Europe's Fastest Wagons: Audi RS4, BMW M5, and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

Chris Harris
Barry Hayden

So, where does the little Audi fit? The performance disadvantage isn't nearly as pronounced on the road, where the RS4 can still be considered indecently fast. In fact, this car refuses to follow the script written by a dozen fast Audis of yore (massive urge, crap everything else) in being a truly rounded road car. It steers as well as the M5 and has a slight advantage in ride comfort. Upsetting its composure on a public road would require abject silliness from the driver. An Audi that handles as well as an M5: who'd have thought it?

Compact dimensions are also a bonus for Boz, whose lengthy notes on the subject show a predilection for these slightly smaller wagons, because they offer him better potential for bracing under cornering loads.

And lest we forget, this is on a dry road. On wet asphalt, of which Britain has plenty, the M5 and the E63 wouldn't be able to see where the RS4 had gone. I still don't believe this rear-biased four-wheel-drive nonsense that Audi goes on about: the RS4 may be the best-balanced, least-understeering car it has produced since the early 1980s, but it still feels no more rear-biased than Brigitte Nielsen leaning over a low guardrail.

Until the RS6 arrives with its reputed 550 hp, this is the biggest superfast Audi, and of course, it doesn't offer the space of the other two cars. The rear cargo compartment is narrower and shorter, and the cabin is far cozier. The 5-series wagon body is sizable: few families should need more space, even if the rake of the rear window somewhat impedes Boz's headroom. However, any family moving from the E-class to the 5-series will notice the difference. The E63 makes the others feel like part-time hatchbacks for ease of use and sheer capacity. Its cargo area is enormous and its rear seats roll forward to give a huge, flat load area, whereas the other two have rear seatbacks that merely tilt forward.

And yet in America--the land of unprecedented consumer choice, the land that I'm fairly sure invented the station wagon concept--you won't have the chance to buy either the M5 or the RS4 in wagon form. Clearly, the marketing goons have run their spreadsheets and the numbers don't stack up, but in reaching such a conclusion, they're denying Yankees access to some of the most amusing machinery ever built. Imagine the irreparable damage caused to the 911 driver's libido as he guns his sports car to the limiter in each gear--only to see Boz calmly surveying the Porsche's front light clusters through the rear window of a rapidly disappearing M5 wagon. These moments--the ones where supposedly heavyweight sport machines are humiliated by the family man's vehicle of choice--are, more than anything else, the joy of these cars.

So I suggest that Americans begin campaigning for their introduction with immediate effect. A Dodge Magnum SRT8 may have the space, some of the thrust, and a much lower price than the E63, but it doesn't feel quite as capable. Each of these German machines is truly a master of any-situation performance.

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