Look around your neighbourhood or your parking garage. Notice how almost every vehicle you see is some type of SUV? That’s not a coincidence. SUVs and pickups accounted for 80 per cent of all new vehicles sold in Canada last year, according to the experts who track these things. That means that everything else – sports cars, sedans, hatchbacks, minivans, convertibles, and station wagons – accounted for just 20 per cent of all sales. The point is that SUVs are winning. They’ve very nearly killed off almost everything else. It’s survival of the fittest.
But station wagons are not about to go quietly into the night. A new generation of pumped-up uber-wagons, like the 591-horsepower Audi RS6 Avant, is fighting back. This new breed has nothing in common with the pea-coloured, wood-panelled Wagon Queen Family Truckster that Chevy Chase drove in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Instead, they’re fast, practical, and better to drive than any so-called sporty SUV. They’re like elevated basics; high-end versions of your dependable, go-to favourites.
In addition to the Audi, which is available in North America for the first time, other brands are getting in on the action. Mercedes currently has three rapid AMG wagons on offer: the C 43 (385 hp), the E 53 (429 hp hybrid), and the E 63 (603 hp), which is the OG uber-wagon. Even Volvo – once synonymous with sensible Swedish boxes – has turned things up to 11 with the 415 hp hybrid-powered V60 Polestar Engineered wagon.
Why make these pumped-up wagons? They’re designed to compete with the current crop of SUVs, by being not only practical but powerful. The Audi RS6 Avant is freakishly quick, not just for a station wagon, but for any car. Driving it feels like piloting a ballistic missile, thanks to 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque – all of which is available in the blink of an eye, from 2,050 rpm – and Audi’s familiar quattro all-wheel drive system. Press the throttle and you realize this car is powerful. But once the 8-speed gearbox has kicked down a few cogs, the car reveals its true “oh-my-god” potential.
The official 0-100 km/h time of 3.6 seconds just doesn’t do justice to how fast this car feels. (We wouldn’t be surprised if Audi was sandbagging a little bit.) At 100 km/h the RS6 is just getting warmed up. It feels like it could accelerate towards the horizon forever. The 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 has a gutsy (loudspeaker-assisted) bark that reverberates around the cavernous cabin; it sounds like somebody revving a V8 engine inside the Sistine Chapel.
The RS6 Avant also handles with more precision than any sporty SUV out there, while offering the same kind of spaciousness, comfort, and practicality. You do feel its hefty 2,250 kg weight, but it never gets in the car’s way. The adjustable air suspension ranges from comfortably sporty to stiff-enough-for-a-track-day. The cabin on the RS6 is as high-tech as you’ll find in any vehicle. There’s space for children, groceries, and skis. Did we mention it looks perfect too? As a jack of all trades, it’s hard to fault the RS6 Avant. Starting at $120,000, it’s not not expensive, but its value lies in being the only car you need, while adding a touch of drama and excitement to every school or grocery run.
Because the market is so thoroughly dominated by SUVs, Audi isn’t likely to sell too many of the RS6 Avants. They’re likely to be a rare sight and should hold their value well. A future cult-classic? Maybe.
Either way, we’re here for the uber-wagon trend. Not only does this new generation of wagons offer a refreshing alternative to ubiquitous SUVs, but, to put it plainly, they’re cool. They’re automotive counter-culture and parking one in your driveway is a clear statement of impeccable taste. Long live the wagon.