A station wagon — known as an “Estate” in Europe and elsewhere —
is the perfect landing point between an SUV (sport-utility vehicle) and a sedan/hatchback. But almost nobody cares.
Every fifth Canadian turns a nose up to the few wagons for sale, and then opts for a compact SUV. Year-end SUV tally: well north of 400,000, undoubtedly. Another 350,000 Canadians will opt for some other sort of SUV – big, small, luxurious, super luxurious and in between.
The station wagon, family rig of choice for generations, is a dying breed, a niche body style in a segment shrinking like the prime minister’s popularity. Today’s wagons, what’s left of them? No longer affordable, everyday workhorses.
In a valiant and vain effort to keep the wagon love alive, carmakers from Audi to Volkswagen are tarting up in their wagons, as if Jason Statham could be anything but The Transporter, even in formal wear.
Yet the car companies persist. Their strategy: strip away the wagon name, load up with fancy gear and design tweaks, and by will and guile, a service rig becomes a sexy ride.
Audi A4 Allroad ($47,800)? Station wagon, despite its pretensions otherwise. Volkswagen Golf SportsWagen and Golf Alltrack ($24,195 and $34,345, respectively)? Misspelling wagon and alluding to all-surface versatility can’t hide the wagon-ness here. Mini Clubman ($$27,790)? Mini wagon.
Porsche has the Panamera Sport Turismo ($109,700), which takes the prize for ambitious takes on disguise-by-naming. Porsche station wagon, pure and simple. Subaru has the Outback ($29,295), now that the Legacy wagon is long gone. Again, the Outback suggests off-roadiness, but who are we kidding? Wagon.
Volvo’s V60 and V90 models ($47,950, $58,900, respectively) come in pure wagon form. Volvo has a long history with wagons, so is less apologetic about the whole thing. But BMW hides its 3-Series wagon under the Touring name ($46,350).
Like Volvo, however, Mercedes-Benz embraces wagons. Merc’s E-Class wagon is a sleek wagon that’s shaped like a bullet and goes like one. Which brings me to the C-Class wagon.
I love it. Yes, I joke about it being the Honda Accord of Mercedes wagons — the Merc Accord – but that’s truly a backhanded compliment rooted in actual admiration. The C-wagon is tight and refined, and it feels built to last and please.
Other than pricing. My tester had a $46,000 base sticker, but larded up with extras, the final number was a breathtaking $56,865, pus freight, prep, fees and taxes. Out the door: well past $60,000 for a compact wagon powered by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-banger mated to a nine-speed automatic.
Yes, that little mill churns up 241 horsepower and will get you from 0-100 km/hour in 6.1 seconds. The car is quick, smooth, refined and responsive. The nine-speed slides from ratio to ratio with precision. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system does its work without being obvious.
The design, however, is an eye-grabber. This collection of cuts, shapes and creases is marked by a low, balanced stance. The in-grille three-pointed star and five-spoke 17-inch wheels look aggressive. You will need to climb down and into the C-wagon, and if that’s not to your liking, move along the Merc’s less expensive GLC SUV. Same function, in a taller wagon.
The cabin stands out best. My tester, with two Premium packages, had the look, feel and function of a luxury car: metal trim, wood appliques, three-colour ambient lighting, and lovely electronic readouts.
The Command Controller infotainment interface is not completely intuitive, but nothing of this sort is, not from the Germans. At least Merc has included buttons for direct access to the more common in-car systems and functions.
The front buckets are supportive enough, the rears, though, are tight in every way for full-size adults. The rea seatback folds utterly flat in a snap for flexible cargo room.
If you like to drive, you will like this C far more than the less than sporty GLC. By far. This little wagon responds quickly to inputs, the steering is linear, the brakes strong. A strong structure and excellent suspension tuning make for a very pleasant mix of ride comfort and driving engagement.
If you need something a bit practical and eschew SUVs, you could do worse than to wagon up to a C.
Price (base): $46,000. As tested: $56,865, plus fees and taxes.
Engine: 2.0-litre I4, turbocharged (241 hp/273 pound-feet of torque)
Transmission: nine-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/8.0 using premium fuel.
Comparables: Volvo XC60, BMW 3-Series Touring, Audi Allroad, Subaru Outback, VW Golf Alltrack.
Note on photos: European model shown.