When winter roads turn white and slippery, my thoughts turn to all-wheel-drive. Oh to have £60,000 spare. I could buy outright the latest Mercedes-Benz all-roader and not have to worry about drip-feed three-year rental plans – or snowy streets.
The newcomer is the All Terrain, based on the 4Motion estate, with the addition of variable height air suspension, body armour along the sides, front, back and underneath.
The regular choice of driving modes is joined by an All Terrain setting which hoists the car up. The 4x4 system is permanently engaged, with a 31/69 power share front to rear.
The company sent us off on a tour through North Yorkshire which included main roads, country roads, trailer towing and finally track romping to a shooters’ bothy for lunch.
The route started at Lord Masham’s Swinton Park country hotel near Masham. The road took us along Wensleydale to Hawes. It is a scenic drive, with no horrors in late autumn, but the number of local 4x4s and smaller SUVs hinted at the rural lifestyle and attritions of white winters. The cars were running on 20-inch Pirelli summer tyres, wide and taller than usual – contributing 14mm to the extra ride height of 29mm. That means it can’t feel as taut at speed, but it’s a comparative thing. They do soften up the hits from potholes but throw back some tyre noise and a tendency to top-out if taking a hump too quickly.
The fat-face grille and black-trimmed skirts attracted some attention in Hawes, best-known for its Wensleydale cheese dairy. No time to dally: we had a meeting with a trailer.
From there it was a lolloping drive to the Ribblehead Viaduct, the famous arched stretch of the Settle-Carlisle railway, and through Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Pen-y-ghent’s jagged profile shows the attraction of the Three Peaks hike which brings visitors from all over.
And so to the hunting, shooting, fishing hub of Coniston Hall a few miles north of Skipton where we were hitched up to horse trailers. The All Terrain has a standard-fit powered tow ball, which swings out at the touch of a switch. The rear camera shows a guide line to the trailer hitch, with an overhead close-up as ball and hitch get close. These take away the guesswork if you haven’t got someone else on the ground.
The trailer had 300kg ballast – equivalent to a small horse. We drove up and down muddy slopes too steep to walk up easily. The kit includes a hill-start system which brakes both car and trailer, holding them fast, and gradually releases when you are ready to move off. That’s helpful whether you are towing a trailer or not.
It was surprising how well the “ordinary” tyres dealt with the conditions. You may well feel that an all-weather tyre is desirable, but apparently they are not available for this wheel and you’ll have to drop to a 19-inch rim to get winter or all-season tyres.
Shedding mud, we motored through the back roads of the estate, skirted Grassington, and swooped past the lead mining ghylls of Greenhow.
Beyond Middlesmoor we left the road for a track which took us several miles through grouse land to a solid stone bothy, sheltered behind giant boulders. Here the al fresco arm of Swinton Park had provided lunch worthy of a well-heeled shooting party – and a cheery fire.
Wrong tyres, but we’d made it. The All Terrain ride height is maintained until 20 miles an hour. Exceed that, and a message warns that you are about to drop down. Ignore it, and expect some graunching. To be safe, set the maximum speed limit to 19mph. As it was, the car cleared central humps and drainage cross-channels with only a few noises.
Several miles later we rejoined a paved road at the edge of Swinton Park. Total distance: 100 miles including 8.6 miles of track. It averaged 34mpg on the road and 29mpg on the track.
The model has the Premium Plus specification: a glass roof, keyless start, LED lights, powered tailgate, a large display screen, plus the usual high-end kit. There is a Burmester audio system, with speakers integrated into the fretted aluminium door trim.
The car costs £58,880. Metallic paint adds £685. A “driving assistance plus” pack of blind spot and lane keeping, evasive steering assistance, and semi-autonomous driving assistance added £1,695. A cheaper 220d model is not imported.
Verdict: Of interest to the towing, shooting, fishing or simply rural set who don’t want the bulk of an SUV.