Audi, Mercedes-Benz offer wagons with mega horsepower or off-road ability

Audi is offering a hot new ultimate performance wagon, the RS 6 Avant. Want power? Nearly 600 horsepower from a twin-turbo V8, sent through all four huge tires to the pavement.

And that pavement can really get eaten up, whether accelerating, stopping or cornering. Your bank balance will get eaten up a bit too - it has a base price of $109,000, before options.

It's the first real challenge to the Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG wagon. That one has become a bit of a legend over the years, with just OVER 600 horsepower, and all the rest of the high-performance hardware, like huge brakes. And it too is a six-figure item, starting at $112,000.

But Mercedes has something a little different, a lot milder, and perhaps more useful this year, the E450 All Terrain, with a base price of $69,000.

Its name suggests SUV traits, as do its styling touches, like tough black cladding on the wheel openings. You can raise up the suspension via the push of a button when the going gets rough, though this vehicle isn't for climbing rocks. But most dirt roads should be no challenge for it. It also has a feature that many thought was lost to wagon history: a third row seat. Aka, the "way-back seat."

In this category, Audi was the originator of sorts. Their latest all-road wagon follows a string of them going back 20 years. Wagon practicality, SUV flair, traction for less-than-ideal conditions, and a base sticker price of just under $66,000.

Wagons are a niche vehicle alright, and have been since SUVs became so popular. Over the past dozen years, brands like Cadillac, Acura and Buick all brought out wagons at one point. And all of those quietly went away. But for the station wagons that do remain, buyers tend to be loyal, and tend to be repeat buyers.

As far as that goes, Volvo has been a wagon-focused brand for decades, currently with two in their lineup, the V60 and the V70. Some families have owned Volvo wagons for generations.

And then there's Subaru. The Outback wagon was really the first to get the "sorta-SUV" lifted and styling treatment back in the '90s. The latest 2021 Outback does everything well, for about $30,000.

But it's the German brands Audi and Mercedes-Benz who've created niches within the wagon niche. Whether that niche is ultra performance or ultra ruggedness.

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