Cte d'Azur, France - Try as I might to relive the grand, glorious '70s when wagons sported faux-wood leisure suits and a "station" forename, the Mercedes-Benz C320 wasn't buying an iota of it. On sinuous mountain roads only a few kilometers from the challenging Col de la Madone stage of the Monte Carlo Rally, I hurled the newest addition to the C-class family at apexes with throttle down and steering cocked. Assertively driven, '70s-era Country Squires and Custom Cruisers could hang tail every bit as well as a contemporary World Rally Championship sprinter. The thoroughly modern C-class wagon, on the other hand, condones only politically correct cornering attitudes; spend its grip, and the front tires always skate first, though for only an instant before the standard ESP stability system halts such shenanigans.
Those expecting an athletic sport sedan with auxiliary trunk space will be disappointed when the C320 wagon arrives this fall, because the added weight and bulk appreciably sap the four-door's vitality. Factory figures report 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds, versus 6.9 for the sedan.
There is solace in the styling. Designed concurrently with its four-door forebear, this is one of the more handsome family haulers on the road. The queen-bee look is artfully avoided by minimizing rear overhang (a mere 0.6 inch longer than the sedan) and by canting the hatch smartly over sweeping rear haunches. Inside, split-folding back seats let you swap passenger space for cargo room in increments--from 16.6 cubic feet with three in back to 48.9 cubic feet with cushions lifted and backrests lowered. A massive detachable crossbar serves as a structural member and a storage container for both a vertical cargo net and a horizontal valuables blind.
Mercedes bestowed a bevy of powertrains on European customers--four gasoline and three diesel engines and three transmissions (including a nifty six-speed manual and a new servo-shifted manual called Sequentronic)--but plans to send only its top V-6 and five-speed automatic combination to the United States. We are, however, set to receive a 4Matic all-wheel-drive option and an AMG-tuned wagon, both due here in a year or so.