 litres. In the domestic sales programme the 125 kW (170 hp) E 240 was the successor to the four-cylinder E 230 and offered E-Class customers cost-effective entry to the six-cylinder segment. However, the E 230 estate was still produced for export and for ckd deliveries in individual parts at Mercedes-Benz assembly plants.
The E 430 superseded the successful E 420 and like this model it was powered by a V8 engine. The new 4.3-litre engine that belonged to the M 113 series was developed together with the M 112 series V6 engines and therefore featured the same innovative construction details such as three-valve technology, twin-spark ignition and low-friction light-alloy cylinder liners. This engine was also produced in the Bad Cannstatt engine plant.
In September 2007 the new models E 200 Kompressor and E 250 Turbodiesel with engines familiar from the C-Class were added to the E-Class estate family. However, they were not offered for sale in Germany and were exclusively exported to Greece, Italy and Portugal, where they were available instead of variants with higher displacement for tax reasons.
In March 1998 the E 55 AMG - a particularly powerful estate - celebrated its world premiere at the Geneva Motor Show. The corresponding saloon had been presented six months earlier at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt. The new variant had a 5.5-litre V8 engine developed by AMG with three-valve technology and twin-spark ignition, which mobilised 260 kW (354 hp) and guaranteed extremely sporty performance.
Three months later the diesel model range was also expanded to include a new variant: the E 220 CDI estate featured the 92 kW (125 hp) 2.2-litre CDI engine already deployed in the C-Class that boasted low fuel consumption and low exhaust emissions as well as excellent torque characteristics and good performance.