Boz the dog is perhaps the ultimate station wagon road tester. Since he began making a serious dent in my personal finances back in 2004, this trusty but sporadically disobedient Weimaraner has passed opinion on the finer points of the competencies of station wagons from most manufacturers. Now, every dog has his own speciality, and being of German descent, Boz's specialty is speed; his acute understanding of yaw and lateral acceleration--and how to combat them with appropriate lean angles--has made him famous in canine social circles. Allegedly. Since Europe has recently been subjected to three of the fastest wagons ever to crease the pavement, it seemed to make sense to enlist his services. Besides, he'd have eaten the furniture if I'd left him at home.
I am well aware that the superheated station wagon is not an automotive staple in the United States--of the three grocery getters gathered here, only the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG is sold there. Here in the United Kingdom, the situation is rather different, so before we delve into the current marketplace, allow me to explain why Great Britain has a fascination with such vehicles.
For starters, the U.K. is a nation of car lovers and dog lovers. Any vehicle that allows these pastimes to be enjoyed simultaneously is a good thing. Despite the current SUV epidemic, most of us also enjoy our performance when it's presented in a less ostentatious form. People respond better to family-oriented shapes, and in a country blighted with road rage, that is a bonus. The superwagon is the best method yet devised for cloaking unnecessary performance potential on public roads.
How curious, then, that as the muscle wagon blossomed over the past decade, the one company you might expect to be at the forefront of an emerging niche decided to stay away from the party. BMW did build a Touring version of the E34-series M5, but fewer than 1000 were sold, and the company decided that demand wasn't strong enough to justify an E39 M5 wagon. It vehemently denied the existence of the new one until we recently saw an M5 wagon lapping the Nrburgring at speed.
This strange twelve-year hiatus allowed Audi to become an unexpected market leader. I say unexpected because of the way Audi's alarmingly fast wagons have been embraced by the knowledgeable few, while at the same time, its sedans are routinely dismissed by equivalent Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs in group-test encounters. It's one of life's strange phenomena, and it can be explained like this: among an affluent dog- and car-loving population living on a predominantly damp island, fast all-wheel-drive Audis are sweet. They work so well that we Brits have tended to forget the shocking ride quality, the intolerably sensitive brakes, and the vapid steering.