Mercedes Wagon By Name, Chameleon By Nature

IT’S no secret that Madam Wheels is partial to a sports wagon. Any wagon, really, provided it has everything on board to bridge the gap between well-appointed daily-drive and an adventurous life. The current crop of luxury wagon offerings do just that, earning ticks to most of the requisite-options boxes.

So the ongoing infatuation with SUVs in Australia is baffling to us when one appreciates how perfectly suited – and sensible – wagons can be to the lifestyle here. Driving them can be thrilling, too. My Audi RS6 is particularly exhilarating to pilot just by virtue of how balanced and responsive it is in any situation I drive it – on coastal crawls to winding alpine sprints, the school run to searingly quick track days.

The purr of its V8 engine heading to red line level is pure joy-inducing, and I often profess my love for the car. The children think I’m nuts. The RS6 was preceded by another Audi wagon, this one an All road which was especially fabulous when the children were little. It drove like a sedan, had better fuel economy than an SUV and came with expansive storage space.

‘I spent a week driving the Mercedes-AMG C43 version of the Estate late last year, and the performance wagon quickly quietened my RS6-affected inner snob.’

But when it came time to swap out the All road a few years back, Audi was only bringing a single-turbo variant into the country. I simply couldn’t have that, knowing I’d be disappointed every time I drove it. So I stepped up to the RS6 and it’s ruined me for life.

I can’t imagine a better car for my needs at this age and stage of life, with active kids and a dog in the mix. Add in the all-road, all-weather 4WD capabilities of an SUV, and wagons really can be the package. So it’s always been surprising there haven’t been more of them on our roads. When that thought occurred to me again recently, however, I started to see more of them, and many were Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estates.

There was a particularly attractive spec of the Estate parked on Fitzroy St, St Kilda, the other day. Painted a gunmetal grey with a black-pack across wheels, trims and windows, it sat low on wonderfully wide wheels and featured red calipers as the only pop of colour. This wagon was no ponce, but looked serious and sexy to behold.

I spent a week driving the Mercedes-AMG C43 version of the Estate late last year, and the performance wagon quickly quietened my RS6-affected inner snob. The sound of the C43’s biturbo V6 made the wagon feel like a track-ready racer dressed in city-going clothes. In Sports Mode, at least. The latest all-wheel-drive Estate is part of a slimmed-down version of the previous C-Class offering, and comes with even more tech and safety bells-and-whistles filtered from S- and E-Class models.

My AMG spec included beautiful wood and hand-stitched leather finishes across the dash, steering wheel, centre console and doors. Despite he wheel’s sportier appearance, there wasn’t a lot of feedback from it. There was plenty coming up through the AMG performance bucket seats, however, which, being on the super-supportive side, relayed the bumps and tremors from the road a little too efficiently.

I like that the adaptive-cruise control button is now on the wheel rather than on a stem from the steering column. I wasn’t so fond of the touch-sensitive pads, also on the steering wheel, used to navigate menus, finding them a bit of a distraction.

Looking past the wheel, a new high-res digital instrument display is set into the dash showcasing Classic, Sport and Supersport display styles. All manner of other information can been called up here, too, though Audi’s Virtual Cockpit experience is still superior in terms of the look of the maps and general usability.

Light and visibility is aided by a panoramic sunroof and 360-degree cameras. And an inbuilt emergency braking system can see and react to other vehicles, pedestrians and bike riders. The Driver Assistance option allows the car to steer straight ahead and change lanes itself with the flick of an indicator. Autonomous driving is a way off yet, however. Otherwise, the silence in the cabin during city cruising and country stretches had me feeling right at home, especially driving in low light when the car’s standard Night Package – with its multi-beam adaptive LED headlights – came in handy.

Technology using multiple radars identifies and displays local speed limits with uncanny accuracy – even picking up the 10 km/h speed zone through the car park of Melbourne’s Kooyong Lawn Tennis Centre. The Estate has the ability, it seems, to fit right in and correctly comport itself wherever it goes.

One new “lifestyle-enhancing” feature will seem silly to some but will give joy to others, provided they’re willing to spend $1000 to include that. Introducing the Energizing Comfort Control system, which not only adjusts music based on desired beats per minute, choose a driving mode and it will pull into line the temperature, in-car perfume scent and lighting, as well.

Overall, there’s a lot to love about the modern Mercedes-Benz. Few companies can match the tech-laden luxury of the German brand’s interiors, its plethora of safety features and array of smarts which make the job of driving feel effortless. And at $110,400 before on-road costs, the AMG C43 Estate might capture a few more hearts yet.

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