Two facts about Mercedes' new C-Class sport wagon reveal its true purpose: First, it has less luggage capacity than the car it replaces (which wasn't sold in North America) and second, management didn't sign off on the sedan's design until it saw the wagon. In fact, the sport wagon is the best looking and arguably the sportiest C-Class, the Sport Coupe (covered in this issue) included. Mercedes believes the sport-wagon segment, already red hot in Europe, will grow by 15 percent here in 2002. BMW's 3 Series wagon has joined the Audi A4 Avant in the U.S., and several new less-expensive sport wagons are on the way to attract SUV-weary buyers.
The C320 wagon goes on sale this fall for about $38,000, powered by the C-Class' top engine, a 3.2L/215-hp 221-lb-ft V-6 coupled to a five-speed automatic with TouchShift. The wagon has a 1/3-2/3 folding rear seat, a 12-volt socket, and an integrated rear cover and net in back, plus a rack on the roof. Dynamically, the wagon is like the sedan, with a comfortable suspension, crisp handing, and excellent brakes. Like other Cs, the wagon's steering is more precise with better feel than other Mercedes. And the C320 doesn't have the chassis thrum that many other wagons suffer when unloaded.
Mercedes expects to sell about 7500 annually, versus 15,000 Sports Coupes, but given the wagon's looks and space for skis or strollers, we wouldn't be surprised if it ends up the other way around.